Even in an era of whiz-bang tablets and rapid prototyping, there’s one decidedly low-tech tool that many designers still rely on day in and day out: the humble Post-It note. Their continued relevance is itself a testament to good product design. The small yellow squares are space efficient, they attach themselves to anything, and they’re easy to stock in abundance.
But according to Scott Wilson, founder of the Chicago-based studio Minimal, there’s also a psychological aspect to their success. "They are noncommittal," he says. "The color and size help cure 'blank canvas paralysis.'" So when his studio set out to envision an updated sticky for the digital age, everything the little yellow squares have going for them posed a significant challenge to recreate.
The concept they came up with, Sticky Storm, is an app that lets users sketch ideas, organize them organically, and share them with collaborators in real time. The digital stickies themselves are simple yellow squares—about as close to the real things as you can get. With a diagonal flick, users can save a note and summon up a fresh sticky—just as frictionless as peeling one off the pad, if not quite as satisfying.
But that rapid use is only part of the appeal. Much of what makes stickies great is what you can do after you’re done scribbling on them. So the app also includes a mode for sorting stickies by hand, allowing users to drag them into related groups and clusters. "The ability to easily reorganize your ideas or thinking is essential to staying relevant," says Wilson. And it’s one place in which the app deviates from other to-do and note related apps, which often organize ideas into tidy grids—or, worse yet, simple lists of text.
"Lists are fine for left-brained task masters but for big picture right-brained creators and leaders there is a need to see these ideas and connections in context," says Wilson. "With stickies the collective ideas are many times more important than the individual note."
Of course, this is all just stuff a sticky note app has to do to stay on equal footing with the paper originals. But there are a few places where a digital sticky might improve on the real thing. One, obviously, is collaboration—something the app encourages. This type of feature essentially frees the brainstorm from the constraints of time and space, allowing for far-flung team members to work on the same set of stickies, remotely and asynchronously.
Digital stickies also shine when it’s time to move ideas from their original notes to the next step in the process. "One of the biggest pain points with paper stickies is transcribing them for downstream use," Wilson says. So the app is designed to allow for quick exporting to PowerPoint, PDF, Dropbox, and the like.
Still, even the best sticky apps will have a hard time replacing the original. Writing on today’s tablets just isn’t as satisfying as putting a nice thick marker to a sheet of paper. But you might not have to choose one experience over the other. "We’ve also figured out how to seamlessly integrate and upload physical sticky notes directly into a brainstorming session within the app," Wilson says. There’s an idea.