“You’re joking, right?” When I shared with my colleague that I was going to write a piece about Post-its, she was less than impressed. I don’t blame her, but when I listened to a podcast with Jake Knapp - co-author of Sprint - this morning, I thought back to some of the Sprints I was part of in the past. It occurred to me that there was one key ingredient to ideation workshops, that often doesn’t receive the level of attention it deserves, yet has the potential to make or break them (really!): The Post-it.
Here is an example of a terrible one:
Post-its are integral to capturing ideas during a workshop, they present the foundation of whatever is to follow, and the way they are used can have a drastic impact on how effective and useful a workshop will turn out to be overall. I wanted to expand on Davis Levine’s post and summarise some of the points I think will help you get the most of your colourful squares (or rectangles, or ovals). Here it goes.
Post-its with purpose
Before you even get to jot down your brilliant ideas with a group, think about what you are trying to achieve with your Post-its. This will help guide you in how to design them.
In most cases, you will aim to use your stickies to
capture ideas quickly
communicate them effectively
process them easily
In this article I focus on what you can do, to ensure your notes meet these goals.
Choose your weapons
To get started you need two things: Post-its and writing tools. But don’t just grab what you can find.
Use the small and square post-its. Their minute size discourages writing down lots of words (keep reading for more on this) and the small space they occupy on the wall will lead to more ideas, as groups during ideation tend to aim to fill walls up as much as they can so the output seems more impressive. You might also consider to colour coordinate your Post-its. This will help to parse and organise your ideas in the following steps.
Fun fact: Post-its were an accidental invention by Spencer Silver of 3M. In 1968, he initially intended to invent a super-strong adhesive, but ended up with pretty much the opposite - a glue that initially stuck to objects, but could be easily peeled off.
Help others read your Post-its by putting down thick lines with high contrast, using a dark felt-tip or Sharpie. Avoid pencils and thinner pens, and make sure that everyone in the group uses the same tools. This way ideas on the wall can be treated more anonymously which will help to relax your workshop participants who are not that comfortable with sketching ideas, and it will also make it easier for everyone to go through the collected works later.
Taking a single post-it
No kidding, there are things you can improve even about the way you manipulate a Post-it. For details read this post, but in summary:
Break the pack instead of fiddling with the foil. Because you can.
Pull Post-its from the top, not the bottom or the side of the pack, so they end up sticking flat to your wall.
If you take one thing away from this obsessive rant about Post-its, then let it be this: Stop writing so much.
What goes on a Post-it during ideation (and what doesn’t)
Resist the urge to write
If you take one thing away from this obsessive rant about Post-its, then let it be this: Stop writing so much. Using words as the primary means of communication in an exercise where the aim is to generate potentially hundreds of ideas isn’t helping anybody - especially not your ideas. Words stop others from engaging with your idea. Importantly, they introduce a lot of ambiguity and room for (mis-)interpretation.
Simple sketches can be made quicker, interpreted faster, remove ambiguity, are an effective tool for discussion, and are much, much more fun than writing.
The first thing you put on your post-it should be a drawing of your idea. Simple sketches can be made quicker, interpreted faster, remove ambiguity, are an effective tool for discussion, and are much, much more fun than writing. I know, drawing can be scary. Keep in mind, though, that in this scenario, you draw to communicate, not to produce art, and there is much material out there to help you get started with communicating concepts with simple shapes. Just take a look at sketch artists such as Chris Spalton or Eva-Lotta Lamm who once got my entire product team into sketching.
Most ideas are best illustrated in the context of how they interact with humans. Thus, try to include humans (or animals) in your sketches. Thinking about people this early on (and showing that you do) will go a long way to help others empathise and properly consider the value of an idea.
Name your idea
There is an important difference between describing an idea in words and giving it a name. While we’ve discussed the downfalls of the former, the latter is very useful in referring back to an idea in later discussions, and to give it a tiny bit more context. Choose a name that is self-explanatory and short - ideally it doesn’t stretch beyond one line.
The name of an idea will also become its primary reference for later activities, such as including it in a prioritisation or evaluation spreadsheet. Brevity will be helpful in those steps as well as during your workshop.
Only feature a single idea per Post-it
This will make it easier for everyone else to understand the singular key element of the idea, and help with the further processing of all concepts. If you have many ideas that relate to each other, don’t be lazy and draw them out individually.
Make it stick
Now that you’re all inspired by the brilliant ideas, don’t stop there. Your ideas are only as useful as whatever you do with them in the following steps. Chances are, once your team and you have come up with a wealth of wonderful and (hopefully some) absolutely bonkers ideas, you’ll want to use them for follow-up activities such as voting and prioritisation. For this to happen, you should document your work properly.
Fortunately, gone are the days where some unlucky “volunteer” had to stick them all on A4 sheets in some structured way and scan all the sketches, just for them to vanish in some deep server directory. Today, we have tools such as Evernote to help with this. And if you colour coordinated your notes as discussed earlier, some of these tools will even automatically put your notes in the correct structure.
When notes and outcomes are shared in this way, stakeholder buy-in for further whacky design activities is pretty much guaranteed. 😊
To sum up
Here’s my take at a perfect-Post-it checklist:
Think about what you want your stickies to achieve and design them accordingly
Use small Post-its, and colour coordinate them
Write on them with a dark felt-tip
Provide everyone in the group with the same tools
Refrain from describing your ideas with words
Draw your ideas, and try to include humans in your drawings
Give your ideas a short and descriptive name
One idea per Post-it
Once all your ideas are up, document and archive them in the most useful way, using digital tools such as Evernote.
What did I miss? Let me know what makes your perfect sticky note in the comments. Better still, send me a photo of your perfect Post-it.