Trivia question: Where is Einstein's brain today?
Sketching and diagraming are very important tools for the designer. This hasn't changed for centuries. Cavemen drew pictures, Einstein drew formulas, designers draw everything you can imagine. There is a clever site where you can pretend to be Einstein at the board, totally hilarious. Drawing is a tool for both communication and problem solving. One of the traps that many designers today fall into is the desire to run to a computer to solve a design problem. Not so fast. Never under estimate the power of the traditional methods. One of my favorites is the blackboard. When I was about 8 years old my dad put a good sized blackboard in the garage for my artistic endeavors and doodling early design project details for things like Cub Scout assignments. I followed his lead by screwing an even larger blackboard to the wall in my own garage for my sons to use. I bought it a the Mayo Clinic surplus equipment store for a whopping 8 dollars. I ended up using it as much as they did. Some things never change I guess. When I first started working at IBM back in the 80's I had a huge blackboard in my office that was well over four feet wide and eight feet tall. It was a floor to ceiling statement of creativity. What a wonderful way to draw a refrigerator sized design concept. You could even draw it as though it were sitting directly on the ground. It was a great tool. Chalk may leave dust behind and perhaps gets your clothing a bit messy, but it never runs out of ink. Even if you couldn't find chalk you could still draw in the the residue of former sessions with your finger. Much of the mid- 90's IBM AS/400 Advanced Series design conceptual work was actually done on that very blackboard. There is just something about an old school blackboard that still gets my creative juices going.
Would Einstein have liked this?
Okay, white boards have their place too. We have several huge ones that allow us to brainstorm our thoughts and project design photos or drawings at the same time. Remember those electronic white boards that captured what you created and printed it out for you as a memento? They didn't quite catch on in my world. One true benefit of the basic whiteboard is the ability to draw over the projected image. Not so easy with a blackboard. This technique allows me or my team to envision design revisions as though you were working on a giant drafting table.
There is no such thing as too large of a drawing surface
As useful as white boards are, they still frustrate me. The ghostly image from the last meeting seems to hover on the board like a cloud of blue haze that refuses to die. Someone always steals the nasty smelling eraser which in turn demands that you rub the board clean with your handkerchief, finger, or hand. I hate having rainbow colored hands for the rest of the day. The markers also seem to always be the wrong color for what I want to draw. When using ink or pencils I like to draw with black. Color has a place, but not just color for the sake of color. For me it should have meaning in a sketch or diagram. If the markers aren't missing they are squeaky dry, or totally empty. The empties annoyingly never seem to quite make it into the trash can. Do you throw the chalk away when it's used up? Think about it. The ultimate white board crime is when someone writes on it with a permanant marker. Game over. I thought it would be interesting to poll Design Matters readers as to their own preference.