It's a different kind of product than you'd expect from me. It's not a portfolio tool – I think I’m good with Semplice and Carbonmade on that end. It's also not specifically related to the design industry. It's something new. Something I've wanted for a long time myself, and now we’ve built it.
I've used this product every day for the past 10 months. It's become an indispensable part of my workflow. And this is all my partner and I ever wanted: To build something we love to use ourselves.
Of course, we're not going to stop there. I want you to use it too, to see the benefits and hopefully enjoy it as much as we do.
I still have to keep you in suspense for now. So think of this as “part 1” in a series of articles I’m going to publish over the next month. I won't be able to share the name or the details of the product with you yet. But I can give you a little back story. I’ll tell you how we landed on this idea and what we felt was missing in the products currently out there. And from there, I’ll give you an opportunity to follow along as we're building and launching this new product.
This is what came first. Just a daydream, really, something we wished existed. Everything we built followed this mantra.
What I wanted was simple, in theory. If I see something I like, something I want to remember, I want to save it within a second. And if I'm trying to remember it later, I want to be able to find it within seconds. That’s it.
I don't want to deal with organizing things. I don't want folders. I don't want categories or structures. I don't want to think about how to make sure I’ll be able to find this later. I want something to do the job FOR ME instantly. An extension of my mind.
Of course, you might ask, aren't there already tools you can use to achieve those things?
I've tried them all. There's not a single tool you can show me that I haven't tried. Either the tools are too complicated, bloated, outdated or too specific. Without exception, I'm left with a Frankenstein model pieced together from a mix of tools that collect dust more than anything else. And talking to people around me, it seems like everyone is dealing with similar issues.
"We tend to take the path of the least resistance. When we're in the flow, we don't want to think about organization. We want to stay in the flow."
Our new product is born out of this frustration.
You may not be aware of it, but everyone has built their own little Frankenstein system. We can’t necessarily find anything with this system, but we feel some pleasure in managing our chaos. It's the sunk cost fallacy mixed with the illusion of productivity.
But we don't even WANT to build these rigged up systems. The majority of us aren’t interested in creating our own Wikipedia or our own knowledgebase. What we want, whether we realize it or not, is for our tools to get out of our way and simply do what we expected them to do in the first place.
We’ve got shit to do.
Our tools should help us spend LESS time managing information, not force us to adopt complex new mental models and build structures of folders, tags and categories. Software is supposed to take the work out of it, not add to it.
Our biggest challenge with modern productivity tools is that they’re asking us to build, maintain and control our own system. This all sounds and looks great in the beginning, but unless we’re a database structure genius with a love for documentation, we will be making mistakes in the initial setup of our system. And those mistakes will only waste our time instead of doing what we set out to do: save it.
At the time we’re putting our structure in place (folders, tags, categories) we’re doing it with our current knowledge of how things work. And it may function beautifully for about a week or two. We feel productive categorizing things, putting them in folders and maintaining our new system. But then a normal day takes over. Eventually, a piece of information, be it a note, an image or a bookmark, won’t fit into our existing structure. But we don’t feel like this single aberration justifies an adjustment or re-work of our entire structure, and we don’t have the time to revisit it anyway.
Ultimately, our system falls apart. We become our lazy selves again and abandon the tools and the structure we so carefully put in place. What ensues is chaos – at least until the next time we muster up the willpower to do this all over again.
Let's look at some examples:
The majority of the notes we take are "throwaway" notes. Often they're little snippets of something on our mind, something we want to remember later. The average note is no longer than a tweet and likely captured in 30 seconds or less. They're the digital equivalent of sticky notes. Some we want to stick around, some we don't. But each note usually has a clear purpose toward achieving a specific goal.
We eventually end up with a monster like Evernote where each note is a huge document with dozens of little snippets and styling options we never asked for. Other tools ask us to build entirely new mental models in order to use them, to inspire us to create our own Wikipedia. These tools cater to the information hoarder and tend to give us a sense of false productivity. They're a time sink.
When we're in the middle of creative flow, thinking about maintaining structures adds unnecessary cognitive load.
Evernote and most note-taking apps force us to stop and think in structures we don't care about. There are “notebooks” and lists of notes that all look the same on the surface. The visual cues are all the same. We can't find things at a quick glance, and often what we’re looking for is buried deep inside a note within a note within a notebook.
To avoid the forceful structure of our tools, we create a note called "Random Shit" and put individual, unrelated notes inside it. Later, when trying to recall that one piece of important information, we have to sift through all our random shit to get there. Sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
I've seen people use Evernote or other note-taking apps but still avoid them in the most crucial moments. It's often faster to just write it on a post-it note and stick it on your computer. It's even easier to just send yourself a quick email (yes, we all do it). Others use the MacOSX notes app together with three other apps, depending on what "feels right in the moment.” I even write myself a Slack message sometimes because that's the fastest way to leave a note to myself, even though I'm swimming in tools that *should* be better for it.
We tend to take the path of the least resistance. When we're in the flow, we don't want to think about organization. We want to stay in the flow.
We're not using our current tools properly because they're too complex in the moment we need them the most. As a result, the tools we do end up using are not designed for this specific purpose. Ultimately, we end up losing things we wanted to remember.
We avoid our current tools because they're asking too much from us.
Which leads me to more pet peeves:
The process of bookmarking is completely messed up for most people. Here's what I've seen with my friends and myself.
If the website is an article, I may save it to my Pocket account to read later. Or I’ll write myself an email with the URL. Or I’ll Slack myself the URL. Whatever’s “closest” at the time.
Even better: I’ll leave the tab open in my browser, i.e. my list of things "I want to remember for later.” Eventually my browser crashes and relieves me from the burden of things I wanted to remember (I'm aware of browser extensions that save all my open tabs into an archive I'm never going to look at again).
Or perhaps I’ll just bookmark the URL in my browser. I can put it in one of the dozen folders I have, with lists of websites I'm never going to look at again because how the hell should I find anything in there? All I see is link names, but I’m a visual person. I don't remember half of these websites or why I saved them, and I'd have to click on it to find out. Sure, I could use a more visual bookmarking tool made for that purpose. I'm sure there are enough out there. Just one more tool for one more very specific use case.
Or maybe I could just create a note in Evernote called "Links I like" and then just put lists of URLs in there. Forever to be forgotten and never even stumbled upon again because they're not visual enough for me to recognize at first glance.
We don't think in lists. We think in images. Our minds are visual by nature.
Bookmarks are strange. While the source is always just a URL, the reasons we bookmark a URL are very different. We might bookmark it because it's an article we want to read. We might bookmark it because it’s a website design we like. Or we bookmark it because it's a podcast we want to listen to, a video we want to watch or a product we want to buy. The use cases are endless, even though technically it’s always just a link. But each forces us to think differently when it comes to organization. Ultimately we end up with one tool for articles, one for visual website inspiration, one for products we want to buy and so on.
"New tools launching right now attempt to change our mind, rather than supporting it. While they may give us the illusion of control, the reality is that the tools control us."
If you’re a designer or an art director, you know what mood boards are. We have tons of them because it's part of our inspiration and research process.
But everyone has mood boards, not just designers. Yours may be scattered across different places: Your desktop, your camera roll, your Instagram collections, your Pinterest. No matter what shape it takes, we all have a mood board somewhere.
If you see an image of a haircut you like online, you want to remember and reference it later. Or this nice chair you’re thinking about for your new apartment. Or this wedding dress you want to remember, not now, but maybe in a year or two.
Right now, you could use Pinterest for it, although it forces you to organize everything in boards and tag it. Pinterest is also public by default, so you need to make an effort to either curate for your followers or keep everything private (and I have a lot more to say about privacy soon). In reality, you only want to save this ONE image of a wedding dress. You don't want to create an entire board of wedding dresses yet. It’s overkill, and so is any tool specifically for mood boards.
Many of us just save images or screenshots straight to our computer. We save things to our desktop because it's frictionless. Again: the path of the least resistance. I don't have to think about organization, folders, categories. I just save it, quick and dirty. And I will probably never find it again. Our desktop is the best solution we have, yet also the worst.
More often than not, we just take a screenshot on our phone to save it to the camera roll, the equivalent of the desktop on our computer. Quick, easy, painless. But again, most likely forgotten and never found again. I'm sure you've experienced the moment where you frantically browse through your camera roll trying to find an image or screenshot you saved because you wanted to show it to a friend.
What about quotes or highlights I made in books I really enjoy? Do I mix them in with my notes? Create a big document? Do I need to find another tool for this?
Or this PDF white paper I found online I want to read later? Should I bookmark it? Save it? Upload it into a note?
What about my favorite memes I love to come back to and reference more often?
I think you're getting my point. We have hundreds of tools, yet we're still struggling to find something when we need it the most. Our tools aren't built the way our mind is built.
New tools launching right now attempt to CHANGE our mind, rather than supporting it. They try to re-program how we think and operate, giving us more work than we had before. They’re new systems that need to be managed. While these tools may give us the illusion of control, the reality is that the tools control us.
All I want is an extension of my mind. Something where I can put things in and commit it to “my memory” as I go about my day, without any hassle. A place for my ideas and thoughts to spill over when my own mind can’t hold it all. And I want my extended mind to organize it, better than my own mind can, and make sure I find what I need again when the time comes.
It’d be designed just like our own minds, but enhanced with artificial intelligence. And this is what we've built.
Will it be great? We don't know yet, but what we do know is that we're obsessed with using it ourselves. And that's a good start.
While we focused more here on the flaws of existing tools and workflows, next I will talk about how we think it *should* be. I'm excited to share more with you soon!