Workflow/system for creative workers

Hi good people!

I’m a service/ systems designer (design thinking, UX blabla) and are currently working on how creatives can use PKM and “new” applications (not word, physical notebooks etc, but Notion, Obsidian, Roam etc) to boost their creative working.

As a service designer I need both to have logical and quantitative data and to understand a problem, as well as qualitative data from interviews etc. My hypothesis is that creative workers can benefit in their work if they can store knowledge both from academia and previous projects in a way they can link ideas together and easiest find and use the knowledge in current projects.

I therefore was wondering if anyone here in the forum have any suggestions, workflows, wishes, needs etc for a system like this? I would really appreciate the help and will of course share my findings here when the project is done☺️

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I don’t know if my situation will help you but let me talk about it anyway.

I worked for years as a tech journalist. During that time, I’d be working on two or three articles at a time, and nearly all of those articles would be done within 24 hours. In addition to that, I’d have one or two longer-term projects going along, with completion times in days, weeks, or months.

It was easy for me to hold the status of all that in my head.

Almost two years ago, I transitioned to a job doing content marketing. Now, I write articles for a corporate website. These articles can take weeks or months to complete, and I’ll generally have a half-dozen going at once. Too much for me to simply hold the status and context for all of them in my head! I have had to evolve new ways of working, and use new tools.

I have tried simple documents in the Mac Finder, DevonThink, and Obsidian. I used Obsidian for most of 2021, went to DevonThink for a couple of months, and now I’m back to Obsidian again.

Previously, I used one folder per project, but from my perspective, Obsidian does not handle folders that well. So instead now I’m using one MoC per project. The MoC contains links to each document required for a project, along with a brief description of what each document is. Here is a list of source materials from my colleagues in marketing, here are some emails discussing the project with colleagues, here are the drafts I wrote before submitting to my editor, here are versions that came back after edits and review by colleagues in the company and by partners.

I rely extensively on Microsoft Office documents, web documents, PDFs, recordings, and my own typed Markdown notes. For now at least, I store all of those in the Obsidian vault. (And, by the way, when I say “notes,” I don’t mean them in the meaning that’s come up in the PKM community. I’ve been a journalist for 30+ years — my notes are one document per interview or source document, they are typed very very fast, nearly stream of consciousness, and contain big blocks of interview transcripts.)

I also use “status” documents, one per project, containing a chronological list of actions on the project. Mostly I’m just interested in the latest action, so if my boss asks me what the status is of the Spacely Sprockets article, I can respond, “That went out to George Jetson for review last month — I emailed George three days ago, he says it’s still under review, and I have a tickler to nag George again if I haven’t heard anything next week.”

I also use daily notes for internal meeting notes and other miscellany.



Hi, and yes, very helpful, thank you very much!

Do you feel the workflow you currently have is effective for the work you do? For example, you MoCs, do they provide you with the information you need, and do you actually keep them updated?:blush:

It’s still a work in progress. Ask me again in 6 months or a year. :slight_smile:

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As a counter-argument…

I work as a service/systems designer and use Obsidian extensively to record ideas, principles, procedures, and templates I use to ground, fuel, and accelerate my work.

However, to do the synthesis I need in order to design systems, I need more spatial relationships, so I move to Mural where I have notes and images and questions and decisions and observations all together in one place where I can use text, icons, color, size, grouping, and relationships in space to allow much more detailed and nuanced analysis and synthesis.

Obsidian is my critical notebook. A whiteboard is still critical for working with systems.


I don’t think this is a knock against tools like Obsidian.

Design thinking focuses on canvases and maps and journeys and moving sticky notes around because this is the best way to manipulate ideas and examine them at different altitudes and from different perspectives.

Thank you very much! So, just so I understand you correctly. For you, Obsidian is a good tool to have in the toolbox, and you use it to record different types of data (ideas, principles etc), but it is not sufficient when it comes to the synthesis you need to make systems. For that you need more visual and “free” tools.

Yeah… and definitely not dismissing Obsidian at all. I’m text-focused, and it’s crammed full of thinking and principles and procedures and templates and diagrams I use for my work. I use it extensively to record Work notes as well as atomic thinking/notemaking on design, collaboration (workshops), psychology and behavior, and strategy.

I understand, again thank you so much for taking the time to write.

If you have the time, I would love to hear a bit more about how you use obsidian and Mural together, and how your system is in Obsidian. How do you find things again, is you system flexible and can it grow with you, how do you arrange your notes etc etc. :v:

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Like @garddun said, if you could afford the time, please consider sharing some more details about your workflow. Thank you.

Design thinking is central to how I work, as well — though it’s historically been in collaborative environments and the whiteboard approach just seemed like the most natural way to do collective sense-making and creativity.

When I moved to fully-remote work in 2020, the primary collaboration tool became Google Docs. This wasn’t a conscious choice; it was just the ‘multi-player’ tool we were most familiar with. Only later did I realize how much this tool choice shaped our collaborative thinking. Text is linear, so it tends to encourage linear, sequential thinking.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate how important the whiteboard is. It wasn’t just collaborative; the 2d working space enables an entirely different thinking process. A canvas is non-linear, allowing you to play spatially with any possible relationship between ideas, and allows you to move seamlessly between different scales of thinking. For design and complex systems thinking, that’s essential. I believe it greatly increases the chances for insight and creativity. We are now working much more with Miro and Figma in our collaborations.

When it comes to individual thinking, atomic notes + Obsidian’s linking certainly opens up more possibilities for relational thinking than a Google doc. But it’s still hard to step back and work with the relationships directly, as you can do on a canvas. I have a ton of notes and all kinds of intermediate infrastructure like MOCs and indexes. But that’s a lot of overhead to maintain. And as fast as Obsidian is, it can’t accomplish the fluid play with relationships that is trivial in a tool like Miro. For example, I can re-organize a hierarchical category structure in a few quick mouse drags on a canvas. In Obsidian, that requires manually editing all the links in each note.

I’m using Miro more and more for individual workspace. Each tool has its role to play. IMO, 2d canvas tools are better suited for stages of the design/research process that are divergent and ambiguous, where you’re synthesizing a lot of disparate ideas or datapoints, trying to make sense of a mess, where you’re experimenting with different frameworks and organizing principles, often in parallel, to accomplish individual or collective sense-making.

I could see Obsidian being helpful in doing text analysis of transcripts, extracting key quotes, keeping a running list of ideas or insights. But I think it’s a poor tool to then try to make sense of that constellation of ideas or insights. At that point, I would switch to a canvas/whiteboard tool, create a post-it for each nugget or idea, and enter a sense-making process to map those ideas onto different visual frameworks. One could then return to Obsidian to store the outputs of that sense-making, and do expository thinking about each atomic output, turning it all into knowledge.