Black Pen. Red Pen.

There are a few productivity tools I keep within arms reach at all times.

They’re on my desks at work and at home, in my backpack, in my car’s console.

Pink sticky notes. Field Notes notebooks. An Action Method project book.

And Pilot G2-10 pens.

Two colors: a black pen and a red pen.

The black pen brings new ideas into the world.

The red pen strikes things out of existence.

Addition. Subtraction.

Creation. Deletion.

Black pen. Red pen.

In startups and in building products, you need both.

A black pen brings the ability to experiment and the courage to try new things.

Black pens are for adding new material to your workbench; fastening new features to a product or platform and delivering new value to users.

I sketch, notate, and dream on paper with the black pen.

New ideas, scratchpad notes, and wireframes come out of the black pen’s tip.

A red pen, on the other hand, allows you to exercise restraint, removing things that don’t work.

I print out Figma files and mark them up in red. I strike through ideas and wireframes in red.

Red pens are for the discipline of deletion, whittling away all that’s not useful. Use data and feedback to remove the things that simply don’t work.

Like the proverbial shoulder angel and devil, the black pen and the red pen are constantly at odds with each other, vying for prominence and influence.

And in this balance, there’s value to be found.

Creativity and constraint.

Black pen. Red pen.

November 18, 2022