Planning Your Project Like A Documentary

Posted on March 09, 2015 by John Willshire

Every so often, someone shares a project they're working on using Artefact Cards and it makes me think again about all the things that make them work.

Dave Birss did this yesterday, when he casually threw out a tweet saying "Today I'm planning a documentary on St Paul's with Artefact Cards", and included the following picture:

First off... look at those cards. Beautifully crafted, perfect encapsulations of just enough information.

They are major plotting points of Dave's documentary, no doubt, each one constrained by the space it has to exist.

I wish I could draw like that. More practice needed, as always.

The main point though is that it's inspired me in another way; to think about documentary making, what it is trying to do, and how it achieves that.

Here's my simple version. A documentary tries to take a wide selection of facts and viewpoints, capture the best in a compelling way, and find the order in which that all makes the most powerful, compelling case to the viewer. I think there's something in that process that can transfer well across to any type of project.

First of all, there's Capturing.

It's akin to running around in the meadow of idea butterflies, which is a thought that Faris & Rosie set off in my head when they referred to our Field Kit as the "perfect present for idea lepidopterists".

It's something we often tend to do in one compressed session, either on our own or with a team of others. The tendency is to quickly binge on some specifically gathered source materials, usually during the meeting we should have prepped for.

What I've found really useful is having packs of different collections of Artefact Cards that you add to over the space of 48 hours, or even longer if you have the time. Travelling through different times, spaces and events means that you naturally find different perspectives on things, and therefore vary the sorts of things you think of capturing. What's notable now might be unremarkable tomorrow, and vice versa.

Working in this way means that over the course of a couple of days, you can have a meaty subject deck that varies wildly from what you'd get in one binging session. Collect those butterflies as you go, rather than hope they all turn up in the same hour. Documentaries are often stories that reveal themselves over time, so build that into your process where you can.

Then, when you've got a good stockpile, it's time to work them up a little. It's all about the Crafting.

As we always say, it's good practice with the Artefact Cards to make 'em like you'll keep 'em. They're robust enough to stay around for a long time; not wipeable, or disposable, but keepable. If you've done that as you go, great. If not, try taking the pen back to existing cards, work on them a little, add a drawing, fill out the letters a little. Put some love and thought into them.

(BTW - If you want a little more practice, then follow our Sixty Second Sketches for quick daily drawing tips.)

Whatever your approach or style when it comes to working on the cards, in the moments when you're making 'an artefact', there's a little magic that happens. As you work with both hands on crafting something on a small card with a permanent marker, it really focusses your attention on what you're doing. It's the quickest way we know of of entering a state of flow, as the outside world swiftly disappears. As a result, you'll feel yourself thinking more deeply about the subject matter on the card.

If we're thinking in terms of the documentary, then each Artefact Card you make is like a little scene. The way in which you convey the most important part of an idea to the viewer is important. Each of those moments needs crafting if your project is to be a success.

Pretty soon, you should have a collection of ideas that you're really invested in, and seeing them all together will start to unlock more new ideas and connections between the different elements.

Which is where the third part comes in; Directing.

With all the cards laid out in front of you, you can start to build up the story as you want it to flow. Gathering little loops together of four of five cards, moving them around to see where they fit best, swiftly re-editing the project in front of you to find exactly the right order for the project that will let you quickly start making it happen.

Because of the effort you've put into the cards at the Crafting stage, you'll have created a significant amount of meaning around each card, especially if you've included drawings as part of the card. This means that it's not just what's on the card that's important, as it's a representation for all the associations you and others have around it.

The more the card is used, the more it gathers new meaning, which is why it's important you view it as something permanent and keepable. One of the biggest advantages of Artefact Cards is that you've created a robust, reusable set of cards that have all your ideas captured on them. You can re-edit the movie of your project as often as you wish, just unpack the box and dive straight back in.

There we have it, then, the documentary approach to working on projects with Artefact Cards; Capturing, Crafting, Directing.

Thank you Dave for sharing your project, and thanks to all of you who share how you're using the cards. It's an endless source of refreshing inspiration, and I thank you all for it. Remember to tweet us @Artefact_Cards so we can don't miss a thing.

Posted in design, discipline, drawing, thinking, visual thinking


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