The Big Idea Wall!

I’m a very visual learner and planner. I have always been. According to Prentice Hall, 65% of the population learn and plan just like me. So last year when I took on a design project that involved making multiple illustrations that needed to relate to each other, I knew I needed an “Idea Wall” at home. I needed a space large enough to see the illustrations side by side. I had seen many examples of them on Pinterest and design magazines but never had the right wall to do it on. When I moved into my new house, I unfortunately got a long list of fix-its, but I also got the perfect wall for it!

First let me say that idea walls and boards are important tools for many professionals. They maximize brainstorming by allowing people to organize thoughts and concepts in a visual manner. Any content like Post-its, images, drawings, or text can be posted on the wall or board so concept planning and organization for any project can be finalized. Marketing teams use them to plan their strategies visually. Groups can visually see how each member's participation contribute to the end goal. Designers use them to post visuals as inspiration for their designs. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit professionally and personally from having one. The possibilities for their use are endless.

In education, they are especially helpful for students because they facilitate brainstorming sessions, problem solving and decision making. These boards are great for projects that are constantly being edited over a long period of time. Because they also hold a lot of ideas in the form of pictures, drawing, text, and other elements, they are a tremendous help when brainstorming collaboratively in groups. Team members can visually add to a project by simply adding an element, thereby contributing their individual voice to the main idea the group is working on. Schools have begun to install these “IDEA” walls in their innovation rooms, classrooms and makerspaces to help with the design process and group projects.

Companies have also included them in their work spaces to help employees become more productive and make their work more collaborative. In some cases whole rooms have been converted into “idea rooms” where employees can let their thinking take shape. Here is where size is the main key to their success. The larger the board, the more useful they are, and the more successful they become. Go as big as you can! Make it a whole wall if you can, even in your own home. A Google search will yield you many suggestions, as it did for me below.

While some opt for whiteboards, others use blackboards in their space. Both of which can be done with special paint. But besides whiteboards and blackboards, there are other types of materials that are used to create these walls. The material from which they’re made depends on the use. Magnetic and cork boards are other options. These two are my favorite because they don't need to be cleaned. Pinning elements on them also mean that they can be re-pinned in another area.

For me, dry erase markers or chalk would not work. I like being able to switch images across the board. So when I was looking to add an idea wall to my home office my choices were magnetic, or cork. I chose cork because it was easy to put up and l like the texture. Little did I know, that was the beginning of a journey that would remind me to honor my mantra in life to "keep it simple and make it easy."

I started by laying out the tiles in a diagonal pattern on the floor. I wanted it to visually look beautiful even if it had nothing on it, so the pattern was important. I then carefully measured and adhered the tiles to the wall. I used the little tiny double-sided adhesive squares they came with. Slowly, the wall took shape. The cork texture and pattern added to the overall look. When it was done, It was beautiful! I loved everything about it and so did everyone else. I got lots of compliments, but it also proved to be very useful. It allowed me to see how my ideas interacted visually with each other. The pins allowed me to easily move the images anywhere on the board and interchange them at will.

I used the wall for a better part of a year before problems started setting in. Tiles would fall one after another. I kept replacing them only to fall again. At one point I considered using contact cement to fix the problem, but I knew that would only create another problem if I was ever to sell the house. I bought adhesive tape, but that failed as well. I finally gave up and let the tiles win.

I took down all the tiles and decided to repaint the wall and find another solution. Mind you, this was an all day job. The adhesive squares and tape were not entirely easy to remove. When I was done repairing the wall, I vowed never to cover a wall with anything other than paint. A vow I held, until I found peel-and-stick wallpaper, but’s another article for the future.

However, I still needed an idea board and set to find another solution. One idea was to adhere the tiles to an oversized piece of plywood that could just lean against the wall, like those chic oversized mirrors so popular now. This time I could use contact cement, which was the missing ingredient in my last failure. I also thought of adding a bit of molding to add to the look. The final board would not only be pleasing to the eye but as useful as my original wall, if not more.

My second choice was making a magnetic wall. I went to Home Depot and saw I could buy a sheet of galvanized metal for about $20. I thought I could just simply attach it to the wall using washers and oversized screws for an industrial look. Due to time restraints, I went for it!

I bought the metal sheet and temporarily put it up with velcro to see if I liked the look. I lived with it a while and it worked fine. It was large enough (although not as large as the cork wall) and it seemed to hold enough ideas. I set out to make the look permanent when fate intervened in the form of an IKEA ad I received in an email. There I found a much better solution than my diy magnetic board.

The Spontan is IKEA’s magnetic board. It’s size is only 14 1/2 x 30 3/4, way too small for real brainstorming, but used in multiples can really pack a punch for the home office. I bought four and created a long panel on the wall. Now, being a maker I felt as though I cheated. I often feel I should at least hack what I buy, if not make it from scratch, to make it my own. But sometimes you just can’t or don’t have to. That is a lesson I have come to learn and one that makers should too. These panels not only look great, but do the job very nicely.

Images: Spontan (IKEA website)

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Rick Funes

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