How to pick the best whiteboard for your workplace (Part 1 of 2)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but when I’m watching TV, there’s one thing that always catches my eye: the dry erase board. You might not realize it, but dry erase boards are a pretty common prop, with characters using them to chart connections between suspects on The Closer, or to brainstorm potential diagnoses on House.

As a former teacher, I’m used to using these seemingly mundane tools to collaborate. But even on high-budget television show sets, where characters have fictional and futuristic computer imaging technology at their disposal, the old fashioned dry erase board persists in helping to tell the story. It seems that some technologies are here to stay.

This led to me to wonder, is there much variation when it comes to dry erase board options? Which ones work the best? I decided to give it some thought and do some research. In this post I compare dry erase boards from a design perspective. Next week I’ll cover usability. Read on to learn more about how to pick the best whiteboard for your office.

Design aesthetic

Traditional wall-mounted whiteboards, while highly functional, are also probably the most boring. For many of us, whiteboards conjure up images of classrooms and seem to be more about disseminating ideas, from a teacher to students, than creative collaboration.

Clear glass dry erase boards are, in many ways, far more attractive. They blend into a room’s design more seamlessly and effectively suspend ideas in mid-air. They provide rooms with a more postmodern aesthetic and are less institutional.

Glass “whiteboards” are also imbued with a more collaborative spirit. They provide thinkers with an opportunity to “see through” their thoughts, both metaphorically and literally. They don’t feel like they impose themselves on a room, and they don’t demand to be written on—they invite it. And, a 6-foot-wide, wall-mounted GlassX™ board from The Board Dudes comes in at $589, which is also about half the cost of a high-quality traditional whiteboard of the same size.

Whiteboard paint is also more collaborative than the traditional whiteboard, albeit in a different way. A conference room, completely painted with whiteboard paint, invites teams to record their brainstorms like graffiti. There is no sacred “front of the class.” A room where everyone can write on the walls is much more democratic.

In this regard, I find whiteboard paint to be the most effective office design choice. In fact, this is primarily what we use here at Highfive HQ. Whiteboard paint is also very cost-effective, especially if you want large expanses of wall to serve as your whiteboard. IdeaPaint™, for example averages around $200 for 50 square feet of coverage. A traditional DuraMax® whiteboard from Quartet that is only 8 feet wide can cost more than $1000. So, if you are more design focused, whiteboard paint is the way to go.

Unfortunately, whiteboard paint isn’t always the most practical. Because texture is the enemy of erasability, whiteboard paint is often difficult to clean, making the temporary record of an effective brainstorming session more permanent than intended. So, if usability is more important to you than design, it may be wise to choose a different option. I’ll explore dry erase board usability in my next post.

Photo courtesy of Gavin Tapp

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