I am building a whiteboard that records what is written to it and that is connected to the internet. One of my primary focus is usability.

The whiteboard is not like standard digital whiteboards. It is a plain whiteboard where the pen tip is tracked using ultrasounds; no projector is involved.

I feel getting the experience to match the standard whiteboard experience maximizes usability. Indeed, I feel that any departure from the standard whiteboard experience, such as projector shadows and display latency negatively affect usability.

Is my intuition backed by usability research? Are traditional whiteboards more usable than projector-based digital whiteboards? What makes a whiteboard usable or not usable?

  • Seems like your design won't support multiple sites sharing a blackboard or with restoring a saved state of a blackboard and then drawing on it. - Touch screens are the future for this. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 14:30
  • In our cross-functional team meetings, we use a large flat screen and a digital wireframing tool with an adjacent white board. In many cases, the whiteboard is where all the thinking happens before we commit anything to the wireframes. I'm not a fan of digital whiteboards because I rarely care to capture everything. I use Evernote and my android to capture whiteboard states that matter and immediately. The wireframing tool is for everyone else ;) Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 20:27

4 Answers 4


The main usability advantage of a whiteboard is the low viscosity (a term used in the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations) of things drawn on it - i.e. you can quickly change or remove things. There is therefore low commitment to what is being drawn, and a low perceived finishedness of the content there, making it easier for people to feel that they can be critical of it, or contribute towards it.

I haven't read any research comparing projectors vs. traditional whiteboards, but I would imagine shadowing reduces visibility of what has been drawn, and using a digital eraser to remove content vs a physical object might increase perceived viscosity.

The following papers might be useful to you:

With regards to projection. The digital desk is one of the original systems using projection for means other than display.


What makes a whiteboard usable or not usable?

Develop test scenarios of how people will use the board. Is there any differences of how users would use your digital version as compared to the traditional - are there any additional benefits you could implement and thus have to take into account?

The way you write your question sounds like you are aiming for a very realistic copy of a traditional whiteboard. That way, it is most likely that the more you can imitate the usual usage flow, the better your enhanced version's usability will be.

Do take into account though that users will try to figure out how their behaviour might be expected to be different because they are aware of the product not, in fact, being a traditional whiteboard. Users might try different ways of using your board expecially because they appreciate the fact that it is a digital whiteboard.


This all depends on the tasks that the system is supposed to achieve. If you do not need live feedback or other computer-based live augmentation of the writing experience, then your approach seems sound. One of the reason why people add projection to whiteboards is to allow other experiences like having third party participate remotely to what is happening on the surface.

There is ample tabletop research which may look into the issues with projection, and some has been addressed by using back-projection.

Latency is also a big deal, so going low-fi goes in your favor here as well. The following paper outlines the effect of latency on pointing performance. i would expect similar results for things more advanced such as writing or drawing.

Effects of Tracking Technology, Latency, and Spatial Jitter on Object Movement Robert J. Teather, Andriy Pavlovych, Wolfgang Stuerzlinger, I. Scott MacKenzie

You might be interested in IllumiShare and its design rationale. The following literature may also be of use: Focus on collocated collaborations, and the role of the representation of others in the medium: Ishii's work on CLearBoard


I'm not aware of anyone doing usability and experience research on a whiteboard outside of the industry, so I'd suggest asking your questions on Quora if you're looking for insider knowledge or access to research data. Based on my ~10 years of using whiteboards, I hope my personal experiences can be helpful to you...

One of the things that makes using any whiteboard an essential ingredient to my UX designs is uniformity of the experience across many different types and manufacturers of whiteboards and pens. While not all are created equal (I personally prefer anything that comes from EXPO to other brands since I've used many, many different surfaces and writing devices) I can recreate drawings within my acceptable tolerance for quality with very little learning curve based on the tool I am using. I know how to erase (with my finger, napkin, or felt eraser, and when to use which), which end of the pen writes, and how to hold it when it appears to dry-out, and when and where to spend $5 on new pens. Any learning curve added to this process for the device, reduces the effectiveness of the whiteboard to quickly convey ideas in a sketch. Since this cost is up-front for a project timeline, the financial and time investment in these tools is carefully considered. Any delays or changes are also frustrating so powering up an electronic screen or even waiting to start the software, where to stand when drawing, pens running out of batteries, etc. More importantly, if I'm going to go digital, I have a plethora of other things I can do in Balsamiq, such as including icons or images, grabbing standard shapes/containers or project assets I use repeatedly. This board quickly starts to look like Minority Report and has a massive learning curve and is no longer a whiteboard. Connecting my whiteboard to the internet, or even allowing me to save the state, for me, are not the most critical functions of the board. Understanding the user's need is the core of your product questions.

I think this question is truly about what User Experience and Interaction Design are all about - getting to the heart of what features you want to add to the current whiteboard experience and at what cost to the user base, financial cost of the tools, learning cost of adoption, and perceived or actual benefits of that system. Not just your product, but the entire ecosystem/infrastructure around how to get and use whiteboards. This research you are asking about, is in my opinion, product research you would need to assess if there is a market for your prototype, and how the experience you propose compares to a traditional whiteboard.

So the most credible answer I can give you, is as your end-user - the UX designer on many projects where at least 1 whiteboard (usually per room or person) is required to begin a decent project/startup. The board itself needs to be approximately the cost of a standard board aka priced competitively, available in enough sizes to fit in any office space configuration (I'm not choosing my office location based on which whiteboard will be installed, I chose the whiteboard that fits in the office I've chosen), and can accept any pen preference available on the market. If the board can then offer features like screen capture, simple wifi on my closed network for something like direct to dropbox support, or multi-casting to remote sites, I would start to consider increased cost of the whiteboard based on overall project needs and budget. So far no digital whiteboard on the market has convinced me to adopt.

Maybe somebody has a body of research you can apply, if not I hope this data point of one is beneficial.

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