Marker Board Mania

Marker boards, also known as white boards, were ubiquitous at Neocon this year, the annual contract furniture expo at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. The shift is not only quantitative but qualitative – “markerability” has been incorporated into a surprising variety of architectural surfaces and building furnishings. This suggests the trend may offer opportunities for other building product manufacturers.

I started noticing dry erase marker-compatible boards in the 1980s. At the time, I was skeptical about the value of the products as the markers were more expensive than chalk and had an objectionable odor. The odor problem was solved, and marker boards gained market share, however, due to:
• Brighter, more vivid colors compared to chalk.
• Elimination of erasure dust and simplification of washing a board.
• Elimination of the clicking that occurs when writing with chalk.
• Preference of white surfaces over dark chalk board surfaces.

Where chalkboards were primarily confined to educational settings, white boards have been accepted into the workplace.

While marker boards are still available as framed panels, a legacy of the heavy weight of slate chalk boards, the marker-compatible products I saw at Neocon include:
Tabrasa, (shown above) a field-applied paint that can transform almost any wall into a marker surface.
• Office Furniture: Haworth, for example, was offering conference tables with markable table tops to promote brainstorming and collaboration.
Sta-Kleen by The Mitchell Group faux leather bonded with a urethane that resists markings of all sorts, including "permanent" markers such as a Sharpie marking pen. They are promoting it for stain-resistant upholstery, but there is no reason it couldn't be used as a markable wall finish. (I suspect their urethane will find its way onto other materials, too.)
Evonik was promoting its acrylic sheets for use with markers.
• While markers can be used on most glass surfaces, several firms were showing glass products that could serve as floor-to-ceiling marker surfaces. For example, one company had a glass with a white backing plus a subtle dot pattern that could be used as a guide for drawing grids and graphs or to encourage more uniform writing. The wall also had a steel backing, so magnets could also be used.
Skyline Design (below) had a set of glass panels specifically for children. Variations included teaching aids like lines for teaching letter heights, but others were designed to stimulate creative play – something that might be used on a wall in a pediatricians waiting room, for example. Some of the products had a white backing like traditional marker boards, but others were clear glass to encourage two-sided play.
• Hospital furnishings companies had marker surfaces incorporated into all sorts of nursing station and patient room furnishings.
• Several companies have marker boards that capture whatever is drawn or written so it can be integrated with a computer. Others have linked white boards to cameras that capture the motion of infrared-transmitting pens and then transmit a projected image onto the board.

Where else can this trend go?
     Marker board doors could be a big hit for college dorms.

     Toilet partitions that encourage graffiti?

     Mechanical equipment could have markable surfaces for notes about maintenance concerns like when a filter should be replaced.

     Flooring products so one could mark on the floor to help envision room layout, turn the floor into a game land where children (and adults who remember what it's like to be children) can layout imaginary cities or puzzles, to attract attention to promotions at retail establishments, or a myriad of other creative activities.

     More, it raises questions about the marker compatibility of a variety of existing surfacing materials. For example, how well does Corian work as a marker surface? (Remember to test cleanability with both dry-erase and wet-erase markers).

I would love to hear your ideas about how a marker board option might complement your product line.