Is it a technique? Or is it a tool?

The following extract is from David Shields' book Fakes (spotted & sent over by Tom Darlington, thanks chap)...

"An artifact, by definition, is an object - or in our case, a text - that has been constructed by a human being.  

As such, every artifact rises out of a series of decisions on the part of its maker.  To choose one thing and not another in building an object is to hold fast to one idea of how it should be made (and how it should exist) whilst discarding others.  

If the "made" thing serves a purpose - if others recognise its necessity and decide to reproduce the object for themselves - some if not most of these original choices in the construction of the thing are sure to be replicated.  

In this way, over time, the artifact may change, but essential parts remain..."

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, and just trying to reconcile something in my head about Artefact Cards, and what the actually are...

The part of the passage that resonates most explicitly with me is about the 'series of decisions' that go into the creation of an 'artifact'... a different approach to working up ideas, rather than the fast, scrawly, post-it note technique we're proabbly all familiar with from Brainstorms.

BUT... it's not like you couldn't use them like that.  And actually, people have, and those sessions turn out well by all accounts.  

So what's going on?

I think that I designed them from very much a technique perspective, generated from the ways I found myself using them, and leading others to use them.  It's the three ways of working defined in the instruction booklet that ships with the cards themselves... 

Artefact Cards - Instruction Booklet

However, the series of interviews I've been doing with users, and the continual feedback I get from them too on how they've been using them, keeps adding different examples to the uses of the cards that don't match the three descriptions I laid out.

Because, I think, the cards aren't a technique.  I can lay techniques over them, of course.  But  really, they're just a tool.

For example - Olivier, who did an interview before, emailed me last week, talking about how he'd been using the cards when listening to focus groups.  Seemingly important quites could be written on the cards, which then after the group has finished, take on a new purpose - they become an 'idea island', around which you can arrange other supporting quotes, or new ideas about how to do something about what people are telling you.

Olivier is using the cards as a tool to just do what he does anyway, but in a better way.  Whereas once important quites would be hidden away in a notepad, for one person to dwell on, they now exist in a common working space, laid on a table where everyone has access to them.  A table is everyones, whereas a book is just yours...

Then Mark was telling me a similar story just this morning about how he's using the cards in this way - to pull important things out from people, and put them in a shared, common space.


...this is just the root of another technique.  Yes, there are a good set of rules around it, with beneficial outcomes, but by solely describing the cards in terms of this technique, I would again limit the use of them as a tool for other things.

If I talk about Artefact Cards in terms of techniques, it becomes a cage.  If I talk about them in terms of tools, it becomes scaffolding... it supports the way you want to work, but it lets you build higher than you could before...

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