The other day I called on a prospective client to open discussions on creating their web presence. As we sat down to talk about their goals, I noticed the odd look I received when I pulled out paper and a pen. You see, I start with paper - always. It may be blank or simple lined paper but most of the time it is storyboard paper (think the handout view in PowerPoint or Keynote). It may sound a bit strange but there is a reason. Don't get me wrong with all of the computers and other electronic devices I own or have access to, I could never touch a piece of paper, ever.
So, why do I?
Short answer: focus. When on a computer, tablet or smartphone, there are so many distractions from the badge that tells you how many unread messages you have to the temptation to take your turn in the game you are playing with some anonymous opponent. With paper you have a blank canvas waiting for you. I find it is great during the initial sessions with clients as it takes the technology out and puts focus on why they want to be on the web and what they want to accomplish. That enables the selection of the most appropriate technology and solution.
How does it help in meetings?
Have you ever been in a meeting where despite an agenda you just seem to be all over the place? Did you struggle to keep things on track? Did you go over your allotted time? Think back, was there technology involved in the meeting? Especially when discussing web presence, being on the web can cause things to go all over. From glitches where things don't go as planned to distractions because of typo or color mismatch, pop-up, or some blinking click me now message, unless it is a site review meeting, paper may be a better option.
How do you effectively use paper in web meeting?
So I mentioned using storyboard paper in web client meetings. It is a set of blank boxes with lines next to them. In addition to the storyboard paper I have a set of questions (printed) with the first one being, "Why do you want to be on the web?" The answer to this question can set the tone for entire site. Next to the first box on the storyboard paper, I write "Home Page" followed by the purpose. The purpose is derived from the answer to why they want to be on the web. As we go through the questions, I sketch out the progress in each of the boxes with notes on what, why and how discussed.
How is this different from wireframing?
Um, it isn't really. A wireframe focuses on content, general layout and functionality, what you want visitors to be able to do. The storyboard paper is different only in that it has lines that encourage note taking. There is nothing to stop you from doing the same with your wireframe tool of choice. However, often clients are not apart of the process, they may be presented with the final, glossy version.
What about using a whiteboard?
Whiteboards are great in that they too offer a blank canvas and make working with a group easy to keep everyone on the same page. The challenge is being able to work with the information later, after the meeting. Taking a picture, using a whiteboard that copies both help.
What about mind-mapping software/apps?
Don't get me wrong there are some good tools out there, but if you are like me, you get caught up with technical stuff not related to why you opened the tool in the first place. Did I use the right symbol? Does the naming convention make sense? Should I place this box somewhere else? When on paper, I just let it flow.
So what about the prospect meeting that triggered this post?
Well, after we dived into the meeting and they saw how the paper not only helped me to come up with ideas, but helped them as well, the odd look vanished. I was even asked where I found the paper. They thought it would be helpful in planning out their next presentation.
The storyboard paper referred to in this post is from Levenger for their Circa notebooks. A blank sheet of copy paper works, too. We are not connected in anyway to Levenger, this product just happens to be one that we were introduced to and use from time to time. Let us know what you use.
After writing this post, I came across this article in Fast Company by Kevin Purdy, titled: HOW COLOR-CODED NOTES MAKE YOU A MORE EFFICIENT THINKER.
Who knows, you might find yourself sitting down with paper and colored pens sometime soon.
Do you use paper? Tell us about it.
© Image credit: bluehand / 123RF Stock Photo