Designers should write more

March 26, 2018

I enjoyed Zac’s post on capturing thoughts, ideas and anything else that helps you make smarter decisions at work. Check it out.

Here’s my system, if you can call it that. If you’re interested in improving your knowledge game, I’d recommend nearly anything that Tiago Forte does. Start with his Progressive Summarization series and follow him on twitter.

  1. Notes.app / Paper
    For me, this is the rawest stage of thinking and documentation (after talking, where I formulate a lot of my thoughts, which is a weakness). This is a firehose of anything that I deem worthy of writing down, and it usually only sticks around for a few days before it’s archived, deleted or transferred elsewhere. I like to manage my notes app inbox zero style, clearing out anything that shouldn’t be there. Survival of the fittest. Of course, I still jot down to-do lists and ideas on paper, but increasingly I like everything to be digital. If I’m reading a paper book, I’ll start a new note and log passages, ideas and page numbers that I like. I really should be using google docs or evernote for this sort of thing.

  2. Trello
    A trello/kanban board is an essential tool to visualize and order anything that I think will eventually become an actionable item. WIP. This is where a ‘idea’ might become a project, or a blog post, or a calendar entry. I roughly follow the GTD system and it maps very nicely with the trello board.

  3. Keynote playbook
    This is embarrassing to admit, but I store my most valuable, useful thoughts and information in a series of keynotes, that live locally on my mac. I drop text, links, sketches and diagrams into these decks, roughly organized into under topics like ‘usability’ or ‘user research’. The searchability is non-existent, they are incredibly disorganized and I’m sure there’s a lot of redundant information, but I love them. Eventually I’ll switch to a different system. Aside from acting like a second brain, what I found most helpful was documenting moments when a new or complicated concept ‘clicked’. It could be a intuitive mental model, a framework, a diagram, or even a quote that made me think differently. I might then annotate that, essentially re-writing it or explaining it language that was mine. Then I could confidently return to eg. an explanation of how CSS Grid works, and build off it or apply it to active or future projects.

Aside from an incredibly valuable paper trail, I see most of this stuff as weaponry to deploy the next time you need to communicate an idea, persuade someone or formulate an argument. That’s why it’s worth all the writing.