Whiteboard 101: Seize the Marker

Why go to the whiteboard?

Focus, focus, focus

Who should you whiteboard with?

When should you whiteboard?

What goes on the whiteboard?

Behold, Maps & Models!

Whiteboard Model / Empathy Exercise

Whiteboard Model / Context of Usage

  • Who are the people influencing or interacting with your user?
  • What content or features are they engaging with?
  • When are they using your product and how often?
  • Where are they using your product; at work, at home, in-between?
  • Why are they using your product; what’s their core motivation? What is their job-to-be-done?
  • How are they using your product? If it’s a digital service, which devices to they use and how does that influence their experience.

Whiteboard Model / Journey Map

Whiteboard Model / Big Jobs, Little Jobs

Whiteboard Model / Points of Entry

Whiteboard Model / Mash-up

Whiteboard Model / Co-design

How do you whiteboard?

Basic ingredients for a whiteboard session:

  • A Big Whiteboard or Flipcharts (the kind you can stick on the wall) — Find the room with the biggest whiteboard and book it for as long as you can (you’ll need time to set-up and break down your session). If there is no whiteboard, paper the walls with Flipchart sheets before your meeting.
  • 3x5" Post-its / 3x5" Post-its are big enough to write a legible headline on, yet small enough to prevent participants from writing an essay. Get 3x5 Post-its from Amazon if you can’t find them in a store near you.
  • Fresh Dry-Erase Markers / Black, Red and Blue. Skip the Green, it doesn’t photograph well. When you’re documenting from your photos you want to be able to see what you wrote.
  • Sharpies for your participants / For when people need to write on post-its for your exercises. Sharpies force people to write bold headlines. They also make it way easier to read the ideas when you’re documenting the session from your whiteboard photos later. But don’t write with sharpies on the whiteboard. Do not write with sharpies on the whiteboard.
  • Camera or Cellphone / It’s useful to document the session with images throughout, so you can erase and re-use the board and make sure all the ideas are captured. Have two people document, so if you lose your phone you don’t lose all those precious ideas.
  • Clock or Timer / It’s useful to have a time-boxed agenda and have someone playing Time Cop to keep the workshop moving along. Give each exercise just enough time, then move to the next activity when things slow down.
  • Coffee, Tea and Snacks / You want to keep everyone’s blood sugar up and ideas flowing. If you’ve got it in the room it doesn’t give people the excuse to wander away.

The power of post-its

Things to avoid: Open laptops and buzzing phones

Things to avoid: Dried-out markers

Work on those fonts!

Circles are magic!

Fun with shapes and arrows

Stick figures and smiley faces

Put it all together

Your Role

  • Conductor — You own the structure of the meeting; you need to make sure the activities work smoothly, and that you meet your goals for the session.
  • Facilitator — Your job is to cultivate and encourage the flow of conversation and ideas, helping everyone to participate and contribute.
  • Performer — You are acting as the MC; you need to hold and focus people’s attention, by any means necessary. Respond to ideas you find exciting, be expressive and keep your participants energized.
  • Scribe — The most important part is writing down the words; capturing the ideas and recording them so you can act on them later.

Best Practices

Seize the marker!

A few good books



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Matthew Carlson

Matthew Carlson


Design Director, Creative Cloud Experience at @Adobe. Sketchbook junkie & stealer of pens. Black Belt in whiteboarding & late-night game designer. #ally-he/him