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.
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.
In last week’s post, we discussed dry erase board design. Design is important. When used correctly, it encourages, and even help inspire, effective collaboration. However, there are obviously practical considerations when choosing a dry erase board for your office.
As we all know, a good dry erase board must do two things. It must display writing clearly, and when that information is no longer needed, it must be erased completely. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the usability of different dry erase boards.
With regard to readability, traditional white surfaces are best. Assuming that the markers are fresh, the colors really pop on a blank white surface. Clear surfaces, especially when they are used on free-standing boards, tend to lack contrast. The writing is obscured by what can be seen behind the glass. The problem of contrast can be solved by mounting the glass on the wall, but, if the color of the wall behind the glass isn’t white, contrast can still be subpar.
It’s also important to consider the audience when assessing surfaces on readability. If someone is joining your meeting remotely through video and you want them to be able to follow along with what you are writing on the board, then contrast is paramount.
When it comes to erasability, glass surfaces are a better choice. The smoother the surface, the more easily it is erased. A lot of whiteboards are just cheap melamine covered with a high gloss paint. While they feel smooth to the touch, they contain countless microscopic imperfections that hold color, defeating the purpose of dry erase boards. Unfortunately, while whiteboard painted walls have become trendy as of late, these generally perform poorly as well due to the texture of dry wall.
Glass surfaces, especially those made of tempered safety glass, are super smooth and scratch resistant. However, if you still prefer a whiteboard, boards made of aluminum or another metal and then treated with special high gloss paint perform nearly as well.
There are a couple of other minor usability considerations. First, certain metal whiteboards are magnetic as well, giving you other options for presenting information. Also, free-standing boards are portable, but wall-mounted boards are often higher quality since they can be heavier.
The best whiteboard for your workplace
In the end, if you’re focused on usability, I recommend a glass dry erase board mounted on a light, high contrasting color, like white or a light pastel. This provides you with a high degree of readability with the erasability of glass. Plus, it is cheaper than the traditional whiteboard. Or consider a combination of different boards. Use a free-standing, magnetic board that can be moved between rooms, while designating a particular conference room as the brainstorm room, complete with four full walls of whiteboard paint. You can save the high-end, edgier clear glass whiteboard for a room designed for presentations, where image is more important. This hybrid approach is a great way to get the most out of these highly effective low-tech tools.
Select your whiteboard surface. Surface type determines the usage a whiteboard can withstand, the maintenance it will require and its overall lifespan.
DuraMax Porcelain – The most durable board surface. Will not scratch, ghost, stain or dent and backed by a lifetime warranty. Perfect for heavy, daily use.
Inifinity Magnetic Glass – Highly durable and with a unique aesthetic, this board surface will not stain or ghost. Is suitable for daily use and backed by a 15 year warranty.
Magnetic Total Erase – Clean erase surface resists staining and ghosting and is backed by a 20 year warranty. Suitable for frequent use.
Total Erase® – Best for moderate use this board will always erase clean with only occasional maintenance. Backed by a 7 year warranty. High quality.
Classic/Matrix Magnetic – A great choice for moderate use several times a week. Only needs occasional maintenance; 5 year warranty.
Melamine – Economic board surface is a great value for light use. Requires regular maintenance for best performance; 3 year warranty.
Choose the type of whiteboard you need. Consider the purpose the board will have in your space so that you can chose a board that will truly be useful.
Traditional Whiteboard – Versatile, clear surface for jotting down notes & collaborating
Traditional Whiteboard with Grid – Subtle grid pattern on whiteboard surface guides handwriting
Customizable – Create your own surface with graphics or charts to track information
Calendar & Planner – Simplify organization & facilitate communication
Select a board size. Is the whiteboard going to be used by many or just a few? How big is the wall you plan to mount it on? Picking the right size from the start can help you not overspend.
8’ x 4’ – For large group use
6’ x 4’ – For mid size group use
4’ x 3’ – For small group use
3’ x 2’ – For personalized use
Choose a frame color. The décor and color schemes of offices vary and you want to pick a frame color that will help your whiteboard blend in. You also want the board to convey an appropriate tone.
Mahogany, Maple or Light Cherry Finish – warm and professional
Silver or Black Aluminum – modern and upscale
Graphite Finish – durable and discreet
Euro™ Titanium Finish – sleek and sophisticated
Frameless – relaxed and versatile
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