I've been giving a lot of my full-day "Back of the Napkin" visual thinking workshops lately, and I tried something new last week at eBay. Luckily, it worked.
Jeff Herman, eBay's Director of UI Design, asked me to reprise the workshops I'd done with eBay's customer research teams, but this time focus specifically on "design" rather than "information visualization". Knowing that the participants this time would all come from a hands-on design background, I suspected that I'd have a lot of people ready and willing to step to the whiteboard and draw. (Which isn't always the case: at many less design-oriented businesses, I have to run through my whole bag of tricks before I can get everyone up and sketching.)
But I was told that the conference room only had one big whiteboard -- not nearly enough horizontal real estate for 16 people. Then I thought, "If they can't bring enough whiteboards to me, how about I bring the whiteboards to them?" So I went to Staples and cleared out their entire stock of small-format whiteboards.
When I handed one out to each participant, eyes lit up: what a hit! I was amazed by how quickly people used their visual thinking skills and started sharing pictures when they had their own ERASABLE board to work on. They could keep it close to the chest if they wanted, they could show it off when they wanted, they could erase it when they wanted. Nobody even said the eternal, "I can't draw, but..."
Granted, these were designers, but I still think there's a lesson here. I can't wait to try it with my coffee roasting client.