Problem finding & usability testing with yourself?

I’m currently designing a tool to help me keep memorable ideas from articles and books I read, extract them into my notes system, so I can review and refine them later. I have so many ideas of what I want that tool to do and how, and it’s hard to prioritize what is most effective. Naturally, what I want is feedback. Ideally from people that look at this without bias.

For that I need prototypes. I’m familiar with the various kinds of low-effort prototypes and the design thinking methodology behind it, and I’m looking forward to unleashing that on my poor friends who’ll be my first victims when the time comes. :wink:

However, I’m looking for something applicable much earlier in the process. So I came up with this:

For a few days now I augment my regular process for reading articles and books and taking notes with writing a separate meta-note. I create notes for the content like I usually would (I’m not using Roam, but think of the process to be very Roam-like), but at the same time I also write down observations about the process itself, like:

  • Why did I write this down?
  • Is there a pattern here? What is it?
  • How would this work better?
  • What do I wish I had / could do that I don’t have / can’t do right now?

It’s a little shocking to realize how well that works for me. Sure, I’m much slower at the actual task, but I notice things that I would never come up with if somebody asked me about my process or I would just reflect about it later.

Is anybody else doing this or something similar?
How do you do this? What questions do you ask yourself?
What other techniques do you use in early product development to make sure you’re attacking the right problems?


I love the topic, @stefanlesser.

I’m also struggling with choosing what aspects to tackle first and seeking ideas from wherever I can get them.

I used to write descriptions of yet another concept/idea, and accumulate them hoping that some sense of direction would emerge. This was not happening fast enough for me so I switched my focus to reflecting on my workflow.

Although tools ⇄ workflows, I believe a better workflow should inform the design of the tool.

Currently what I do is to pick whatever external tools there are and mash them up to continuously improve my workflow. And I try to think constantly what’s not working (missed opportunities) to allow me to connect ideas and to write more. Basically, it maps very close to the questions you’ve mentioned:

  • Why did I write this down?
  • Is there a pattern here? What is it?
  • How would this work better?
  • What do I wish I had / could do that I don’t have / can’t do right now?

Lately I’m reflecting on two additional things, but these are more general strategic questions to what I’m trying:

What basics need to be there so that I can start to use this tool in my current workflow? What subset of those are original to my core ideas?

I realised that my eyes tend to go too far and that makes my legs not be able to walk too far. In other words, if I were to commit on essential aspects (they need to be there and they are original to what I’m trying), that would have a multiplying effect of what I could do next as a designer. I’m not on a rush, but essentially I’m trying to close the learning-loop as soon as I can.

What are the claims of my design, how could I test if they hold?

I have some fuzzy ideas of what the building blocks of the tool I’m aiming at could be. Some of them are controversial but they somehow resonate with me. Examples could be: Limited or no recursion / No links in the text / Pull request based collaboration / … The thing is, I could be fooling myself. The ideas could hold in my mind because I haven’t played enough with them in practical scenarios. So I think I need to be more verbose on what these hypotheses/claims are because that’ll make it possible for me to refute / double-bet on them going forward.


Hi Stefan - welcome!

I am also actively working on the extraction, preservation, and summarization of the things that I learn while reading.

My notes system remarkably resembles what you have developed, with some slight nuances (of course).

I derive much of my inspiration from this website when it comes to the kind of questions that I ask myself, as well as the features that I decide to develop around my notes.

Would love to connect 1:1 to learn more about your project and compare… notes!

I’d be delighted to “compare notes” 1:1. :slight_smile:

However, I’d like to set expectations that what I described is my pretty unremarkable process using basic standard tools (Markdown-based, mostly Bear at this point; I don’t even have any fancy scripts I use), and I haven’t really developed anything so far.

I’m pre-prototype and just using my current process to identify specific pain points to explore with actual prototypes. I’ve spend the last two years extensively learning about cognitive linguistics, categorization, and how we think, and am now trying to find ways to apply that knowledge for building tools that are better adapted to the way our brains work.

It’s very interesting for me to hear about your (and other people’s) processes, pain points, and wish lists.
Maybe we should have a separate topic about that?
Or even a group call?

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