As kids we are reared to find the whiteboard as something used for specific assignments, to be used when you’re called on. As we graduate into high school, college and eventually our office jobs, the whiteboard usually resides away from the center of the office space, only to be exposed during conference room presentations. The whiteboard wall has always felt off limits. Now companies like Google Ventures and Klipfolio are reinventing the stereotypes of whiteboards, and building kick ass products in the process. Here’s how.

Klipfolio Startup Whiteboard Wall

Klipfolio Startup Whiteboard Wall

Klipfolio

Originally, the whiteboard wall was a cool decor decision…

When Klipfolio recently expanded their office, they decided that one wall in the lunchroom would be the office whiteboard. They took a wall that was about 40 feet long and converted it  from floor to floor to ceiling into a whiteboard surface. They figured it would be cool decor. They weren’t even sure it would be used… Six months later, that whiteboard wall has become their office mecca of creativity and collaboration.

Klipfolio’s CEO, Allen Wille, says that “Not only does everyone use it, but it has stimulated creativity in ways we could never have imagined. It has “helped create a sense of community in the office that transcends work.”

Since putting up the whiteboard wall, Allan can’t recall if there’s ever been a time where the wall hasn’t been covered in writing or notes, or used for impromptu meetings.The community whiteboard wall has organically developed into one of the most used tools their team depends on for sharing ideas about specific issues or problems, making for cross-pollination of ideas. Allan, a CEO highly in tune with his team, recalls the following observation,

“ I was walking by and I saw that someone had created a list of things to focus on for a meeting I wasn’t participating in. I added an item to the list. Others have done the same. I’ve also seen employees hold a meeting in the lunchroom so they can use the whiteboard.”

They’ll be in the middle of their meeting, and all of a sudden someone who was just in the lunchroom to eat lunch will pipe up with a useful idea or a comment.Other times, employee discussions in the lunchroom have turned into impromptu meetings with the whiteboard as a tool.

For Education

People working on something will use the whiteboard to sketch out their ideas, and leave the results up for others to see.I’ve found that the doodles and sketches left by my colleagues will help me have a better understanding of a concept.

For team building, it’s a great hack too.

Klipfolio uses its whiteboard wall for announcements or notes, and sometimes people draw cartoon characters on it or write office jokes. “Because it’s out in the open, it’s the perfect place to reach the ‘office community. Says Allan. “I think the whiteboard has been such a success because it is so accessible, and also because it is so low-tech.Though we are a software company with all sorts of tools at our disposal, the low-tech whiteboard with markers and sticky notes is a very easy medium for brainstorming.” What Allan and Klipfolio have essentially achieved is a removal of constraints to creativity. In Allan’s own words, “It’s effortless. It’s good to remember that fancy technology isn’t the best solution to every problem; sometimes, low-tech works better.”

Google Ventures Whiteboard Session

Google Ventures Whiteboard Session

Google Ventures

Want to foster creativity? According to google Venture’s Jake Knapp, skip the foosball table and opt for a whiteboard decked out war room instead. In the last two years at Google Ventures, Jason has done design sprints with more than 80 startups. One of the simplest hacks he’s picked up through these various trial and tribulations is that a dedicated space literally infested with whiteboards—a war room saves lives, project lives.  Jason says “the walls of a war room can extend a team’s memory, provide a canvas for shared note-taking, and act as long-term storage for works in progress.”

Ideas on whiteboard walls, paper and Post-Its are just easier to flesh out. Faster too.

As many UXers know all too well, it’s way more fluid to re-order a prioritized list of sticky notes or re-draw a diagram than to make the same decisions verbally. That’s why there are whiteboards at front center of most conference rooms.

These whiteboard paneled “war rooms”  build a shared understanding into your physical workspace . When every decision has been jotted on the wall, you don’t have to wonder if everyone is on the same page. The room is the page, and it also is something that can be photographed and shared on tools like slack, Evernote and Trello . In a sense, Google Ventures is putting it’s office architecture to work.  “The more you put on the walls, the more shared understanding you build. As a bonus, you spend less time revisiting already-discussed issues”

Here’s a peek into 3 major tricks for putting your office space to work.

1.As Many white boards as you can fit.

Whiteboards come in a lot of styles, so choose what works for your space

2.More scribble space leads to merrier startups.

According to Jason, a common Google Ventures design sprint organically forms many things on the walls at once: user story diagrams, research notes, printouts of the existing UI, sketches of possible solutions, a detailed storyboard, and sometimes more. To accommodate all that stuff, you need a lot of space. That means whiteboards, windows, and empty walls where you can stick stuff.

3.Dedicate your whiteboards to projects, not meetings

You don’t want your war room turning into just another conference room. For best results, remove your war room from your company’s room-scheduling calendar.

So what’s the takeaway from Google Ventures and Klipfolio?

What we can learn from the stories coming out of Klipfolio and Google Ventures is that when it comes developing the next big idea, it pays to put it on the wall.

Releasing the whiteboard out of the confines of its cramped conference room cage and letting them multiply so that a whiteboard surface is always within reach turns out to be a proven way to put your office space to work.