13 Ways Of Looking at a Post-It Note

It’s the best-designed “thinking tool” in history. What could it tell us about designing software?

Clive Thompson
Published in
10 min readNov 12, 2021


What’s the best “tool for thought”?

I write a lot about cognition and technology, so I think about this a ton. I’ve always loved Howard Rheingold’s coinage of “tools for thought” — pieces of tech that help us organize our mental work, find and sort information, and make sense of the world.

So: What is the best tool we have, right now, for thought?

Is it the Internet? The smartphone? The word processor, or the digital camera? The relational database, or Google, or … I dunno, GPT-3 or something?

Nope. For my money, it’s much simpler:

It’s the Post-It Note.

For decades I’ve admired this humble little scrap of paper and glue. Nearly everyone in the modern industrialized world has seen them, and probably uses them. You see them stuck on the edge of laptop screens, festooned across instrument panels in factories, peeking out from the pages of books, and sometimes just full-on wallpapering an entire office of some poor sod who’s been working on a Jarndyce-vs.-Jarndyce-level problem.

“This Post-it note intentionally left blank” by Alan Jones

Wherever you find a Post-it note, you find someone managing information; and wherever you find someone managing information, you find someone trying to think.

That’s why Post-It notes are so interesting to ponder. There’s a lot to be learned from studying why they’re so good at helping us out.

Indeed, there are probably some great design principles we could take from Post-It Notes and bring into the digital world. If you’re crafting a piece of software to help people think, the astonishing utility of Post-It Notes is a cool benchmark.

So forthwith (and with apologies to Wallace Stevens), here are “13 Ways of Looking at Post It Notes” ….

1) Post-Its have been successful — non-stop — for 44 years



Clive Thompson
Writer for

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net