Workshops & collaboration - best practices and approaches for design collaboration

Remote workshop activity areas should not have solid backgrounds

Updated on Saturday, October 15, 2022

In Mural, you double-click to create a sticky note, and every once in a while, a client will double-click and nothing happens. And they try again. And again.

This happens because they double-clicked on top of a solid object, and Mural created the sticky note behind the solid object. The sticky note's there. You just can't see it.

The weirdest thing: other participants double-click in the same area, and their sticky notes appear on top of the solid object.

The fix is easy. Remove the solid background. Design your workshop boards without solid background elements.

The above image shows a canvas on the left with a white background color. You can lose elements behind the canvas. The canvas on the right does not have a background color, so you will never lose any sticky notes behind the canvas. Everything is visible.

Why do this, though? Is it a big deal?

Whenever participants hit little things like this, it puts a little hitch in the energy of your brainstorm. More a speedbump than a brick wall. I'd rather slow down for something more significant than a visual design choice.

Second, when participants hit issues like this, it puts a hitch in their confidence in the tool. Again, more a speedbump. But why bother?

The hitches add up. Ask Hillary Clinton.

What do you lose?

In many cases, solid backgrounds like these are used to delineate an activity area, to tell participants where the playground is and what's out of bounds. And the border created where the solid background color ends and the Mural background begins, that border gives participants a sense that everything is bounded and in control and safe. They don't need to worry. They can just work.

Luckily, there are other ways to delineate activirty areas that provide friendly borders.

In Mural, you can set a shape's stroke independently of the fill. Essentially, keep the border and lose the background color. This also helps keep that pop of color you were going for.

This example shows an activity area bounded on all four sides by a green border.

I don't like boxes and the Mural borders aren't quite enough of a pop of color, so I've taken to using thicker bars at the top of an activity area. Makes your pop of color easier to see, and easire for participants to use as a wayfinding element on larger boards.

In this example, although we're zoomed out and It shows the very busy Mural board the end of the workshop, can you see the area with the orange top bars? Can you find the green top bars? Even this fuzzy and this zoomed out, thick colored top borders work delineate the activity area and serve as a way finding device.

You can also use visual elements in the activity area that help the participant's eye imagine there's a border. When you have several items lined up, the eye draws a line that extends past those objects.

In this example, the canvas has three vertical lines. At the bottom of the lines, your eye draws an invisible horizontal line across the bottom. This alignment creates an invisible border without needing a box around everything.

Combined with good spacing between activity areas and pre-populated activity areas, you can safely lose the solid background colors in your activity areas. I think it might even create a more calm environment for participants, too, by reducing the overall number of elements participants need to process when they look at your Mural..