Sticky notes are an essential tool in many UX-related group processes — ideation, affinity diagramming, and, more generally, in design thinking. Some argue that they are obsolete, overhyped, or useless. Wrong. Post-its have many merits that make them hard to replace.
In the digital world we live in, ideas are easily lost or forgotten.
- Post-its are physically visible on walls and live on as tangible by products for many UX processes.
- Post-its’ makes them easy to regroup — no idea becomes too static or permanent.
- Lastly, they can keep us focused and on task, part of the same collaborative group activity.
- But even at the group level, Post-its can keep the meeting on task, driving action.
All Post-its are the same size. This characteristic means that all ideas and thoughts are represented equally. Plus, with a Post-it, everyone can easily contribute without having to install or master a specific tool.
The limited size forces everyone to be concise and efficient. That means no one will spend an inordinate amount of time refining an idea, only to see it thrown in the trash bin. Because ideas are succinct and “low-fidelity” they can be easily modified or rejected with no hurt feelings or wasted work.
When Post-its Are Abused
Trendy and Misinterpreted
- Post-its are just a tool in the service of a bigger goal — whether that goal is ideation, grouping usability findings from user-testing sessions, or other aspects of design thinking.
- The look of Post-its has in some cases become more important than the conversation and the content they facilitate. A process doesn’t and shouldn’t end after a Post-it exercise.
Post-Its ≠ Designers
Using Post-its does not automatically make you a designer. Designers’ process of creation is every bit as important, Post-its or not. Post-Its should be used when limited fidelity is a benefit. Their simplistic nature keeps the conversation focused on concepts, rather than on nit picky colors, fonts, layouts, and so on.
Physical Post-Its are limited to colocated teams and disadvantage team members who are hard of sight or colorblind. While there are ways to get around some of these limitations (e.g., don’t rely on color coding only to signal grouping), they won’t be practical in every single situation. Yet, overall, their advantages are overwhelming for the majority of teams.
As with any buzzword or en-vogue method, there are cases where Post-Its have been used and abused. There are no hard and fast rules for when to use Post-Its. Use the below breakdown as guidance.
Use Post-its to:
- Quickly gather varied ideas and group similar thoughts
- Make visual sense of a complex system in a low-fidelity way
- Get team members moving, sharing, and generating ideas quickly
- Remove people from the everyday confines of their computers and tools
- Combine several insights and expertise into one visualization
Do Not Use Post-its to:
- Check a box for design thinking
- Replace the designer’s process
- “Strategize” rather than drive ideas into action and outcome
- Design, test, or build a high-fidelity user experience
With a plethora of digital tools easily available, we tend to forget the value of tangible artifacts such as Post-its, paper wireframes, or physical prototypes. Their use strengthens the team dynamics and builds a sense of belonging, while managing both expectations and effort by forcing the members to stay within the confines of the medium.