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Design Studies Special Issue: Sticky Notes, An Interview with Bo Christensen and Kim Halskov

Bo T. Christensen, Copenhagen Business School

Kim Halskov, Aarhus University

The latest issue of Design Studies, Volume 76, contains a Special Section on sticky notes in design, guest edited by Bo T. Christensen and Kim Halskov. We sat down with Bo and Kim to ask them a bit more about the section and their editorial process. 


Why is an investigation of sticky notes especially relevant to design research?
This special section is devoted to the roles played by the ubiquitous sticky note in design activities. The topic was motivated by the observation that sticky notes have become omnipresent in many types of collaborative design across the past few decades. It now seems almost inescapable that when engaging in collaborative design projects (particularly with users and non-experts) that you will also have a block of sticky notes in hand. Yet, in looking towards the literature on design support tools and design materials, little theorizing has evolved as to why that is, and what important roles sticky notes play in design processes.

This kind of sticky note practice is now extremely common, with a host of creativity techniques now utilizing sticky-notes-on-boards, now also extending into digitized
What interested you in the topic of sticky notes?
Our interest stem from the realization that we actually do not know very much about the use of sticky note in design practice. We only know a little about why sticky notes are used, we have a limited understanding of exactly how socio-material interaction with the small yellow notes plays out in practice, and what this type of interaction implies for design cognition and collaboration. With this special section, we aimed to help rectify this gap in the literature.
Can you provide a short summary of the issue and its contents?
This special section is about the the roles played by the ubiquitous sticky note in design activities and includes four research articles:
Ball, Christensen & Halskov explore how the sticky notes support design thinking and collaboration. They show that sticky notes have inherent properties (paper, size, shape, color and stickiness) that afford a set of unique activities, associated with their ability to be related, re-configured, categorized, and decomposed.
Ben Matthews, Khan, Snow, Schlosser, Salisbury & Sarah Matthews highlight the socio-material dimensions of sticky notes, and the value of adopting a socio-material analysis to the study of design materials.
Rakova and Fedorenko investigate how sticky notes challenge the historical hierarchies of South Korean corporate culture. Using actor-network theory, the authors unveil the fact that sticky notes not only support human action but also co-direct it. The analysis also demonstrates that sticky notes democratize design processes by enabling collaborators to work in equal positions, and that sticky notes support low-ranking collaborative participants by muting high-ranking ones.
Christensen and Abildgaard explore how design teams move sticky notes around on boards. The study is motivated by the unique affordances of sticky notes, tangible and sticky, and reveals that through their moving, sticky notes become related to other sticky notes, form associations, categories, and build relational structures.
How did you decide which papers to include in the special issue? How do they connect to or differ from each other?
We wanted to demonstrate the breadth of contemporary sticky notes research with respect to scope (e.g. cognition, collaboration, creativity, design methods) and theoretical foundation (design material, actor-network theory), and also with respect to research method (ethnography, video analysis, literature survey).
Are there any insights about sticky notes that surprised you when you were editing the issue?
Partially as a result of COVID-19, much of sticky note design collaboration has taken place digitally – using online tools - the past years. It surprised us that the digital collaborative experience of using sticky notes is quite distinct from using the physical counterpart in some important ways.
What do you hope readers will learn from the special issue?
Over aim with the special section is to offer new insights about the nature of sticky notes, and, inspire other researchers to build on and further advance our understanding of the nature of sticky note cognition and collaboration.

 September 27, 2021