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From Post-It® Notes to Virtual Notes/Nodes

David Straker’s book on Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It® Notes (Straker, 1997) provides an analog experience of moving piece of information around in order to solve problems. Note that his use case is problems solving, which is close to writing an academic paper, but not exactly the same. 

Key Principles

His key principles are Chunking, Problem Patterns which I have transcribed below. He also discussed  Guiding Decisions and The FOG Factor, which are not as relevant to liquid views. The Guiding Decisions set of principles is very much focused on problem solving, with categories of Objectives, Criteria, Questions and Constraints. I think this points to using templates for the academic papers but it’s not completely relevant for liquid views. The FOG Factor is a notion of putting an F on Notes which are Factual, O on Notes which are Opinions and G on Notes which are Guesses. The idea seems to be that the act of determined what is what is useful. 


• Your mind works by taking in information one individual piece, or chunk, at a time. The chunk may be simple, like “a brick,” or more complex, such as “my house”. 

•  Information about problems also comes in chunks. It can usually be written in a short phrase or sentence. For example, “The roof is leaking”. 

•  You can capture problem chunks by writing them on Notes. 

•  You can solve problem chunks by:

– finding all the chunks

– arranging them into meaningful patterns

– focusing on the important parts

Problem Patterns 

There are three basic ways of arranging chunks: 

•  Lists are simple collections of chunks that may or may not be sorted in order of importance.

•  Trees have simple hierarchical “parent-and-child” relationships. They can be built top-down or bottom-up.

•  Maps have more complex relationships. Any chunk is related to any other chunk. They can be used to relate specific actions or general information chunks.

The Swap Sort / Overlays

This is what he calls a ‘tool’ and it is simply a way of laying out Notes where there is a divider (horizontal or vertical) and labels for what it means for a Note to be above or below the divider, such as ‘Do these’ and ‘Don’t do these’. This could be an inspiration to have overlays or backgrounds in liquid view which are only visible and useful in that view but which also only provides value to highlight the layout in that view. 

Beyond Paper

The Post-It® Notes environment provides rich interaction spatially in 2D when there are no visible lines connecting any Notes (drawing a line freezes the layout); the user can move the Notes around at will, with a work space as large as an A1 pad or even a wall. 

What a computer screen adds is:


•  The ability to keep lines connected to Notes even when they move.

•  3D, the notes can be sized and presented in 2 ½ D as well as possibly in 3D.

•  The opportunity to Save layouts and quickly switch between them.

•  The means through which to do automatic layouts, based on keywords, spacing and more. 

•  A way to embed further information which is not always visible.

•  Links to open up further liquid views.

•  Links to open up external information.

•  Opportunity to share the layout and work on it with many people remotely. 

Published inLit Review: Mind/Concept/etc. MappingLiterature ReviewPhDThoughts