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Want To Be A Great Designer? Ban Post-It Notes



To Ray Sison, Post-its are the enemy of good ideas. Sison is a design director at Work & Co, the digital product studio that designs for Facebook, Google, Apple, Virgin America, and Nike. And in Sison’s telling, most design thinking sessions focus on building as many ideas as possible.

“Design thinking is a separation of thinking and design, taking thinking first and design second,” Sison says. “I’m going to be honest with you. I hate this. It basically insults me when a bunch of people strategize, have these concepts, have a bunch of Post-its and bring these notes to a designer. [Designers] are then just the ones coloring in what your idea is going to look like. I don’t think that’s how it is. That is not design to me.”

[Photo: courtesy the author]

During the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Sison hosted 60 people at Work & Co’s Brooklyn office and led them through his process, which always starts with sketching. His aim? To move beyond “design thinking” to “design doing.” Work & Co. believes in designing from day one, not spending weeks and months developing strategy.“Challenges and hard decisions are discovered by making,” Lindsay Liu, group director of marketing at Work & Co, says. “By waiting for months to start designing, you lose value and insights if you were prototyping and testing with users [from the beginning].”

None of Sison’s projects start from a wall of Post-it notes; they all start with a sketch. “Every time a project comes to me, it’s a blank page,” Sison says. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t have an idea. How do I make an idea? How do I start? There are ways to get over this. One of my favorites comes from Bob Ross. He basically said in one of his TV shows that if you ever get into a place where you can’t start, just put something down. Start doing something, start making so you get over it. That’s what the design process is. That’s my theory.”

This is not to say that the first sketch ends up being the end product. Work & Co’s collaborative process involves individual designers first tackling the brief individually, then coming together as a group to discuss their approaches. They give each other feedback, then head back to the drawing board, refine the idea, fix problems, and continue this process until they reach the end result.

Sison believes that prototyping (through drawing, wireframes, interactive UX mock-ups) leads to more concepts that can actually be executed in real life. It also yields better and more effective criticism. “The higher the fidelity, the higher the feedback,” he says, pointing out that it’s impossible to critique a wall of Post-its. Additionally, he believes that the more time you spend on an idea, the harder it is to kill.

“I think while I design,” Sison says. “Every color, every layout, every font, everything. I’m not just thinking about how it looks; I’m thinking about the user, I’m thinking about the journey, I’m thinking about who it’s really for. All of this comes into place while designing.”

If Work & Co could earn the trust of this generation’s biggest consumer tech brands with a little advice from Bob Ross–just start sketching–imagine what you could do by putting pen to paper.