I received this user requirement recently. The user (a designer) male, 50 years old said that the act of physically writing something down (on Post-It, paper, and so on) was a huge aid to recall and prioritizing ideas later. Any suggestions on what UX innovations could help here or examples from existing apps? Stylus-based Evernote style solution? User likes to be mobile.

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    Something stylus based certainly. The act of typing is nowhere near as effective in aiding recall as actually physically writing something down. Don't know why, but it is my experience that the two don't equate. On mobile (or tablet), using the virtual keyboard the focus seems too much on operating the virtual keyboard to aid in recall effectively. – Marjan Venema Jan 10 '13 at 8:18

I'm sorry to say this, but the "Pen is mightier than the keyboard". This is biology and cognitive science combined to this:

Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you're actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront.

The act of writing triggers more of you, and there are several studies mentioned in the article Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing Than Typing. Well is this a dead end then? Not really, but using typing alone won't be as effective as using a Post-IT note. The only solution I can think of is trying to mimic the pen movements on your touch enabled device to "trigger more of you" - but this may be hard to implement and practically not very useful.

Reference: Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing Than Typing

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    +10 if only I could. Can't stress the importance of pen & paper too much. The OP's client being a designer, I would think he'd appreciated that. Solution: Buy a notepad the size of the mobile phone and glue the notepad onto the back of the phone. – kontur Jan 10 '13 at 8:51
  • @kontur Hehe - that's probably the best solution! Or buy the Anoto Pen: Write on paper, sent as image or text or both! – Benny Skogberg Jan 10 '13 at 8:53
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    @kontur I agree. The best solutions are not always the technical ones! I'd be lost without my notebook and a pen. – Tims Jan 10 '13 at 12:28
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    Thanks for the answer and the reference! Love learning why things are the way I experience them... :-) – Marjan Venema Jan 10 '13 at 18:28

I would say the age of the user is very important as the culture of writing on paper disappear very quickly.

Here my experience about the matter (I am 45). I hope you may find some clues for your research.

To me, writing as much as drawing is great not only to remember but also to think, to create.

I did publish an article about this a while ago : Drawing helps me to have better thoughts.

Then a commenter left this note very meaningful for me:

What an interesting claim! I can tell you wrote it on a computer. The imagination is too elusive for the rigid construct of a word processor. I can get into the zone without drawing. However, the more difficult or creative problems always solve better on paper. How is it that a supercomputer cannot help solve these problems as well as a piece of paper?

I have used many techniques to get the benefit of having the notes on paper and on a screen.

Loosing the digital practically of a drawing note is too much of a hassle. I need to be able to retrieve them and share them. I don’t need extra meta fields, the title of the note is usually enough to put all the data I need to organise them.

  • I’ve used a graphic tablet with wireless stylus Only Wacom as I thought the pressure sensitive was a an important feature. It’s not for basic drawings. What you need is a powerful computer able to handle the flow of data. Photoshop was catching up with my writing too many times.

    But the real problem was I never managed to use it freely as not seeing what you write/draw is very uneasy. I needed to be on a special mindset to use the tablet.

  • Anoto pen with their dedicated pads Expensive solution but extraordinary..

    The kit was a Nokia Pen, its Anoto pads and a Nokia communicator.

    I was writing and drawing on a pad while the pen was recording. Then I was ticking the people I wanted to send the note, ticking again the "send" case et voilà! The note was stored and shared by email as a digital picture.

    There was no need of writing recognition. The designers of Anoto ecosystem thought it was a deal breaker but it never worked for me as I only wanted to send and archive my notes and drawings.

    Suddenly Anoto decided to shut down their original service. The replacement solution wasn’t as smooth and was displaying under your notes a picture of the lined pad with Anoto advertisement.
    It was impossible to remove. The only way to get back your notes was the clumsy solution to plug the pen on a USB dock and open the writing recognition software. Well.. a pain.

    The file format of Anoto is indeed clever : you can replay your writing. As an education and entertaining tool, it works very well. But the file format was proprietary. I found a library around to play with it though.

    I fell in love so much with this Anoto solution that I was ready to buy their SDK and become a developer to take it further. But the solution fell apart because of stupid marketing and sales decisions from Anoto. Today whatever solution Anoto will come with, they’ve lost my trust forever.

    Since then, I can’t get the pen to work again as the software is only working on Windows XP with special DLL that a system update wiped out (Nokia always had terrible software). I eventually managed to revive that software to realise the battery of the pen was out of order and non replaceable. Plus the camera was malfunctioning : recording only few strokes instead of the full writing.

  • Samsung Galaxy Note

    Waste of time. Samsung doesn’t know how to write and integrate good software. Their writing solution is too rigid and unreliable.

  • Stylus on iPad3 retina

    Tried the thick stylus and thin ones.

    Writing a glass feels distant no matter how realistic the paper is displayed underneath. Writing on a screen is a very different experience than writing on paper.. Something that the youngsters may not care at all.

    I don’t know if it’s a problem of the hardware but whatever app I’ve tried, I feel again that the software is catching up with my writing.

    At that stage I thought that writing on a screen might not be the solution. However it’s certainly the most mobile one. So I might give it another go as I do believe that the act of writing, drawing does ignite different connections in our brain, it’s a win-win solution.

  • Wacom Inkling

    I am reluctant of trying the new Wacom solution because of this :

    Store hundreds of sketches on the receiver before transferring them to your PC or Mac.

    To transfer you need to use a USB cable to connect the receiver to your computer and use a specific software. Therefore it's not a mobile solution.

    I don’t know if Wacom plan to release a real solution. The receiver should record your strokes as an open source file format. And then you should be able to access those files with any application. E.g. that thing should be able to save your notes on your dropbox.


What I realize is drawing on paper give me so much pleasure that I don’t think I’m ready to give that away. When I draw a note, I’m scribbling around. On a screen , I don’t feel free.

Paradoxically, I am incapable of writing anything meaningful and wordy on paper anymore. I need to use a word processor.

The article shown by Benny is certainly correct but maybe only for people who used to write on paper. This is why I think youngsters may not really need to write to remember things. They will use other strategies.

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I'd second Benny's proposal - from a UX perspective, I think you should consider ways of helping the user outside of the technical solution - consider observing the user making notes, getting them to talk through their thought processes, and seeing how you can design something better. Ideally, do this with multiple users - this could be a really useful piece of research. In terms of existing solutions, mind maps using colour are something I've personally found very effective - there are technical implementations of this, but I personally don't feel they are as effective as paper and pen.

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Something I will put out there in defense of typing when compared to using a pen. Something that is typed is indexible and searchable, where a pen (usually) is not.

If you then consider that ideas of distributed cognition, the item that we used tools in our environment to extend out cognitive abilities, you can consider your database of notes part of your memory.

So while you might remember more by physically writing, even that is debatable, you will have a greater access and ability to recall your thoughts through a indexible medium (i.e. keyboard input). Also something that is unequivocally a boost of increasing your recall of facts is repetition. Revisiting and reviewing facts/thoughts/ideas is the best way to commit them to long term memory. This reviewing and revisiting is a lot easier to do with something that is searchable than something that is presented in a linear fashion (note book).

In other words, if you want to perform a single one time memorizing task writing might be better than typing (still very dependent). If you want to remember something more than once than having an searchable notes is the way to go.

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