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Post-it Notes Get An “Extreme” Makeover

3M’s new notes are engineered to stick to outdoor surfaces and survive extreme weather conditions.

Post-it notes are a fixture in offices–and have a special place in designers’ hearts, given how useful they can be in brainstorming sessions. But 3M, the company that makes the sticky notes, is branching out beyond conventional offices with its new Post-its.

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After all, many many people don’t work at a desk or in an office at all, but still need ways to communicate and organize ideas. An internal study of 1,000 U.S. workers who don’t work in offices and who were mainly in construction, manufacturing, and culinary jobs found that 82% of these people had trouble communicating at work. The study found that 51% will use a scrap of paper to leave their colleagues notes or label things, while 39% write on work supplies like tape or packages, and 23% write on their own bodies as a way of taking notes.

For instance, say you’re a construction worker and you need a way to indicate that one pile of lumber is supposed to be used for a house’s walls, while another is destined to become beams that support the roof. In the outdoors, regular Post-its just don’t do the trick because the adhesive on the back is designed to stick to paper and flat surfaces, not wood.

To solve this problem, the company launched Post-it Extreme Notes, which can stick to materials you wouldn’t find in your average office–like concrete, wood, brick, stone, and stainless steel. The notes look just like regular Post-its, but are engineered with a much stronger adhesive that stays put outdoors for months at a time. Several layers of coatings make the paper itself more durable and water-resistant, too.

“This is not the Post-it note [you] knew and grew up with,” says Willem Bastiaens, a lab manager at 3M who is one of the inventors of the extreme note. Bastiaens says that not only can the notes stick to a variety of different materials, they’re also so tough that they can survive all kinds of weather conditions. According to him, one of 3M’s sales teams in Florida put some notes outside of a building before Hurricane Irma hit–and the notes were still there, stuck to the wall after the hurricane had moved on.

To properly test the notes’ durability, Bastiaens and his team built test panels of more than 20 surfaces that might be common on construction sites, and then deployed them around the country in different extreme weather areas. One panel went to hot and dry Arizona, another to Florida where it rained every day, one to Minnesota during the frigid winter, and another to Fairbanks, Alaska. The panels stayed there for at least a month, if not more than one, to verify that the notes would really stick.

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[Photo: Post-it Brand]
The team also partnered with local businesses to see if the notes met their needs. One such business was a local microbrewery, which used the notes to indicate which kegs held what beer at what stage of the brewing process. But the condensation from the kegs caused the ink on the notes to smudge–leading to the team developing a coating for the notes so they’d be water resistant and prevent the ink from running.

Bastiaens also did some testing of his own. He lives on a horse and alpaca farm, and he says that he and his wife struggle with ways to communicate with the people who help out with the farm work. With the extreme notes, he says, his wife “has been ecstatic”–now they can label the horse feed versus the bird feed with greater ease. Bastiaens also took the notes on a ski vacation. He stuck them to his skis, and despite the snow buffeting them on every run, the notes never came off. He’s also heard stories of people putting the notes in their shower for months, or putting them through the dishwasher–and the notes still stick.

However, the basic idea behind the notes is still the same. They use a microsphere adhesive, which means that little stretchable elastic beads are stuck to the back of the paper. When the notes stick to a surface like your desk, the surface is really only touching the tops of the little beads. That’s how you can remove them so easily, without leaving a residue. Bastiaens worked with 3M scientists on the project, who developed an adhesive that is far, far stronger than typical notes. In essence, they’re Post-its with superpowers.

I did a little testing of my own, scattering Post-it Extreme Notes around my apartment–including in the shower, the fridge, and on a large tapestry on my wall. They all stuck, though notably less so on the fabric. Perhaps the next round of notes will be able to stick to textiles as well.

Even if you do work in the office, Post-it Extreme Notes might be just what you need, especially as we turn the corner into spring. Now, you can use your Post-its in the park–and have your brainstorm sessions outside.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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