In our latest interview we catch up with Leonora Oppenheim and Dr Lucy Hubble-Rose, who are long-term collaborators, to discuss workshops, goodie boxes and creative practices.
Leonora Oppenheim is a design storyteller, who translates complex information into meaningful narratives for people in their everyday lives.
Dr Lucy Hubble-Rose has a PhD in Human Geography, she works on developing innovation processes and delivering projects and events that offer new perspectives on complex issues
I guess a good place to start is to tell me how you first heard about Artefact Cards?
Leonora: I know John through mutual friends, and I would say that most roads lead back to the Do Lectures and through lots of other people who had been to the Do Lectures. So he gave me a pack of Artefact Cards and we have been using them ever since. And we have been using them more and more because our business is developing more and more into developing workshops. We also create exhibitions and installations, but as we do more workshops the Artefact Cards are coming out more and more. And Lucy loves using them in terms of brainstorming for ourselves, and anytime we want to work through anything ourselves.
We also put them in something we call a ”Box of Goodies” which are full of craft materials to give to people in our workshops. They are full of tissue paper, paper, Pritt Stick and all the classic craft materials plus every box has a pack of Artefact Cards.
When you were first introduced to Artefact Cards, how did you think you would use them?
Lucy: Well I didn’t really think about it, I just followed the instructions and played with them. For me, often, when I am working with people it is about getting them to engage with their experiences and their knowledge in a new way. Also, with my social sciences hat on, one of the things I am really interested in when I get people in the same space, is about how I can diffuse existing power relationships in order to move to productive thinking around problems and solutions.
I found the cards immediately useful for allowing people to share knowledge and information in a way that detaches that information from themselves; they are not having to say it, they can put the information down and then it can be moved around. And most importantly, this idea or thought can be moved from one person to the next. There is something so egalitarian about that; it’s a superb way of doing it. They can also be lifted up and put on things and that is really important for us, the way that people place them, move them and build with them. They can be built up and hierarchies of information can emerge from them. So those features mean that when we talk to or work with people we can create conversation spaces that you just can’t have without doing, making and playing.And they are cool, there is something really nice about the quality of them, which is different from, say, Post-it notes. And I loathe Post-it notes. The thing about Artefact Cards is that when you ask people to interact with them, they have a value and when you write something on them that has a value too, and that is really nice.
Leonora: It’s because of the quality of them. I mean, they are cards but the sturdiness of them compared to Post-it notes can also inhibit people from writing on them and make people a bit nervous about using them; it's like using a beautiful quality piece of watercolour paper and you don’t want to mess up on it. But actually, the more that you use them the less concerned you are about that and the more useful they become, and eventually you get to see them as an object unlike a Post-it note. There is no quality to a Post-it note, basically. The flimsiness of it means they are inherently disposable in a different way to Artefact Cards, I think.
Lucy: I find throwing away Artefact Cards really alarming. In my home office I have stack of used Artefact Cards all bound up in elastic with big rolls of paper I have placed them down on, so if I need to I can get them out. If I am working on something I haven’t been thinking about for a while I find it really useful to flick through them as a way to bring back the whole thought process.
Leonora: I have still got my whole book planned out on them. The book I abandoned last year is all planned out on Artefact Cards.
Amazing! On the topic of the cards feeling a bit precious at times, do you always use the cards with a Sharpie?
Leonora: We, between us, always use Sharpies. As I
mentioned earlier, once you start using them, your hesitancy around using them becomes less and less and so the Sharpie doesn’t really factor into our thinking anymore. We always provide Sharpies in our ‘goodie boxes’, but there are also lots of different kinds of pencils and pens and felt tips so people can end up using a variety of things on them in our workshops.
Lucy: The only thing I do find slightly frustrating sometimes, is that felt tip rubs straight off. It means it smears and people don’t achieve what they were hoping for.
It’s worth mentioning the first thing we do in a workshop as an ice breaker, but also as a way of setting the tone for the day ahead. We get people to open the box of goodies and interesting thing is, at that point, the Artefact Cards are presented alongside all the other things with a degree of equality. We then ask everyone to use whatever they want to make something, for example, we asked people to decorate hard hats when we had a workshop about risk, or badges or anything slightly related to the theme of the day. But the idea behind that first interaction is always to get people to express something about themselves, so it’s not actually about whatever the activity is. And because of that people get over their fear straight away; people are so worried about actually having to make something that any material that allows them to engage and do the task is very welcome. And in some ways the Artefact Cards are by far the safest.
In your careers as facilitators, are there any particularly surprising ways in which you have seen Artefact Cards used? Or a single particularly effective method you tend to use over and over?
Leonora: The fun thing about the creative aspects of our workshops is that we are always asking people to make things, whether it is customising a paper hat, constructing a scene of risk out of cardboard boxes or working with polystyrene balls to represent the nodes of a network. Quite often people will use the cards as a decoration or a secondary information piece for the thing they are making.
I think the most surprising thing we have seen was the way Artefact Cards were used on the polystyrene balls. We had boxes of pins and we asked people to pin their cards to the balls. The balls were the thing that we were moving around in order to create the node map of a network and the Artefact Cards were labelling the polystyrene balls, their category and what they signified. We then mapped the network using these polystyrene nodes and at the end, when mapping for a final time, the Cards enabled the task to become a real time live infographic of the day’s network and suddenly gave the map a lot of character. And for me, that was just really cool.
Lucy: Yes, that was great. I think for me, there are two different ways of using Artefact Cards. I prefer using them differently in different workshop group sizes, so if there are two or three of you, you can use them in quite a linear way where it can feel quite awkward to do something about making. But if it is a big group of people, I prefer the kind of graphic use of them. What often happens is that the information is embedded within an item or a make or the conversations so it makes more sense to do it that way.
Leonora: I think the Cards are quite like Sugru in a way; they are a product which has no directed use, so the whole joy of it is creating a community of users and networking with them to show how different people use them, and it really is the best showcase of human invention.
How do you explain the cards to other people?
Lucy: I don’t explain what they are, regardless of the situation. If I am talking to a friend and I think they might be useful for something then I just get them out and start flicking through them and writing thing out and encouraging people to get involved. In terms of recommending them I would normally just say “have a play”.
If it is someone who I think would need help using them I probably wouldn’t just recommend them, I would maybe sit down with them and play. I recently recommended them to a neighbour who has a severely dyspraxic son and we talked about different ways to get him engaged with school work.
"People need 'stuff' to make sense of ideas"
Leonora: I recommend them to people all the time, if someone is trying to plan something, mainly. I always try to relate them to systems thinking, so when I was planning my book, I tried to write out all the different elements of the book that I wanted to incorporate and then move them around, they are very malleable. Anyone who is thinking about a system would find this useful; It could be anything where you have different kinds of elements and you need to be able to rearrange and rearrange again to get to the optimum place. With the cards you can go away, come back later and pull them out again to create a new configuration. For anyone who is grappling with that kind of systemic issue, I always talk to them about Artefact Cards for that.
Lucy: I really wish I had some for my thesis, and I would recommend them to any third-year PhD student who is drafting their thesis. Because one of the things I found really difficult was, I had this big whiteboard by the side of my desk and I would write out what my structure would be and as I fleshed a bit out I realised it might have to move. And this process would go on for months so Post-it notes just wouldn’t have cut the mustard every time I had to wipe the entire whiteboard. I felt like I was never making any progress and I was constantly re-inventing, so what would have been so wonderful about Artefact Cards in that instance is that you could use them to redraft without any sense of loss.
Leonora: In our workshops, people often as ask what they are for and we almost always say “they are for whatever you want them to be for”.
One thing about the cards which we have failed to mention yet, is we like being able to photograph them in their configurations so, as malleable and movable as they are, you can also freeze frame a moment with that configuration and move on to the next one; Basically you have a single map which can be multiple maps, and there is no other thing I can think of that is like that. Does that make sense? A single system which can be reconfigured to be multiple maps about the same thing.
Lucy: It happens in a conceptual academic space but it doesn’t happen in a physical space. One of the things that has always annoyed me about academic concepts is that I wanted them to be tangible because you can't really talk to people about something whilst it is just an idea. People need 'stuff' to make sense of ideas.
Any other last comments?
Lucy: This has been really fun. Actually, yes, one comment: I would absolutely love an organised meet-up to hear how other people use the cards.
Leonora: What she said.
This is a game which emerged at Creative Tapas in July 2016, and is easily replicated across any workshop or experience where you're with a group of people for a couple of days or more.
Get people to note down little snippets of conversations that other people are saying throughout the experience. Each of these quotes should be on a separate card. These cards are collected up towards the end of the experience.
Take all the quote cards, shuffle, and split the deck on two.
Then two players take it in turns to read out the quotes as if they are having a conversation, whilst others watch. Every so often, you can swap out players so someone new takes over the conversation.
What emerges is a sometimes, hilarious, sometimes poignant exchange where all of the events of the experience are jumbled up and find new context against each other, reinforcing the things people remember, and creating new ideas to take forward when they leave.
We've been selling the Pocket Packs and the Field Kits at the fabulous Whosit & Whatsit in Newcastle for a wee while now, and it's gone rather well, so we're trying something new. Single packs. Yes, single packs. Various people have asked us before about buying single packs, and we haven't as we thought that giving people the cards with the pens and the manual cards was the best introduction... but you know, people keep asking.
So we've decided to try them out and see what happens - if you're in the area, do pop in and have a wee spy on people looking at them, see what you reckon...
It's Twitter's 10th birthday. Since we launched, it's been the most-used channel for us in sharing what people get up to with Artefact Cards. It helps other folk understand what the cards are, what they might use them for. So many of our new customers come our way because they see other people using the Artefact Cards through Twitter. And we've started putting people's pictures from twitter in the newsletter too, which everyone seems to love.
In short, we love Twitter. And you lot seem to love Twitter too.
So to celebrate their first decade, until Friday this week (25th March) you can get a very fitting 10% off anything in the shop using lovetwitter as a discount code.
You gotta love that, right?
Last year, Fraser and I ran a thing called a 'Walkshop' for the first time, with our friends at Adaptive Lab, which was hatched as a good way for a team to thrash out strategic direction together.
It was also one of the first places we tested out the Artefact Field Kit.
Something really wonderful happened on that day - the route that we took started to change the dynamics of how the group interacted.
People started to walk & talk as big groups as they marched through wide fields, or narrowed down into pairs down narrow tracks.
Without much prompting, it became a very organic and natural way for groups to find their own way through important and interesting conversations.
We thought we'd set up another couple of Walkshops this autumn to see how that played out if we were looking & planning for that to happen, using the landscape as the crucible for certain things to happen at certain times.
We also decided to run a slightly bigger one, to observe what happens with groups that could form different sizes and forms.
Fraser planned out the timings, routes, light activities and the like. I booked the lunch & dinner stops, because that's my main strength. Mmm, lunch.
Off we went on a rough route with a rough plan in mind.
Because we were all on iPhone, we created a collaborative reel on DSPO, a new(ish) app from the Hipstamatic people that allows you to shoot a reel together of images through a specific time period (we chose 6 hours), and then export as a collection, slideshow, or in this case a wee video flickbook...
Now, I've got form with the Hipstamatic creations.
I used the randomness of the original all to create the Plumpton Mornings project about four or five years ago. And whilst still a bit buggy and jarrying in places, I've loved using DSPO so far to do things together as groups. Needs an Android version, and then it'll be a perfect workshop tool.
And then, after some mucking about with getting the app set up on phones, it was off into the wilderness...
As you'll see, the day followed a pattern which went something like this:
i) A gentle 'intro' walk (people find out more about each other, the plan, the tasks). Walk through mixed terrain, with new Artefact Field Kits in hand.
ii) Stop in a circle, in a lovely open glade. Face each other. After discussion, ask people to start committing their initial inklings of what they want to discuss.
iii) Wind our way through various tracks and fields, towards lunch together in a cosy country pub
iv) Over lunch discuss the things we were thinking of, and see how they connect.
v) Set off up a big hill after lunch, reflecting on the things we talked about
vi) Open out into large, broad fields with a big sky overhead, as groups naturally form to expand on subjects
vii) File into a long, gentle track which descends gradually, as people pair off and speak shoulder to shoulder.
viii) End with a nice glass of wine, and an exploration of what we've talked about and discovered that day, and what should be next...
There are many things which came to the surface during the day, indeed too many and myriad to list out here (I'll link out to other thoughts that people are writing up below, as they go up).
Here's Curtis' take, and a new thing he's starting next year too... get involved :)
But the big thing for us was the ability of the landscape to shape conversation gently, naturally, without having to instruct people to 'get into groups of four, now'.
As well as running more Walkshops next year (there's even a site for it now, which as Fraser says, means it is a thing now), I'm interested in how you take some of these ideas about environment changing groups, and recreate it inside buildings, or through cities. Starting as broadly as you can we thinking about not just what people will do, but where they will do it, should be a priority.
If you're interested in something like this in 2016, between now and the end of the year we are looking at how we can make this something we can run for teams & businesses
Add your name to the mailing list below, and we'll let you know when we're good to go...
Those lovely folks at Adaptive Lab invited me to give a short talk last month at their inaugural Pi People event over in Old Street.
I talked about why there are so many different card decks around at the moment (culturally, creatively strategically etc), and what's going on when we use cards to create ideas that work on the web - here's the video they've made of the talk:
The second Pi People event is coming up very soon too, which you should totally get yourselves along to - more details here.