Inside every pack of Artefact Cards, there’s a card with ten rules of thumb on them.
To start off a series of posts this month on games that help you ‘play with ideas’, I thought I’d start with a series of short sharp expansions of these rules of thumb.
These are essentially wee games or playful explorations you can play yourself, or as a group. They’re based on a lot on the workshops I was running last year, and what I’ve learned from how people take to the Artefact Cards.
I've opened up the comments below too, so if you want to share any games that you play with the cards, please do; it'd be great to start gather together some collective learning about the best practice.
1. Use them as playing cards. Shuffle, deal, order, rank.
Everyone has played card games at various stages of their life, I'm sure. There are various interesting principles you can pull from card games to help change the way you now recombine and look at the artefact cards you create.
Gather and shuffle up the cards every so often. Then try and find old combinations you liked before, or discover new ones. Deal ideas cards out in order, or as hands to different people. Work out what the order of your deck is, or what suits it falls into. Hide cards from each other, and take turns in playing.
2. You’re not writing a note, you’re making an artefact.
The cards should be cherished items, not just scrawled notes; they’re going to be the central pieces in the games that you play with your ideas. Some people don’t feel ‘ready’ to create cards like this, though, so here’s a quick cheat.
Try making the artefacts as if you were not you, but someone else. How would a famous artist, a celebrated designer, a successful business role-model or fictional character capture the idea on the card?
3. The cards give back what you put in. So put everything in.
Often we want to rush through writing down and exploring our ideas. Perhaps it is the pace we feel we need to work with now. It means though that we don’t play with an idea for long enough... not that ‘long enough’ need be terribly long.
Instead, give yourself half an hour to make five cards. That’s one card every six minutes. Time yourself (it helps to set aside any distractions whilst you do it). Carefully consider the words and pictures you feel express the ideas. Start again with any you feel could be better. See what you can make in just half an hour.
4. It’s not disposable, it’s not wipeable, but keepable.
Now that you’ve put so much into the ideas, it’d be a shame to see them thrown in the bin. Which is fine; the cards are designed for keeping.
When you’re making your cards, imagine that you’re about to drop them into a time capsule to be opened in 20 years. What needs to be on there? What are the cues that will bring the memories flooding back? What happens if you’re going to open the time capsule? What happens if it’s somebody else?
5. Mistakes are just your hand taking you somewhere new.
Sometime you’ll start writing or drawing on a card, and within the first two pen strokes think ‘oh, I’ve done this wrong...’. Don’t worry, your hand has just invented something new. So follow it, and find out what that card is instead.
Create a set of ‘mistake’ cards; either these cards you think you’ve done wrong, or just ‘fake’ mistakes by drawing/writing the start of something. Now shuffle them around, and draw from the top of the deck. Use that ‘mistake’ card to create a new idea for the problem you’re currently tackling.
6. It’s not a card, it’s a single brick. Build a house.
It’s really tempting to write up ideas in full, lengthy text as soon as you have them. That’s why the cards are small though; to help you write small parts of ideas on each, and work out out your ideas build up together.
Working backwards can help. Take a big idea, or problem, and write it on one card. Around that card, make new cards with the parts that make up that idea or problem. Then do it again with each of those parts. See how far you can break everything down. Now gather them all together, shuffle them, and map out how all the constituent parts should go together.
7. Make shapes of your ideas, or maps, or scaffolding, or...
Documents, and the devices that help us write them, are sometimes relentlessly linear. Which is fine when it comes to conveying a finished idea, but not so great when exploring all the possible connections.
Pick a shape metaphor for your ideas. Is it a map of the territory? If so, what is the land, what is the sea? Where are the lighthouses? Is it scaffolding? How do the ideas support something under construction. What football formation would your ideas work best as? Invent & play with various shape metaphors, and lay out the cards accordingly.
8. If it’s not right right now, it’ll be right later on.
Some ideas seem pretty dopey when you first have them. But it’s a question of timing, and context. They might be right later, so save them.
Every so often, revisit your pile of cards with dopey ideas. Put them all face down, and include new ideas in the mix if you like. Turn over two at a time, like you would if you were playing the children’s game, ‘pairs’. Find a connection between them to come to a new, better idea. If there isn’t a connection, turn them back over, and try again.
9. Draw. Don’t say ‘I can’t draw’. It’s just that you don’t draw.
If you’ve stopped drawing, it might be for various reasons. A teacher poured scorn on your efforts. You didn’t take the right subjects to keep drawing. It’s easy to pick up again. It’s just about practicing.
When you use your cards, draw a picture on each of them. It doesn’t matter how good it is. Then use the pictures to play a different game when you’re thinking about your ideas - order the cards by how good you think the pictures are. Find out the things you’re best at drawing, and draw more of them.
10. Draw a dot. Put the pen on the dot, count to 3, and draw.
Letting you hand lead your head is an fascinating process; it can lead you to ideas and areas you might never have stumbled across.
Here's a game to help you practice that with other people. Rather than 'quick draw', it's about 'slow draw'. Start with a dot on a card, and rest your pen on it. On the count of three, everyone starts to draw... slowly. The aim is to be the last to finish. If you can, don't let the pen off the card. At the end, describe to each other what you've drawn, what you were trying to draw, and and what stage you decided what it was.