Crafting a collaboration tool for modern businesses presents a unique challenge: merging depth, scalability, and complexity into a seamless and accessible interface.
Mural rises to this challenge by emphasizing visual collaboration, ensuring that users enjoy an intuitive experience without sacrificing efficiency. In our conversation with Jim Kalbach, Mural’s Chief Evangelist, we uncover the company's strategies, their approach to visual teamwork, and the role of innovation in their journey.
And for those curious about spicing up their group meetings, Kalbach reveals a surprising and entertaining favorite icebreaker.
Spoiler: It involves Nicolas Cage.
Currently the Chief Evangelist at Mural, Jim Kalbach has been instrumental in growing several of Mural’s largest customers, including IBM, EY, SAP, and Intuit. Jim co-authored Mural’s guide to remote meetings, Facilitating Remote Workshops, and he also published Designing Web Navigation, Mapping Experiences, and The Jobs To Be Done Playbook. More recently, Jim co-founded The JTBD Toolkit, an online learning platform on jobs to be done.
Considering Mural’s expertise as a visual collaboration platform, what are the key features a collaboration tool should consider to set itself apart?
First, the basics of visual work need to be smooth: zooming and panning, text and shape objects, images, icons, and the ability to add files. Beyond that, we believe that anyone leading a meeting can improve teamwork with our Facilitation Superpowers.
These allow ordinary collaborators to create positive meeting experiences without having to be trained facilitators. Moving forward, AI and smart objects will become expected as well.
Companies can have different workplace structures, numbers of employees, and workflows. How do you ensure Mural remains versatile when facing distinct needs and scenarios?
As a flexible, open canvas, Mural doesn’t prescribe specific workflows. Instead, anyone can customize their visual teamwork. However, you don’t have to start from a blank canvas. Mural also has a rich library of templates and strong templating capabilities.
Additionally, Mural offers the LUMA system — a flexible set of human-centered problem-solving methods that can be combined modularly. Knowing just a handful of these methods, anyone can put together a series of “recipes” that help teams achieve a range of objectives, from generating new ideas to building strategies to connecting with each other.
The flexible LUMA system is a versatile tool for covering a range of team workflows.
What are the most common challenges teams face when adopting a visual collaboration tool like Mural, and how are you addressing them?
Getting started in Mural is simple. Anyone can contribute with a simple double-click or drop-and-drag. We value our easy-to-use interface and strive to make getting started frictionless.
The bigger challenge of visual collaboration starts when teams begin building their own method playbooks in Mural. “Muralization” is what we call the translation of business workflows into a visual language.
To that end, we offer support from our Professional Services experts, who can muralize a whole set of methods and convert them into readily available playbooks for teams.
Accessibility is vital for any successful tool. How do you ensure Mural remains intuitive while retaining its depth and complexity?
We strive to make the first experience with Mural simple and intuitive. Generally, people new to visual collaboration tools can usually get started in a matter of minutes. We’re proud of simple features like double-clicking to add a sticky note, which makes contribution that much easier.
With design techniques, like progressive disclosure, we can also give users all the control they need while keeping the surface as simple as possible. We believe anyone and everyone can benefit from visual work, and we’re committed to making Mural as intuitive as possible.
Mural supports several templates clients can use, including “meetings icebreakers." What exactly constitutes a good “icebreaker,” and is there one that you have found to be incredibly successful?
We’re very fond of “Pick Your Nic,” a simple exercise to check in with a team at the beginning of a meeting or workshop. It’s simple:
- Add your name to a sticky note.
- Move the sticky note to the sentiment you identify with based on Nicolas Cage characters.
- Take a moment to reflect on the patterns that emerge as a group, e.g., “Seems a few of us are stressed today,” etc.
But there are hundreds of variants and alternatives. The point is to take a moment with each interaction to connect and get present to each other. Doing that regularly actually does more for team building than infrequent offsites or retreats.
Is there any particular industry where Mural’s tools tend to be very popular?
Both our whiteboard and design thinking training apply across a range of industries — anywhere that teams collaborate.
However, industries that have a stronger innovation imperative tend to gravitate towards our solutions.
Areas like financial services, software development, and consulting tend to adopt visual work and new ways of working quickly.
Can you share a case study of a company that has used Mural in a particularly creative manner?
I’m particularly fond of the story about how HAN University of Applied Sciences and the University of Twente used Mural to include neurodivergent people in their design of solutions for those with neurodivergence.
Their participatory sessions proved to be a great way to include neurodivergent people in the design process and arrive at innovative solutions together.
Mural underwent a brand transformation in late 2022, along with an interface overhaul. Can you tell us more about this process and how it was received by your clients?
The process of transforming our brand involved people from across the organization. Partnering with the design firm COLLINS, we examined our values and beliefs to arrive at a new position that we believe better reflects what we’re all about.
It was more than just a new logo and color scheme. We believe the brand stands for better teamwork in general.
What’s next for Mural? Are there any new features or initiatives we should look for?
Right now, we’re laser-focused on operationalizing AI at enterprise scale within the context of smarter, more visual ways of working.
This is all part of questioning the status quo, which asks, “What if work actually worked?” AI becomes part of teamwork in three key ways:
- As an Assistant, AI helps the team move through manual or repetitive tasks.
- As a Collaborator, AI can come alongside the team to help them generate ideas, check their work, summarize their ideas, or even provide alternative perspectives.
- As a Coach, AI helps your teams come together effectively, guiding teams towards the best combination of methods to solve the specific problem they have in front of them.