Tool for thought sketches: spatial grouping

Note taking apps really like titles. Apple notes makes you title notes, nodes in Roam & WorkFlowy need titles for back linking. Every page in Notion needs a title.

I’ve struggled with this in both the ideation and synthesis phases of a project. While generating ideas, naming them early can cause you to focus in too quickly. While making connections and synthesising ideas, the connections often come before you have a name for them. On-the-go, random ideas often aren't well formed enough to be able to think about giving it a title, and the extra friction makes the quick-capture more trouble than it's worth.

In Affinity Mapping, a design thinking process for finding connections between ideas, you’re explicitly encouraged to leave naming groups until last. Imagine working with a bunch of stickies on a wall: you’d start by arranging similar notes together, and repeat until clear clusters form. Only once the cluster has formed do you give it a name.

Affinity mapping process

Leaving naming until last like this has the wonderful effect of keeping things fluid as you hone in on the right groupings for ideas. Only when the groups are clear do you lock them in with a name.

I’d love to see a note-taking/tool-for-thought app implementing something similar—encouraging you to link ideas without requiring a name. The closest I’ve seen is Muse for iPad, where ‘boards’ (their organising unit) work just as well with or without a name. The relationships though are purely spatial. There’s no database-style link behind the scenes to help with retrieval in the future.

Here’s a prototype of one way this might work. Drag two items close together to establish a relationship. Name the new group if you’d like, or not, up to you. Behind the scenes, the two ideas might be linked backlink-style. Allowing you to look up one and follow the thread to the other in the future.

Spatial grouping prototype

Got thoughts on this? I'd love to discuss! Send me an email and let's figure out a time to chat :)