Reader Poll: What’s Your Note-Taking System?

A few days back, we highlighed Ben Casnocha’s view that experts take notes. Taking lots of notes sounds great, but can often be a time-consuming process. Serial note-takers among us: how do you take notes? What systems, shorthand, or tools do you use?

And for those that have trouble taking notes, what is the main barrier you’re facing?

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  • Wells Baum

    Depends on the amount of information presented and that which I need to understand. Typically make a printout, take notes, and then connect the dots on the computer when I summarize.

    Some good notetaking apps:

  • alexfi24

    I do one of two things, depending on the environment and location of my meeting or experience:
    1) on a computer: Evernote
    2) hand-written: in an Action Method small notebook – with room for action items!

  • HongVan

    I take note by both tradition and digital way, then arrange them by folder. My biggest problem is, sometimes I need a quote or something but I can’t recall which folder is it.

  • JorgeD

    I use Evernote for everything: work, personal life, projects, ideas, journal, etc. the main advantage that I see is that by having all my notes centralized in Evernote, makes them accessible, searchable, manageable, and thus, useful.

  • TheHonorableAT

    I have a Problem with note taking because it seems like a barrier to getting things done.

    I get lost in it sometimes.

    With that said, I use pen and pad when I can and Evernote for audio and note syncing

  • Braddo

    Depends: for meetings and general research I use Evernote mainly for the way I can sort and tag. For presentations, I sketchnote. I try to capture only the big ideas and those things I don’t know and are new to me, knowing I can always look up the details or call the presenter if I need them: The biggest advantage in sketch noting, I find, is that the taking and processing of notes happens at the same time.

  • Colby

    I use Evernote, whether on my laptop at a meeting or on my phone at a conference presentation. I only have a few very general notebooks, and while I don’t use the tag feature, I always type several keywords at the top of each note to make it searchable.

  • Evan Lovely

    I used to be the biggest Evernote evangelist, but am no more as I don’t want all my reference material stuck in a monolithic database with poor exportability out. I currently use Markdown and plain text files that are tagged with Open Meta. This approach allows my notes to become blog posts in seconds as Markdown can easily export to HTML, or if the note becomes big enough, or is a series of notes, it could be exported as a book in PDF, ePub, or an incredibly wide array of formats. I also am a fan of Sketchnoting, and I take photos of those after and either embed them in the Markdown notes they are related to, or save them as a PDF tagged “notes”.

    • Markus Freise

      Yeah. Goog questions, Colby. Evan?

  • James G

    Hipster PDA and a notebook when it’s long form. And a comp book for notebook, because they are cheap.

  • Harjyot J

    Evernote, while I’m using my laptop.
    A pocket notebook, while I’m on the go !

  • clover

    If my notes are for my personal benefit only, longhand in a notebook. I always get the same kind. I forget the brand, but it’s spiral bound across the top and each page is college-ruled on the front and graph paper on the back. I use the front pages for notes and the back of my notes pages for sketching and brainstorming. I don’t usually refer to my notes later, or ever. I find that taking them helps keep me focused in meetings and helps me remember the discussions.
    If I’m sending out minutes or following up on meeting action items, I take my notes in a notepad doc in a really simplified bullet-point outline format.
    I know a lot of people love Evernote, but I just don’t dig it myself.

  • Raymond Duke

    I tried Evernote but found the user experience too busy. It was like a cockpit in an airplane.

    I’m currently using Google Keep. It does the job perfectly. I don’t need 101 features — just simple note taking and the recording of thoughts every now and then.

    One more thing: I try not to capture every idea. Sometimes I’ll let an idea sit in my mind for awhile to test it’s saliency. If it sticks after a few hours, it’s worth keeping. If I forget it, then it wasn’t a good idea.

  • Chet Chin

    StyleNote Pro on both my smartphone and tablet. Sometimes, Color Note.

    Evernote is more a central depository of my notes taken on various devices.

  • Patrick Umsted

    I carry a small notebook in my back pocket wherever I go. In meetings, I use TextEdit.

  • Janna Barrett

    • The first 2 pages of my notes and/or sketchbook are saved as a Table of Contents. When I finish notes on a subject, I go back to the TOC and fill in what those pages are about.

    • I put an asterisk in the margin next to anything that requires action.

    • I try to write notes as if somebody other than me will need to look at them later—neat handwriting, descriptions or specific file names/locations, and complete sentences when possible.

    • Val Baca

      I started using your “Table of Contents” method for my newest notebook and it’s awesome! Thanks!!

  • AgileK

    Field Notes – in a leather slip cover; I go through a book once a fortnight, and keep it on hand every waking hour.

  • Laure

    Papers App (by FiftyThree) FTW!

    • Sean Blanda

      You take notes in that? Interesting!

  • Heather Physioc

    I take tons and tons of notes. My memory just isn’t good enough not to. I don’t use a lot of fancy shorthand or tools – I happen to be a fast typist/writer and do ok. Maybe it’s old school, but it works for me. The only down-side is that I can’t function without my notes sometimes. I probably need a better digital system to later tighten up and store my notes.

  • oracle

    Moleskine is my way.

    I am amazed by technology, and I am the typical early adopter, but after all, I am an analog lover.

    I am, by the way, looking for a digital sketch book to take handwritten notes, but I can’t find any (surprise). I don’t like the iPad for that, I tried, but it is akward; and the Livescribe wifi pen for Evernote looks bulky and complex.

    Any help…?

    • Wim

      same here, no meeting without my Moleskine X Large notebook + a Lamy Safari fountain pen. Never fails, never runs out of battery (always carry a spare ink cartridge)

      It’s amazing how much better handwritten notes stick to your mind and get processed by your brain rather than stored on a device. After a while your eyes-and-memory search engine start working very efficient as well.

      When in listen-only mode, I doodle to keep my mind from wandering off while listening, it also keeps your creative thinking active.

      • oracle

        Absolutely right. I learnt this when I was 9 at the school.
        The most beatiful was my handwritten lesson notes, the better was my marks for that lesson.
        I found out that I loved the process of studying only by making it something artistic and personal.

      • Colby

        I get the connection with mind, hand, and paper, but how do you recall or use that information later? I’m only 29 and I can’t remember putting on underwear this morning. I don’t carry around every napkin I’ve written on, but I have all the notes I’ve taken in Evernote since 2008. I can search and BAM, there’s that lecture on whatever topic. It’s like a secondary brain.

      • Wim

        Recalling what you’ve written down in what notebook is a result of training I guess. Performing a “search” in your handwritten stuff goes remarkably fast after a while, no matter what the size of the info is. I’ve experienced “forgetting” more about notes which I totally entrusted to my laptop.

        You still store information (partly) in your own memory when taking handwritten notes. The effort of handwriting keeps you mindful of _what_ you are noting not just _that_ you are noting it. More important, it also keeps the information more readily at hand in your mind in any creative thinking process later on.

        I might be mixing facts and opinions here, I do carry iStuff around but was not born and raised with them. It might have more to do with habits & preferences and what you are actually using your notes for.

  • Val Baca

    I was using evernote 100%, until my job put it on their “forbidden list” (even despite using local notebooks). I loved how I could make a new note in a second and it could be on all my devices. I still use it for personal notes (including planning my wedding). I now use MacVim to make my notes using markdown to format my notes not edit needed (requires minimal effort compared my typical note style).

    • Janna Barrett

      I’ve found in my case that the act of physically writing the notes is what makes me remember them. If I type it, or even if I write it on the iPad, I forget it almost instantly.

      Maybe it’s the fact that, for me, writing takes more time and so I think about the information longer? Or maybe it’s just because I’m a visual learner and on recall I can visualize where a specific note is on a piece of paper.

  • Larry McAllister II

    I am a huge proponent of my full-size Mead 5-Star notebook. I usually take my notes in outline form, making taking the notes faster and allowing me to add additional notes in the margins and sketch out ideas if I need to. It also make writing up reports on projects a lot more simple. At conferences, I have a tendency to type shorthand notes on my iPad in Apple’s default Note app, additionally I take lot of photos with whatever camera I have with me and combine the notes and photos on my computer later.

  • Chatman Richmond Jr.

    I rock a simple notebook for quick notes just to get ideas down on the page, and then I let them fight for a while and pare the bad ideas from the good ones. The good ones then find a more organized home in WorkFlowy where I tag what needs to be done now and what can be done later. That’s about it.

  • debbyhamac

    I use my S-Note for taking down notes. I bullet the notes, it will make my note taking “smarter”, drawing “it” is way more better and taking pictures if I have to. The S-note makes me do it all-in one app.

  • Matthew Nash


  • Sarah Peterson

    I take notes by just writing down major points or action items or questions I want to think about later. I often circle action items so they make it onto my actionmethod.

  • JohnAtl

    I recently graduated college. The last year and a half, I used the Notability app on my iPad. I type keywords, which Notability syncs with the audio recording it (optionally) records. Later I can click a keyword, and the audio jumps to that point. This worked well for biology and other courses.
    But, for math classes, I used Notability for the audio recording, and took notes on an Engineer’s Computation Pad, which has a grid on the back side of the paper that subtly shows through to the front. This helps keep writing neat. I also use a Uniball Kuru Toga Roulette pencil. It turns the lead as you write and reduces breakage and line-width variation. Available at .

  • MYS

    I use a Livescribe pen and notebook so that I can take notes strategically (via indexing and keywords, and by jotting important time stamps) without having to lose comprehension from concentrating so hard on note taking that I miss comprehension that comes from careful listening and real-time, quick rehearsal. This also allows me to later audio and graphically record my musing and reflections, right near to the original notes. But to collect, organize, and manage all of this knowledge and note-taking and analytic memo-making, I use the free program Citavi (all the way)! Citavi makes attribution easy, and the tagging and keywording functionality means that with ONE click I can easily collect every quote/note (those I’ve been taking for years) about on topic or a group of topics all in one viewing screen, together juxtaposed. PRICELESS! Citavi is currently for PC only, but they are developing a web-based version. If I were a Mac user, this is one program that would cause me to run windows parallel for it! :)

  • Michael Pratt

    A notebook and a red pen.

  • Livy Hoskins

    I take notes in Evernote. I have several different notebooks so it’s super easy to organize notes depending on the project at hand. If I don’t have my laptop handy though I just use a good ol’ pen and paper! And my note style tends to consist of main points followed by subpoints. This way my notes aren’t so overwhelming to look at!

  • Chris Hart

    1.) NVALt for on the mac. Quick Shortcut to it, type the note and hit enter
    2.) Out and about I’ll use an A6 notebook, unruled for freedom, and whip it out, bang in a note and off I go!
    3.) Simplenote for the iPhone, NVAlt is synced to it, or to somewhere where they both sync, either way, if i’m on the phone I can make a note!

  • hebisaham

    Evernote. My problem is in curating and searching my notes. Even directory or filesystem failed me.
    And evernote solve it

  • Paul Jun

    Evernote. Each note is a keyword, say, Motivation or The Brain, with tags helping me sort them out; so if a note is on Motivation, a tag would be autonomy; if it was Consciousness, a tag would be self-awareness, etc.

    Anything that I come across in my studies/reading, I use keywords to mark a passage or quote with a post-it. If I’m reading on the Kindle, I get the easy access of copy-and-pasting into my Evernote, reference and all. If I’m transferring from a book, I get the joy of feeling how the author wrote that exact sentence.

  • Brady Dale

    I have a lot to say about this as I am a big note taker. So, I guess when I am taking notes for a work related thing at an event, where it’s no big deal to take notes, then I will take them by hand in a notebook. That is my favorite way.

    I don’t find it hard to locate notes later. Usually I can remember what the page looked like. I have found notes from years back before.

    But, once upon a time I used to do a lot of individual meetings. The sort of meetings where notetaking was kind of uncomfortable. So what I liked to do then was sey aside 10 or 15 minutes right after the meeting and write down everything that I can remember. It worked pretty well. In some ways it work better because it was more reflective.

    Lastly sometimes when I’m in big meetings and someone really needs minutes for the meeting, I kind of like offering to do it. It always throws people off a little bit. Then I always take notes just on a laptop by typing. I’m a pretty fast typer I can get most everything I need to down, & I find I can usually participate pretty well.

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How Pessimism Can Improve Your Life And Work

A new video by The School of Life explores the unappreciated wisdom of pessimism. Negative thinking gets a bad rap, but in fact it can ironically have a positive effect on your productivity and creativity. As The School of Life argues, pessimism prepares you for the worst, reduces your expectations, and protects you from disappointment—all helpful for your psyche as well as your creative output:

We live in an absurdly and painfully optimistic world. Mostly, that’s the result of all the businesses out there trying to sell us things, and understandably using cheerfulness to do it. And partly, it’s the influence of technology, which is always getting better, coloring our view of life as a whole, which often isn’t improving. …

For centuries, religions peddled dark messages. Buddhism told its followers that life was suffering. Christianity spoke of the fallen state of mankind, and of the inevitability of earthly imperfection. That was helpful; it kept our expectations in check.

The psychologist William James came up with an equation: Happiness = Expectations / Reality. So there are two ways to ensure contentment. Change reality, or change expectations. Pessimists know to reduce the expectations.

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich takes the espousal of pessimism a step further in her acclaimed book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. As she writes in a piece for The Guardian, it’s not just that pessimism has benefits for us; optimism can actually be psychologically harmful:

Like a perpetually flashing neon sign in the background, like an inescapable jingle, the injunction to be positive is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to identify a single source. Oprah routinely trumpets the triumph of attitude over circumstance. A Google search for “positive thinking” turns up 1.92m entries. A whole coaching industry has grown up since the mid-90s, heavily marketed on the internet, to help people improve their attitudes and hence, supposedly, their lives. …

[But this] ideological force in American culture… encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.

You undoubtedly have, and will continue to, hit roadblocks on your path in life and work. But by recognizing that cheerfully assuming everything will shake out in your favor, and maintaining unrealistically sky-high expectations, is dangerous and unproductive, you’ll be able to clear those roadblocks in such a way that enables you to learn, grow and—most importantly—move on.

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How (and Why) You Should Read More

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

There’s no question that reading enriches your life. Reading imparts fresh inspiration, keeps your brain sharp, improves your writing, can relax you, and even benefits your health. Devoting the time and mental energy needed to read an entire book, as opposed to the snackable content (tweets, blog posts, email newsletters) that makes up the Internet, is a deeply rewarding experience. You go on an intimate journey with an author, by way of which you become much more immersed in the topic at hand than you’d be able to after a few hundred words of “like”-able discourse.

But how to make time for reading books (physical or e-)? From Rype’s blog, a few handy suggestions:

Learn To Read Faster

… Since the average reader reads around 250–300 words per minute, being able to double your reading speed at 500–600 words will allow you read twice the number of books in the same amount of time. …

a. use a pointer

Use either a pen or your index finger to keep track of your speed when reading. This will be useful for the second technique.

b. expand your peripheral vision

Start reading 3 words in from the first word of each line and end 3 words in from the last word.

Schedule It

Reading more books can simply come from making more time for it.

Scheduling your most important tasks can become one of the most productive things you can do, whether you’re making time to read, learn a language, or master a skill. …

It can be as little as 15–30 minutes in the morning before your work, or during lunch hours.

Drop It If You Don’t Love It

… If you want to read more books, retain more, and double your knowledge, you need to have a passion for what you’re reading. …

Don’t be afraid to quit if you don’t love it.

It’s what will lead to what you love.

Keeping track of how many books you read each year can be a huge motivator. You get the satisfaction of adding an item to your list each time you close the cover of a book for the last time, and can challenge yourself to increase your total each year. Sites like Goodreads and Shelfari help you log your read count and set an annual goal.

Reading is one of the three R’s of childhood education for a reason. And assuredly, Sir William Curtis—credited with coining the phrase—had books in mind when he said it.


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The Method Actor Approach to Design


Legendary graphic designer Michael Bierut, Pentagram partner and protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli, lets the world into his creative process in his new monograph How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things. A particularly interesting element is his “method actor” approach to graphic design, as he tells FastCoDesign:

[S]omeone says you want to do the signs for the New York Times?… [T]o do the work properly, I have to talk to editors, I have to sit in on the page-one meeting where they decide how page one is going to be laid out…

If you just have a request for proposal where the client says we need X, Y, and Z, that really just gives you the shopping list… It’s sort of like saying, I need a pair of pants and a shirt. But then, where are you going to wear it, how much are you going to spend? I’ll stand you in front of a mirror and you have to feel like you’re the kind of person who can wear those clothes.

So going to all those meetings, if all I cared about were typefaces or colors, I’d be sitting, fidgeting, thinking, “Why am I here? This is boring.” Instead, I was thinking “I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe that without ever taking a journalism class I’m actually sitting with the top editors at the New York Times and I’ll know before any other civilian does what’s going to be the story that appears in the first column on the left of tomorrow’s paper.” I had that momentary thrill.

Wrapping yourself up in the topic of your work so that you’re truly invested doesn’t just translate into more effective and impactful work. It also keeps you more fulfilled and motivated as an artist. Because the method actor approach to acting isn’t just about inhabiting the character fully so that you never lift the veil to reveal your true self until after the project is completed. Ultimately, method acting is about just being, as opposed to putting something on or performing. And if you can get to that place in your work when you’re not feigning interest or curiosity, but truly “feeling it,” that’s where the art lies.


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Austin Kleon: How To Be a “Scenius”

By Austin Kleon

By Austin Kleon

Writer and artist Austin Kleon, of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! fame, is a big supporter of creatives that can contribute to an artistic community as opposed creating in their own vacuum. In FastCo Create, he borrows the term “scenius” from the musician Brian Eno to encourage artists to change their end goal from being a genius to being a creative contributor:

Kleon cautions against the artistic myth of the lone genius pounding away in a garret somewhere…. He created his own scenius online. Kleon says, “I think what has been the most remarkable in my career is that I’ve never been part of a geographical scene. I didn’t move to New York after college. I didn’t move to L.A. I moved to Cleveland, and there’s not a whole lot of a scene there. But what I did have was the Internet, and I became part of a scenius by putting my work out there. I started blogging in 2005, and back then, we were all connected, we just didn’t have social media in the same way as we do now. You’d just post things to your blog and people would send you comments or emails and you’d slowly find people as they stumbled across your work. When I did work I really liked and put it online, it attracted the people I wanted to meet. For me, being online, that was my scenius. That was my moving to New York in the ’70s. Or Paris in the ’20s.”

Kleon notes that you don’t have to be in the same medium as the people in your scenius. In fact, it helps if you’re not. He says since moving to Austin, he’s fallen in with musicians and filmmakers in addition to writers and artists, and those relationships have informed his work.

The key to being a scenius is to create something every single day. A constant stream of creative outpout ensures that you remain a vital part of a creative community. As Kleon told 99U in an interview:

We all get 24 hours. No one gets more time. Sure, you might have your job, you might have a kid, you might have a family—I had all of those things when I was writing my first book—but when you get ruthless about what you really want to do, there are so many gaps. So many little spaces in the day where you can find the time….

It happens a lot of in creative work that you finish a project and you don’t know what to do next. It can be a bit disconcerting. And I think that’s why it’s so important to have a daily practice that you do no matter what you are working on.

Your work, no matter what it is, matters. When you put it out there every day for your creative scene to absorb and consume, you cultivate your own brand and the community in tandem. That’s what being a scenius is all about.


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Achieve Goals By Gamifying Them

Benoît Bossy

Illustration by Behance member Benoît Bossy

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests the secret to successfully achieving goals is working up to them level by level, video game style. The idea is that you make incremental changes to your existing behavior over a period of time, pausing along the way to master each level before progressing to the next. He took this approach to losing weight:

Like a video game, the way to changing your health habits is by starting out at the first level, and only going to the next level after you’ve beaten the one before that. The problem is that most people start at Level 10 and fail, and wonder what happened. Most of us want to skip several levels, but we’re just not ready.

So the secret is to start at Level 1, and only advance once you’re done with that level. One level at a time, you’ll master the game of losing weight and getting healthy….

Level 1

1. Start walking just for a few minutes every day.
2. Reduce your eating by a little bit. A very little bit.

Level 2

[D]on’t go to this level until you’ve had a streak of seven days of doing Level 1.

1. Walk every day for a few minutes more. If you’ve been going around the block twice, make it three times. Or add 5 minutes to your walking.
2. Eat a little less than in the previous level. Just a little less — not really noticeable.

Level 3

If you’ve successfully done Level 2 for another week, you’re ready to add more:

1. Walk a little more.
2. Eat/drink less of something that’s empty calories — less soda, sugar, bread, pastries, sweet coffee drink, chips, cookies, pizza. Don’t drop any of these completely, just eat less of it.

And so on. Minor tweaks collectively add up to major changes. The trick is having the patience and diligence to stick with those small shifts and implement them week after week until you’ve achieved your ultimate goal. To stay motivated and track your progress, try using a goal-centered app like, LittleBit, or or a more analogue system like Jake Lodwick’s Standards self-management technique.

There’s no bonus round in real life, so make the one you have count.


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How to Deal When You’re Disappointed In Yourself

By Burnt Toast Creative

By Burnt Toast Creative

Creatives are no stranger to experiencing crushing disappointment. No matter your medium, it’s easy to equate your work with yourself, since your product is a reflection of your inner humanhood. Whenever you’re disappointed in something you’ve produced, or else your failure to actually produce that thing, that feeling of frustration may bleed into general dissatisfaction with yourself as a whole.

Of course, self-disappointment does nothing but further quash your motivation and productivity. If you feel like what you create is worthless or falls frustratingly short, you lose your inspiration to create anything at all. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits offers a few poignant suggestions for overcoming this feeling of not living up to your own standards, including:

See the Greatness of the Present

Let’s turn from the self we haven’t been, to the self we have been. This self might have “failed” at X, but it has also succeeded in lots of other ways. This self has tried. It has gotten a lot done. It’s not perfect, but it has good intentions. This self has been the best it can be, even if that means imperfection. This self has cared, has loved, has strived for better, has made an effort, has wanted the best for others. Not always, but it has. This self deserves that kind of recognition, and love for being the best self it can be….

Work with Curiosity

[G]oing forward, let’s practice tossing out our expectations of how we’re going to do today (and in life in general), and instead adopt an attitude of curiosity. We don’t know how we’re going to do at work, or in our relationships, or with our personal habits. We can’t know. So let’s find out: what will today be like? How will it go?

Be curious, in an attitude of not-knowingness.

It’s fun to find out things!

Yes, expectations will come up for us, and we will fail to live up to them, and we will feel frustration and disappointment again. This will happen, and this too will be a bit disappointing, because we want to be perfect at being curious and present. We’ll have to repeat the process when we notice this happening. That’s OK. That’s how it works — constantly renewing, never done.

But as we get better at this, I promise, we’ll learn to see things with a new curiosity, with a gratitude for every moment that we meet, and with a more loving and kind view of constantly failing but constantly striving selves. These selves are wonderful, and that realization is worth the ever-constant journey.

This combination of mindfulness, self-compassion, and curiosity enables you to move forward in your creative process and continue thinking and making. To take it one step further, you can dig out of a self-disappointment hole completely, as you use the above tactics, by removing direct internal fault-finding from the equation. As Janet Choi comments on what psychologist Ethan Kross has found, avoiding the first person, and addressing yourself as “you” instead, can have powerful positive consequences in silencing that inner critic:

When you get out of “me,” “myself,” and “I,” you mentally gain distance from yourself and get out of your own head. Much like you can gain perspective on a piece of art by stepping back a few feet, you can gain added insight on your thought process by putting some mental distance between your present mindset and your typical nervous, anxious self.

As you’re focusing, per Babauta, on thinking about your next project with a sense of possibility and openness, do so by asking yourself, “Who are you most excited to talk to about this piece?” or suggesting in your head, “You should carve out an hour tomorrow morning to work on this first thing, while you’re fresh.”

Just as you require multiple artistic implements at your disposal to complete a creative project, you need a variety of self-help techniques in your toolkit to conquer inner disappointment.


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When You Should Design “Badly” On Purpose

By Yen Divinagracia

By Yen Divinagracia

As a talented creative, you probably shudder at the thought of purposely designing something badly. Why would you possibly do such a thing, other than out of passive aggressiveness towards an infuriating client? (Bad idea.) UX content strategist Jerry Chao suggests that purposely designing badly can be a great tactic for conquering creative block:

There’s a big difference between having no good ideas, and no ideas at all. Chances are, the more bad ideas you have, the more pressure you apply to come up with good ideas. In these cases, the best way to beat designer’s block is to get all the bad ideas out of your system.

Try designing a mockup in which you make all the wrong decisions on purpose. You may find it strangely productive.

For starters, you’re exercising your design muscles a lot more than just staring at a blank screen: designing badly is better than not designing at all. On a deeper level, designing a purposefully bad mockup forces you to think critically on the same topics, but from a different perspective. If you can figure out the worst place to stick a call-to-action, for example, that will shed some light on the best place. This kind of productive distraction allows you to think about solutions without actually thinking about them.

This process uses the same mental muscles as when an editor considers a piece of writing by placing it upside down or backwards, forcing him- or herself to focus on the bare bones of the work: paragraph structure, word choice, syntax. The technique makes it impossible to glaze over while reading, and can surface interesting patterns or qualities of the work.

Coming at a project from an intentionally awkward angle can offer a refreshing new viewpoint that affords that much-anticipated creative breakthrough. Just don’t publish your bad-on-purpose project to your portfolio–at least without an explanation of the exercise.


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