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The quick and easy guide to brainwriting with Canva

Learn all about brainwriting from the Canva team
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Your professional team is a lot like a college class. Like students, each of your team members has a diverse way of thinking and a unique personality.

There are some students who are eager to speak up and voice their opinions, while others are more quiet and might never say a word the whole semester.

That is unless they have a great professor who creates opportunities for them to feel more comfortable and contribute their valuable thoughts.

Great team leaders are like these great professors. They notice when the “uneven communication effect” stifles innovation and creativity. If a select few tend to dominate meetings or brainstorms, it limits your team’s ability to produce brilliant ideas.

That’s where brainwriting comes in. Brainwriting is a brainstorming technique(opens in a new tab or window) that gives everyone an equal chance to contribute without the noise that comes with some brainstorming methods. If you want to generate more creative ideas, you need to gather uninterrupted opinions and collaborate more effectively with brainwriting.

Table of contents

What is brainwriting?

During a brainwriting session, each team member writes down their ideas in response to specific, agreed-upon questions or prompts.

They do this without consulting one another or talking to each other. This helps your team stay focused and saves time that would otherwise be spent talking, arguing, or on anything else that distracts from effective idea development.

After a certain amount of time that you agree on, each person passes their ideas on to a new team member. That coworker can then refine or build upon the previous person’s ideas.

Once everyone has had time to iterate on the other ideas, the facilitator of the brainwriting exercise will collect all of the ideas and lay them out for everyone to see in a combined space.

Brainwriting vs. brainstorming

Brainstorming techniques(opens in a new tab or window) is a term used to describe various idea-generating techniques(opens in a new tab or window). Brainwriting is just one method of group brainstorming.

A traditional brainstorming session typically involves a combination of conversations, writing, and other forms of visual communication(opens in a new tab or window).

Brainwriting is exclusively a writing exercise that deliberately leaves out any form of talking to enhance rapid idea generation.

Brainwriting use cases

There are certain scenarios in which brainwriting has a significant advantage over other brainstorming methods.

Reasons to use brainwriting:

  • If you have a large team to brainstorm with and won’t have time to hear everyone’s ideas individually
  • If you have a distributed team on different schedules and will not be able to meet “face-to-face” in real time
  • If you want to limit the influence of the select few who often express their ideas to the group
  • If writing is less intimidating for team members with social anxiety or who don’t feel as comfortable speaking up in front of others
  • If writing out ideas rather than verbal communication helps group members think through their thoughts better
  • If you have a limited amount of time

Reasons to avoid brainwriting:

  • If expressing ideas through writing is more difficult for most of your team members
  • If you are working on a complex topic that requires more discussion and clarification in order to generate ideas
  • If your team would benefit from the social interaction and relationship building of more conversational/discussion-based techniques
  • If your team is new and needs more training/education in order to form opinions

How to use Canva for brainwriting

When it comes to brainwriting tools, Canva whiteboards are a great way to record ideas and collaborate during a brainwriting session. The advantage of using Canva is that you can customize and create your own system with the tools and features we provide.

In six easy steps, you can use Canva to host a brainwriting session with your team.

Step 1. Choose the type of brainwriting technique

The first step in implementing a brainwriting exercise is to select the style of brainwriting technique(opens in a new tab or window) that works for your team. Your choice will likely depend on which problems you are trying to solve and how much time you have to generate solutions to those problems.

For a quick turnaround, use the 6-3-5 brainwriting method. For every six people on your team, pose three questions or problems that need to be solved within a five-minute timeframe. This type of brainwriting can produce over 100 ideas in a very short amount of time.

For timed brainwriting sessions, use Canva’s built-in timer to keep your team on their toes.

For a more relaxed and flexible schedule, use collaborative brainwriting. Set up a shared whiteboard(opens in a new tab or window) with a prompt that team members can easily access and contribute to at their convenience. Each team member adds their ideas when inspiration strikes and without any pressing time constraints.

Alternatively, you can do some combination of the two in which team members are assigned due dates for their portion of the brainwriting exercise.

This brainstorming method is especially useful for distributed teams that can‘t meet at the same place or time for a brainwriting exercise.

Step 2. Assign a moderator and select a Canva whiteboard template

Like any other project, brainwriting should have a leader (or moderator) who can facilitate the brainwriting process, consolidate the number of ideas, and ensure that everyone has had a chance to contribute.

The moderator is responsible for selecting a whiteboard template(opens in a new tab or window) and will be the owner of the whiteboard design in Canva. Need a data flow diagram(opens in a new tab or window), kanban board(opens in a new tab or window), or Venn diagram template? Canva has an extensive library of templates you can customize and share easily.

As a team lead, you will likely either choose a whiteboard manager or be the facilitator of this process yourself.

As owners of the design, moderators add questions or prompts, assign due dates, and adjust access controls to the whiteboard based on those due dates.

Last, the moderator should encourage all ideas, answer questions, and foster a safe space to share those ideas.

Step 3. Document the rules for the brainwriting exercise

The next step is to create and document the rules of this exercise and make them explicit for your team. Here are a few items to consider when laying out your rules:

  • Decide if this exercise should be anonymous. If so, refrain from adding names to the whiteboard pages.
  • How many ideas are team members allowed to add? Is there a minimum? Is there a maximum?
  • On average, how many words or characters should be used to describe your ideas?
  • Are pictures and diagrams acceptable? Are they required?
  • Is there a recommended timeframe for each idea?

In your Canva whiteboard, create a cover page for the exercise and use the “notes” section for that page to outline your rules for this exercise. This way, team members can quickly navigate to the first page if they ever need to reference the rules.

Tip: Use the Whiteboard notes feature to leave notes for your team.

Step 4. Present a clear and well-defined problem statement

Before your team can begin brainwriting, you need to make it clear what problem they are trying to solve.

Let’s say your productivity software company is launching a new product. Your product marketing team has been tasked with acquiring 10,000 new users for the platform by the end of the year.

The main question should be written at the top of your whiteboard: “How are we going to get 10,000 new users by Q4?”

  • Then add more specific prompts or questions:
  • What should our blog content strategy focus on to drive website traffic?
  • Which partnerships should we try to forge?
  • What are some fun, attention-grabbing marketing ideas?
  • Free for all: what out-of-the-box ideas do you have?

An individual team member’s whiteboard page might look like this:

Tip: Use digital sticky notes for each thought so that you can easily differentiate between ideas and later combine them under similar headings.

Step 5. Write down ideas and tag the next person for iteration

During this step, each team member will spend some time writing their responses to the prompts. This might be done all at the same time or at their own pace and convenience (with due dates, of course!).

Let’s say the moderator wants to make sure that everyone adds their own ideas before seeing someone else’s. In this case, they would duplicate the whiteboard pages (one page for each team member) and assign staggered due dates.

Then before sharing the whiteboard design with a new person, the moderator can hide the other page(s) so that the next person cannot see it or be influenced by those ideas.

Control the settings of each whiteboard page according to your needs!

After each team member has filled in their ideas for the prompts, they can tag either the moderator or a coworker to let them know it’s ready for new ideas or iterations.

Tip: Tag your teammates, leave notes, and add fun stickers in the comments to generate excitement.

Once everyone has had a chance to add their ideas without seeing anyone else’s, the moderator can reveal the whiteboards and start the iteration part of the brainwriting process.

Each person should have the opportunity to iterate on someone else’s ideas. How many turns they get to build on depends on your group’s size and the time you have to complete this project.

However, the more time you can provide for your team, the more ideas you’ll have and a higher likelihood that you’ll develop better solutions.

Step 6. Review and vote on the results with your team

Once the whole team has finished developing solutions and strategies, it’s time for the moderator to collect all of the ideas and categorize them according to themes, ideas, or concepts. Then your team can vote on the ones they like best and want to move forward with.

Create a new page or find a brainwriting template(opens in a new tab or window) to design the review page of your whiteboard. In the example below, each team member can cast their vote by placing a star next to the ideas they like the most.

Organize your ideas into categories and vote using fun graphics!

Take a post-brainwriting exercise survey

The brainwriting process can help you tap into the potential of all your team members rather than a select few.

It has the power to improve your team’s overall problem-solving and creative-thinking skills to generate brilliant solutions for your team’s most pressing challenges.

However, just because a brainwriting exercise helps you come up with new ideas doesn’t mean the process was executed optimally.

It’s important to evaluate the impact of the brainwriting session on your team, not just to evaluate the results.

Ask your team what they thought of the exercise and how they think it could improve to increase productivity and produce high-quality ideas. Apply the feedback and suggestions to your brainwriting templates and set yourself up for an even smoother brainwriting session in the future.

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