Brainstorming Tool

Making brainstorms more collaborative through a networked sketching application.

Brainstorming in a group typically involves one person taking notes and sketching at a whiteboard while other group members remain seated and contribute verbally. My partner and I designed and prototyped a tool that enables simultaneous contribution to a shared canvas through a networked sketching application run on Tablet PCs and a digital whiteboard.


In our initial research observing group brainstorms, it was a clear trend for a single “notetaker” to be at the whiteboard. A mixture of the constraints of the layout of the room and laziness/inertia of sitting down results in other group members taking a more passive role. The result is that only one person gets the benefits of sketching (which has been shown to facilitate thinking and aid in communication of ideas) and will likely filter ideas that get written down. That insight inspired us to design a tool that lowers the threshold to sharing sketches, in the belief that it would improve idea generation and support building off each other’s ideas.

tablet sketch

Our idea was to give each brainstorm participant a Tablet PC so that they could draw on the (digital) whiteboard from their seats. I helped design and my partner built a client-server network application that streams stroke information in real-time so that all the inputs (individual Tablet PCs and a digital whiteboard) worked on the same canvas.

We conducted a pilot user study with 10 three-person groups. We collected quantitative data (stroke and gesture input) and administered a questionnaire. Our data indicates that the system helps equalize sketching contribution within a group although it reduces total sketching of the group. This finding implies that more collaborative sketching may increase awareness of the quality and the relative amount of individual idea contribution.

A Work in Progress paper about our research was accepted at the CHI 2007 conference. At the conference, we presented a poster that was awarded an Honorable Mention in the People’s Choice Award.

tablet data



CHI 2007 Work in Progress paper: