Amar Sagoo

27 December 2007

Surface computing, move over!

For a few weeks now, my two team-mates at work and I have been using a “horizontal” whiteboard, lying across the desk surface between us. I had been wanting to try this for a while, but it wasn’t possible because of our previous desk arrangement. Now that we have this large area of space between us and no partitions, this small whiteboard fits perfectly without getting in the way.

Horizontal whiteboard setup

We’ve found ourselves using it virtually every day, illustrating explanations, walking through calculations and brainstorming design ideas. Visitors will intuitively pick up a pen and start using the whiteboard when explaining things. It somehow seems to invite people to use it more than most whiteboards. However, it’s not only a collaborative tool: it also makes a great scratch-pad when you’re brainstorming on your own. To ensure that it stays useful, we make an effort to keep the board clean; nothing tends to stay on there for longer than a day or so.

Overall, it’s being used far more than any wall-mounted whiteboards we’ve had near us, and I think this is due to two key differences to wall-mounted boards. Firstly, each one of us can reach the board very easily without having to get up. You just turn your chair slightly and there it is. Secondly, the whiteboard is between us, so it feels less like a presentation aid and more like a collaborative work surface, accessible equally well from all sides.

If your work involves collaborative problem-solving, and if your desk arrangement allows it, I highly recommend setting up a whiteboard like this. Don’t make it too big, because you won’t be able to reach all corners and it will also eat into your desk real-estate. I think ours is 90×60 cm, which is just right. I also recommend investing in some pens with a finer tip than the standard ones you tend to get. Those are designed to be visible from a few meters away, but you’ll find them too thick for handwriting at a comfortable size for close-up work. Edding do quite a range of dry-erase board markers.