Disclaimer: I'm an angel investor in Muse and was not asked to write this. I started as a happy user since the Beta and want to share my thoughts!
Tools for thought is a category of computer software that augments, amplifies, and empowers human thought. It's easy to associate this outside of the computer, but the category is primarily software. My favorite analog tools tools for thought are pen and paper, an almond Cortado, and a nice long walk to wonder. By that definition, literally everything is a tool for thought. Though this is true, let’s constrain it to software—a space where organizing thoughts can be challenging for me without the right software tools
Long-time readers know Obsidian my writing tool of choice (Issue 89). I capture every note in it as my digital. In fact, I take care of this garden better than my house plants and need to step it up. When Obsidian Canvas was released, I thought it would become my canvas tool of choice—keeping everything all in one app. I can’t tell you exactly why that didn’t pan out, but it hasn’t. My number one tool of choice of a spatial canvas for thought is Muse.
In this issue, I'll share how muse with Muse, why it's my primary "thinking and inking" software tool, and examples of how I personally use it.
How I think
It goes without saying that everyone thinks differently. I'm a lateral thinker who connects rough ideas to create something. My brain operates more like an episode of Robot Chicken instead of a coherent linear film. Chaos ensues in my brain. I organize thoughts like how Amelie Poulain's mother cleans her purse...dump everything out, sort it, and putting everything back. Tools for thought help me make sense of my brain in a way that’s visual, movable, and interactive.
A tool for focus
Though I am susceptible to it, am very against multi-tasking—believing it often results in the appearance of doing a lot. I value focused experiences like listening to music on an iPod classic. I don’t use the iPod for nostalgia. I believe to this day it’s the best device for experiencing music. There is no risk of distraction by taking a call on your AirPods or scrolling through Instagram. The focus is unrivaled, and this is how I feel about Muse. There are many canvas-based thinking tools out there. Since I use Muse for big ideas and deep work, I don't get tempted to peruse other files that could be "other work" related.
Anti-goals with Muse
Any tool can be used for anything if you try subverting it hard enough. You could prune a plant with a steak knife, but it's probably not the most optimal. Here are some ways I do NOT use Muse for:
Linear or structured writing: I collect notes and scribe text, but I don't write articles on Muse. This is where I use Obsidian
High fidelity interface design: Muse is not a vector drawing tool for production-ready assets for software. It's a tool that embraces the mess
Collaboration: Though Muse is collaborative and teams can use it together effectively, I’m a team of one on my canvas for now.
My use cases
More like Muse cases, amirite? The power of an authoring tool is configuration of how it works best for you as an end user. I’ll share my top use cases that provide tremendous value.
When I fold my clothes after doing laundry, I lay everything out on my bed to start categorizing my clothes into piles (The Amandine Poulain Method). Again, I'm a visual thinker and having documents buried in a file tree. It’s extremely difficult and unproductive for me. Muse's cards are quite inspired by moving index cards around on a tabletop, and in a digital format, I have ample space to work. When I capture things worth remembering, I put it on the canvas to start clustering ideas together.
Thinking and inking
Drawing and writing are harmonious in my process of thinking. I love Muse's simple drawing tools to optimize my noodling and doodling. Here's an example of how I started planning looking for an apartment in San Francisco. I found myself overwhelmed by looking at all the listings and needed a visual of where certain listings would be. Instead of trying to organize it in Zillow, I drew an ugly map of the Bay Area and put URLs of the listings in the areas. Reducing cognative load of unnecessary information helps me be more productive.
Annotating and editing digital files
Archive for analog
I have more than 10 years worth of notebooks I've kept throughout my design career and scan them all (Issue 32). For important sketchbooks, I import them as a PDF. Though I have these physical notebooks in the studio, it's nice to have a digital version I can store on my iPad Pro to refer to. On breaks or flights, I look through the archives to find thoughts that have endured the test of time and connect them to my present day work.
Visual mood boards
Though Pinterest is one of the most iconic apps back in the day, it's not a good mood board solution for me. It's distracting with ads, recommendations, and social features. Muse is a very simple tool to collect personal inspiration. Here's an example of a card that contains people I'm inspired by.
Tips and tricks
Create a triage board
In Muse, the atomic unit is the card. A card can become a board, which is quite nice to quickly organize content. I like having one board on the canvas that's my triage board where you can dump all inbox items in there to organize later. You can always put cards back in the inbox to organize them into other boards later.
Use three inks
When I ideate on pen and paper, I always carry three inks with me: black, blue, and red. I have a visual system and having three different inks lets you parse information a lot quicker. Muse does does a great job with setting up gestures for quick access to going from think to ink. My setup is:
Default drawing: black
One finger on the surface: erase
Two fingers on the surface: blue
Three fingers on the surface: red
Embrace the mess
You’re not going to tidy your cards (maybe the OCD types will) or worry about how it looks. What makes Muse powerful is being messy about your work. Instead of a desktop with an Apple Studio display and every item purchased on Grovemade, give yourself a messy desk to do real work. Muse is the digital personification of that.
Give Muse a try
I highly recommend trying Muse to see if there is a use case that fits for you. Muse does not replace pen and paper but augments my ability to think and ink as if I was using pen and paper.
I am exhausted after a wonderful week in New York City for UXDX and Design Week. It was also an opportunity to spend time with the Replit New York team. Some highlights:
An incredible turnout at the Replit Design Happy Hour. Thank you all who came and made it such a wonderful gathering!
I had the honor of being part of a panel at UXDX called Product Teams and AI
Barron Webster, Product Design Manager and Enya enthusiast at Replit, gave a workshop on How to Run a Tip-Top Product Crit
Last but not least, Sugarfish with the Replit New York team.
Tweet of the week
What’s ahead for Bard: More global, more visual, more integrated
I just made this up
Love the Amelie reference!! 😂
Wow – this is interesting. I have always used pen and paper for thinking and drawing in a way very similar to what you describe. I am definitely going to try Muse.