Why Every UX Designer Should Carry a Notebook

The pen is mightier than the sword ✒️

Kelly Sikkema — Unsplash

The humble notebook, once a mainstay in the pockets and bags of everyone from accountants and engineers to college freshmen and school children.

With the introduction of the smartphone, many things we might have carried in the past are slowly being consolidated into a single device. We went from wearing watches, carrying calculators and keeping phone books to simply having a couple of apps on our home screen.

Now by no means do I think this consolidation is bad, in fact, I love having the entire Spotify music collection next to my phonebook and all kept in my pocket.

There are plenty of note-taking apps that can do a lot more than pen and paper whether it’s iOS Notes, Evernote, Bear etc. So I can understand why the notebook might have fallen out of fashion, and use whichever tool suits you best by all means.

As a junior UX Designer, but a long time pocket notebook user, I’ve found this little tool invaluable in the field for a variety of reasons.

Remember more

I’m sure many of us have fond (or not so fond) memories of writing out the alphabet over and over, while practicing cursive letters in 2nd-grade notebooks.

Now although cursive writing may be a thing of the past, writing things down has been a tool for many to help them remember things.

The act of physically writing something down on paper helps us remember in ways that typing has yet to do.

Now there is some anecdotal evidence that might back this up, but I would never ask you to depend on that. In 2014 the Association of Psychological Science found that students who physically took notes performed better on both conceptual and factual learning when compared to their laptop typing peers.

Remain Present

Being present in today’s world of notifications is becoming increasingly difficult, and the benefits of being present can bring about new ideas, or help connect seemingly disparate ones.

While doing user testing or interviews, sometimes they can get quite long and our minds often wander and we might start checking our emails, or take a quick peek at Slack and see where everyone is going after work.

Now, these might seem like small distractions but you’re no longer present and no longer giving the person across the table your full attention. That’s not fair to them or you, and you could miss valuable insights.

I’ve found when user testing or doing interviews having a pen and paper out not only focus my attention but also lets the person across the table know that I’m listening and not scrolling through something else while they talk.

Show Your Ideas, Fast

Phones, laptops and tablets are all fast and are only getting faster with time. But for designers who want to communicate an idea quickly, nothing beats pen and paper.

Communicating ideas to stakeholders and colleagues is important, by keeping a notebook and pen on hand, you can quickly sketch or write out what you’re thinking and present it right then and there.

Stay Focused

We’re all busy people we often open our phones to do one thing but end up scrolling through Instagram until five minutes have gone by and we forgot why we were looking at our phones.

Attention is a valuable resource in the age of pings, feeds, meetings and conversations. Now one of the great things about taking notes in a notebook is its inability to buzz, ding or beep.

When you open a notebook a large portion of your attention is focused on the task at hand whether that’s wireframing a new idea, writing out your to-do list for the day or even just doodling features for an upcoming project.

Practice Creativity

Pen and paper are almost infinite in the worlds they can produce, great authors have penned some of their greatest works in pocket notebooks, artists have sketched out their inspiration for celebrated works worth millions.

Ideas don’t often fall from the sky and notebooks can act as a junkyard for the mind. Not everything you write down or every idea will become something great but recording your thoughts while riding the subway home from work might lead to a brilliant new idea.

There is a lack of permanence that is part of the beautiful simplicity of the notebook. If you don’t like something or think it’s time to move on, simply flip the page and start with a fresh slate.

Tools of the Trade

So go ahead and try a pen and paper, and maybe even consider picking up a notebook for yourself.

Now obviously one of the hidden benefits of carrying a notebook is that they are fairly cheap but they can get quite pricey and often times an eye-catching notebook can be a conversation starter.

I’ve compiled a small list of retailers who carry relatively inexpensive notebooks that can fit in a pocket, purse or bag without being too intrusive

I am not affiliated with any of these companies, these are just some of the tools I’ve come across over the years.

Field Notes

You know the drill, if you liked it hit the clap button, or don’t. I don’t want to tell you what to do, maybe just tell your friends you learned something cool.

Hope you enjoyed and if you want to get in touch or see some of my work you can find me here at my home on the web.