Strong whiteboard skills are critical for successful UX designers. Just as sketching is “thinking on paper”, the ability to clearly communicate your ideas to colleagues on a whiteboard is key to successful collaboration and problem solving. In this post I’ll share my 5 favorite whiteboard tips to help you get to the top of the class.
1. Practice Makes Pretty
Practice your whiteboard skills as often as possible. If you are a remote worker or do not have an actual whiteboard available, go find one. Many co-working spaces will rent out a conference room for an hour or more.
It’s worth it to get used to drawing out your ideas while standing up. You could practice with a portable whiteboard or a sketchbook, but it’s not the same physical sensation as getting on your feet and writing on the real deal.
The more you practice on a real whiteboard, the more relaxed you will be when presenting to colleagues and clients. The last thing you need is a case of nerves when communicating your ideas.
2. Develop A Visual Vocabulary
A “visual vocabulary” is a collection of common design elements artists use from memory to illustrate various concepts. These elements are based on simple shapes such as lines, dots, rectangles, circles and triangles.
For example, in my Whiteboard 101 video, I introduce a basic visual vocabulary of common interaction design elements that anyone can use. By combining simple shapes to represent everything from a video player to an email icon, you can quickly create your own collection.
Expanding your visual vocabulary will give your whiteboarding skills a huge boost, since you will literally have a more raw material to draw from.
In his landmark book, The Sketchnote Handbook, designer Mike Rohde teaches a simple way to draw almost anything from a few simple shapes. This approach to visual thinking will also help you remember key information more clearly when taking notes.
3. Practice Your Whiteboard Handwriting
At one time teachers were required to practice handwriting on blackboards. This helped them focus on teaching instead of worrying that no one could read their handwriting.
The same holds true at the whiteboard. Writing on a wall is very different from writing at a desk. You’ll have a tough time collaborating with your peers if no one can decipher your chicken scratch. Spend some focused effort making sure your letters and numbers are clearly drawn so people will understand them during meetings.
4. BYO – Bring Your Own Whiteboard and Markers
A portable whiteboard comes in handy for on the go meetings or if you don’t have access to the real thing. It’s also a good idea to bring your own whiteboard markers. How many times have you been in a meeting where the markers were dried out or missing altogether?
Having your own supplies eliminates the problem at the source. It also makes a great conversation piece. Besides giving them a chuckle at my OCD tendencies, I’ve broken the ice several times by letting clients play with my portable whiteboard around the conference table.
5. How To Whiteboard Like A Boss
After all this preparation, you’ll be ready to nail any live situation with clients or colleagues. Here are some tips to have the most productive live whiteboarding session:
- Define the problem: What are you trying to solve? Before you start drawing, agree on desired outcomes with your team.
- As you brainstorm and collaborate, capture any random ideas in a “holding tank” or “parking lot” area of the whiteboard, away from your main drawing area. I usually use the left-hand side of the board and draw a bounding box around it.
- Explain what it is you are drawing as you draw it. Don’t assume your audience will know.
Highlight important points with a different color. Use asterisks or simple icons like stars for emphasis.
- Periodically check in with your audience to make sure they are engaged and understand your illustrations. Be sure to prompt for questions as you go along.
- Before you conclude, take a moment to review everything with your team. You want to “connect the dots” to make sure everything makes sense and snap a picture on your smartphone for later reference.
When it comes to leveling up your UX design skills, nothing beats practicing the fundamentals. Hopefully these 5 tips will help you take your whiteboarding skills to the next level.
If you’d like more help developing your UX design skills, schedule a free 15-minute coaching call with me to talk things over. I’d love to find out more about your challenges and how I can help.
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