Chances are that, if you’re a designer or UX practitioner, at some point in your career you’ve used sticky notes, and not only as handy instruments for jotting down quick ideas or making lists. 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. While it’s easy to overuse your Post-it pads or use them at the wrong time or place, Post-its have many merits that make them hard to replace. (Post-it is a trademark of 3M. Our analysis here applies to other brands of stickies as well, but we’ll refer to Post-it because it’s the most widely used product in this category.)


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 byproducts for many UX processes. Seeing all the different ideas in different handwritings and colors listed on the same wall creates a sense of diversity and equality, and reinforces the sense of belonging to the team. The Post-its are not the work of any one individual — they are the visible evidence of a group effort.  And one whose collective nature is easy to grasp. (Unlike a digital file created by one person who aggregates ideas of individual contributors or a spreadsheet to which many collaborate: a bland scroll of Calibri looks too uniform to reflect the creation process.)

Post-its’ sticky back makes them easy to regroup — no idea becomes too static or permanent. They make us move our bodies around by standing, placing ideas on the wall, and moving them around. This collective movement directed towards the same bigger goal fosters team bonding. Lastly, they can keep us focused and on task, part of the same collaborative group activity.  On a laptop there are thousands of potential distractions. With a pen and Post-it, there’s accountability to be present and contributing.

But even at the group level, Post-its can keep the meeting on task, driving action. We’ve all witnessed conversations that move in circles, only for an hour to pass with no agreed-upon action. By forcing people to write instead of talk, you move them into action faster. Once you have a set of Post-its, the group needs to act upon them. They have to be put somewhere, read, acknowledged, and classified. They’re not lost in conversation or in a random file somewhere on the web or on someone’s computer.

(We could show you a photo of Post-its used in a UX process, but you know how it looks. If not, see our article on Affinity Diagramming — one of the many good uses of the product in UX.)


All Post-its are the same size. This characteristic means that all ideas and thoughts are represented equally (as they are quite literally each the exact same size).  Post-its lead to a democratic team dynamics, in which all members can have a voice — whether they are loud or shy, senior or junior.

Plus, with a Post-it, everyone can easily contribute without having to install or master a specific tool. In a crossdisciplinary group, everyone comes to the table with different technology preferences (PC, Mac, Adobe, code, PowerPoint, etc.); when they have to part from their love for the sake of the team, they will feel at least a trace of resentment and discomfort. Post-its offer an easy solution, accessible to everyone. Ideas or content don’t need to be owned by those proficient in the tool used to record them.

Concise Expression

The limited size forces everyone to be concise and efficient. Post-Its are easy and quick to digest; no spreadsheets, workflows, or other complicated diagrams are needed. 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” (meaning that often they are half-baked), they can be easily modified or rejected with no hurt feelings or wasted work.

When Post-its Are Abused

Trendy and Misinterpreted

Remember that, although they have many merits, 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. Design thinking is not Post-its, just as a photographer isn’t Photoshop, and an accountant isn’t Microsoft Excel. A process doesn’t and shouldn’t end after a Post-it exercise. What was the original goal of the activity? What action was derived? What is the outcome? When should the ideas be revisited? These are all questions that should be asked after any Post-it activity.

Post-Its ≠ Designers

Using Post-its does not automatically make you a designer. Designers are in no danger of losing their jobs because teams now use Post-its. Designers’ process of creation (involving stages such as discovery, generation, prototype, or critique) 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 nitpicky colors, fonts, layouts, and so on. You’ll never be able to design a web page, describe a brand’s identity, or solve world hunger with just Post-its.

Other Limitations

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.



Huang, Lee-Sean. Yes, Design Thinking Is Bullshit…And We Should Promote It Anyway. Medium. August 23, 2017.

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