From originally calculating numbers, computers have now advanced in leaps and bounds. On one hand is a multitude of Softwares. On the other is the paradox of choice that makes these ultimately counter-productive.
A solid system that allows for boundless ideas is a struggle for a creative studio, but here is one tool to rule them all: Notion.
Words and Interview by Kar Abola
Graphics by Paolo Geronimo
Creative flow is a challenge any creative studio has striven to constantly achieve. How can we understand the complex needs of a growing creative team? And how should structure be designed in a profession that requires flow?
There’s no telling how many apps are used—and simultaneously— to aid with this. Challenging the need for one whole sea of apps is Notion. As they themselves put it, “Notion brings together your essential tools—documents, databases, notes, images, wikis—all into one elegant, collaborative workspace.” As one gets deep into the habit of using it, it becomes clear that the way it’s designed also changes the way one works. Designed from a philosophy that transcends tech to encompass the way we think and work, Notion doesn’t just only make productivity simpler as well as information and knowledge more accessible, it also lets you get stuff done and get it done well in a way that’s unlike any other.
Notion’s Head of Marketing Camille Ricketts talks to us about the brand, their design process, as well as the future of creativity and productivity.
Hi Camille. Share with us the story about how you first got involved in Notion.
I met Notion’s CEO about 4 years ago, and he made an amazing impression on me. His approach to this work is philosophical and motivated by a strong conviction that everyone in the world should be able to harness the power of computers to accomplish work the way they want to. Since then, I watched him grind hard on this product until it hit its inflection point last year with the launch of Notion 2.0. I was really compelled by that level of commitment and tenacity; by the beauty and grace of the product; and lastly by the wild, unprecedented enthusiasm from Notion’s community.
As the Marketing Head, what are some of the best ways to help people understand what Notion does?
We’ve found the best way to explain the product is visually. We use a lot of GIFs, for instance. They aren’t as time-consuming or heavy as videos, but they give our audience a very precise sense of how they, too, can build some ambitious things with the product. We also tap into our super enthusiastic community to tell our story and showcase our best use cases organically and authentically. Right now, our community hosts 2-3 events around the world every week. We’re gaining 700 new users in our Reddit and Facebook communities every month. We want to fuel them and make them feel supported to continue sharing the power of Notion.
We love how the app was intentionally designed to be as free of clutter as possible. How has Notion’s main mission affected your design decisions for the brand?
Our mission is to give people the tools they need to work the way they want to. We want to give them a blank canvas that they can intuitively understand, so they can build things that bring them joy. That’s why it probably feels minimalist to you. We did our best to build extremely powerful tools that only reveal themselves if and when you need them. Our brand is designed around these concepts. That’s why we’ve kept things pretty black and white, but with incredibly humanistic illustrations that bring the warmth and empathy.
The flexibility of Notion is a key feature for the team. However, there seems to be a steep learning curve for some. What would you say about this level of modularity?
Particularly in marketing, we’re always walking this tight rope between not giving people enough to dig in and understand the product, and giving them so much that they’re overwhelmed. We really need to split the difference perfectly so that our users feel empowered and informed, but not buried under too much information. We’re just starting to create educational content and figure out how to make it available in smart ways that people can consult only if and when they want it.
Love how your About Page took us through the history of computers. What, for you, should tech be able to do?
We think we’re at a point where the power of computing should be available to everyone, whether they know how to code or not. Everyone should be able to build and modify computing tools that they’ll use and love using every day. That’s what we want to enable at Notion—a set of tools that all live in one spot, and complement and reinforce each other, that are flexible and malleable enough to work the way our users’ brains work, the way they want them to work. .
How has Notion evolved through the years to solve this problem?
Notion has gone through several distinct phases of development. At its earliest, it definitely leaned more in the direction of helping people build apps without code. But our founder Ivan Zhao realized that people wanted more of a bridge from the current reality to this new reality of computing for everyone.
They wanted to see recognizable tools that they understood combined in new ways to build new things. That’s what led him to launch Notion 1.0, which was all about docs and tools in 2016, and then Notion 2.0 which incorporated databases for more sophisticated workflows. Now we’re tracking toward Notion 3.0, which will do even more to help people build forms and simple apps themselves to solve their problems in intuitive ways.
How has Notion changed things around it—in the tech space and in the conversation of work and productivity?
Notion is kind of a special company. Unprecedented in a number of ways. We believe that the new crop of SaaS companies won’t have to be big in order to build big businesses. We want to lead the charge to keep these companies lean and efficient. We’re also the only ones that have the conviction in an all-in-one workspace. We’ve seen the SaaS landscape get more and more fragmented over the years. Hundreds of apps out there do just one thing well, which has become increasingly frustrating for the end user. We know they want to do their work in one unified space that makes sense to them and their teams. We’ll keep carrying this banner and see how it impacts the ecosystem around us.
What’s the best thing about working with a lean team? How are you able to juggle the demands of a growing creative tech brand with a small number of people?
I joined as employee 11 in January and we’re now just 23. The best thing about working with a lean team is that we can move much faster. The communication overhead is minimal. We all know each other so well and can easily turn to one another to express an idea or push a project forward fast. The larger companies get, the harder this becomes, so we’re really cherishing our tight feedback loops and minimal bureaucracy for now.
How do you think the design and development should interact?
You might have seen a while back on our Jobs page we were recruiting for a “Designer Who Can Code.” That was the literal job title. To keep the team lean, we really value hiring people who can wear multiple, different hats, and wear them well. Like me—I’m a content manager at heart who has also run comms and knows about marketing. Especially on the design, development side, we feel like closing that gap between how something should work and how something should be built is critical and an organizational strength. The best case scenario is someone who can think through all the permutations of how something should work, and then implement it themselves.
Any favorite or interesting way of using Notion? We’ve discovered the Pokédex and can’t get enough of it.
Oh my goodness, we adore the Pokédex! The other one we love is a board game database made by Philip Rau. He’s recorded his entire board game collection, codifying rules and stats. It’s impressive. That said, if we lean into how Notion can make people more productive at work, I love how a few companies have started using it to track candidate recruiting and onboarding. We’ve seen Notion make it much easier for people to have a good experience during both of these phases. We’re able to track where people are in both processes, and keep all relevant notes together.
What’s the best compliment a brand like Notion can receive?
Our mission is literally: “Computing for everyone.” We want all people, despite their aptitude for coding, to feel like they can modify and even create the tools they want to work with on an everyday basis—to keep track of their lives, do their best work, and feel good while they’re doing it all. Our highest compliment is when a user tells us that working in Notion “just feels good.” We think getting a lot done should also be delightful, so that’s what the next 10 years are about enabling.
Love how it’s so easy to get in touch with your support team. How do you know what issue to prioritize first and what biggest features and requests should go ahead before the others?
The way our community support team works is pretty unique. Whenever we receive a message through Intercom or email, or even through Twitter, we always tag it based on the feature that person wish they had, or the problem they wish could be solved. These tags end up being counted as votes that get piped into our roadmap and give us the quantitative intuition we need to decide what to build next, or what to fix next. We value listening to our users the most in this process. Also, uniquely, most of our community support experts double as UX researchers. They’re constantly asking users why they want certain features or how they’d like to use them, how they wish something would work if it’s not working perfectly for them, etc. We glean a lot of intelligence about our users through this channel that is fed immediately into our product development cycle.
What’s next for Notion? What are the most pressing issues for people that are in the near-future pipeline?
We’re headed toward Notion 3.0, which will be all about giving our users even more and better tools to build systems, apps, forms, and more to help them get their jobs done better. We’re also building for customers who want to deploy Notion across their entire companies, so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about features that would make this an easy, delightful, and intuitive process for employees to get hooked even if they weren’t familiar with Notion before.