Rebecca Jackson

A space to think visually: design wall

I miss my wall. For several months, until very recently I was lucky to have a small office in our building that I occupied with my little intranet team. Aside from being an introvert’s dream, the best thing about that little office was the rather large wall which was just screaming for sticky notes and butchers paper.

It started with a cartoon, then a few memes, then when I wanted to brainstorm page templates for the new intranet out came the sticky notes. It was so liberating to be able to throw sticky notes up on the wall when I was having a thought, reflect back at it and then add to it later. I knew what I had there albeit temporary was a design wall (thanks to attending UXAustralia last year) and I was going to make the best of it while I had it.

I used the wall to post our fledgling information architecture (IA) and then updated it as we got to the lower levels and as things changed. I could stand there and move sticky notes around from one spot to another, and other people in the office would get drawn into the exercise. I found that the wall was great not just for thinking visually, and not just for sharing that thought process with others, but also for advertising the project and making people aware of what we were doing.

My huge glass design wall showing our early information architecture
The design wall showing early IA work.

From then I was using the wall not just for the IA, but also keeping track of project milestones, showing reference intranet sites, results, photographs and butchers paper from workshop sessions. Anything which was a work-in-progress or a talking point for the project. This was great for people who worked on my floor or swung by my desk (often by invitation) but to extend the reach, and the input I would take photos of the progress on the wall (particularly with the IA) and post them to our Yammer network so people on other floors and at other sites could see them and comment.

My huge glass design wall showing the information architecture a bit further along
The design wall with the information architecture a bit further along.

As all good things must come to an end, particularly when the good thing is your own cubicle in an open-plan office, and so the wall had to come down. It was harder to lose that wonderful large wall than it was to lose the inherit privacy of what we had dubbed the “fishbowl”. I kept all of our work up there until the last minute and then we transferred the IA to butchers paper (it already co-existed in Visio), folded it up and put it under my desk. By that time we had progressed pretty far with the IA and we could work without the wall, but it was still a bit sad to be without the canvas of unfulfilled potential that I could change as we needed.

I have been using the little bits of “wall” around my desk to get by until I find my next wall. I will be moving desks soon so will wait until that is done to see if I have a handy wall space near by, or if I need to acquire a whiteboard or some other equipment to replace the design wall space. Whatever it is, I know I need a spot to get our project workings up on the wall.

My mini design wall showing the top few levels of our information architecture.
My mini design wall with the top few levels of our IA.
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3 thoughts on “A space to think visually: design wall”

  1. This is exactly what I need for our intranet project team. All that thinking, planning and capturing of ideas, spontaneous and ad-hoc meetings, etc really needs a space where you can stick stuff up and have it around you. I’m in an open plan office at the moment, but our project desperately needs a ‘war room’.

  2. This is what sucks about open plan offices – they’re geared towards extrovert personalities, who like to see what everyone is doing and where everyone is. Us introverts often do our best work tucked away in an office, a library, a lab or a monastery.

    I think what your post shows Bec is that the “sandpit” work – the unformed, often half-arsed, exploratory types of work, which is often the key to really solid, strategically analysed thinking, often suffers when it’s crowbarred into the “bright light” of the open plan.

    1. Completely agree Doro. I think I can live without my own office (as long as I have my headphones), but more spaces for working creatively and spontaneously would be really useful, especially for project and development work.

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