3 Ways Whiteboards Contribute to the Product Development Process

Blog Post By Kim Porter


A lot of people think there is a clear delineation between right- and left-brain thinking; and that you’re either right or left. Left-brain dominant thinkers have an aptitude for logic, reasoning, language, and numbers. That’s why most engineers are very left-brained. Right-brained thinkers are good with intuition, creativity, colors, images, and they’re very visual. Artists are much more right-brained. Instead of having one or the other, we all have a combination of both left- and right-brained characteristics, though one may be more dominant than the other. 


In the process of product development, it’s important to have a balance between both sides, and to be able to create something fantastic together. I rely heavily on whiteboard sketching to bring together the best logical, intuitive, well-reasoned, and creative minds from different work groups to create innovative products we all can be proud of.


The three ways whiteboards contribute to the product development process is by facilitating better idea exploration, collaboration, and a more clearly-communicated vision.


1) Idea Exploration

When someone gets a big idea, or something they’re just itching to get out of their heads and into the world, we put it on the whiteboard. By putting it on the board, it gives others the opportunity to see it, get it or not, ask questions, and add or subtract things to make it stronger. 


The person with the idea doesn’t have to have it fully baked before sharing. In fact, it probably helps that it’s not. That’s not what the idea exploration phase is about. Any concept that goes from idea to physical creation is going to change along the way based on factors like materials, cost, function, market readiness, and sales channel. So, the sooner the idea is shared, even if it’s just a seed of an idea, the sooner the world gets to see it. 

2) Collaboration

The beauty of putting ideas on a whiteboard that everyone can access is that the left- and right-brained alike can weigh-in on what makes sense from their unique mindset and department, and bounce ideas back and forth live and in-person.


Using myself as an example, I have big sky ideas. As a design engineer, I certainly use my logical left brain, but I’m also very creative. If I go up to the whiteboard and sketch out an idea, one of my more logical colleagues will come up after me and rein my idea in with reality. “That’s a good idea, Kim, but in order to do that it’ll have to be this size.” And then I can respond with, “Oh, well, if it has to be that size then this material is going to be best for that.” And another colleague can say, “That material is going to make it even hotter inside, so we’ll want to add some passive cooling elements to the boards. We could put them here, here, and here, with the fan right here.” And on and on. 


If that interaction were to take place over email, not only would it have taken much longer to complete, but everyone would have had a different idea of what it would/should look like. Sharing your vision on the whiteboard gives everyone in the room the same visual to work with and built upon. It gets every side of the brain in the room, and working together at everyone’s best strengths.

3) Communicate

The third thing whiteboard sketching facilitates is communication. After the idea is shared, and team members come together to build it out, it’s time to communicate the completed vision. With the contributions of colleagues from different work groups, who all have different ways of thinking, the presentation of the idea can be much more clear, targeted, and well-reasoned than it would be if a single department or individual created it in a silo. 


The idea now has buy-in, and the relevance to each department has already been baked into the function and design of the product. The efficiency with which the product can move through the product development process is greatly expedited as a result, and products can go to market quicker with this design thinking approach.


Whiteboard sketching is a catalyst for idea exploration, collaboration across work groups, and an easier sell when it comes time to pitch the idea for production. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, but in the design development world, it can be worth millions.