For the last four months, I've been working on and off around making a new Artefact Cards product, based on what a fair number of people were asking for.
That's not to say I've done what they asked, but rather tried to understand what they're looking to achieve, and find a solution for it.
There are at least two different types of "Making Things People Want"...
There was a clue in this wee post back in December called "Right then… Let’s Make Magnetic, Wipeable Things..."
Today, as I'm imminently putting up the first product that solves the problem, I thought it'd be a good time to reflect on four months of development.
There seem to be three distinct stages of the process that, looking back at them now.
And with the misguided abandon of someone who's watched far too many Marvel films in the last five years, I thought I'd use the progression through making the different Iron Man suits to illustrate those points along the journey...
(Now, before the fanboys start, I've used the films to illustrate these points, for two very good reasons. One, the available pictures and images are better. Of course they are. And two, people have probably seen the films, whereas not many people have read enough Iron Man comics for it to resonate. You and I can go somewhere else on the internet and debate the niceties of the Iron Man Suits Mark I through III)
Anyway, here we go...
MARK I - MAKE IT LIKE I'M TRAPPED IN A CAVE AND SOME MEN ARE COMING TO KILL ME
No, I have never been either a) trapped in a cave or b) have had some men come to kill me, so I'm not really speaking from experience here. But it's the sort of thing that would get you to solve a problem quickly. Really quickly.
It's with that sort of speed that I think you've got to start making something.
Even without the pressure of armed terrorists bearing down on me, I found myself getting requests for magnetic, or wipeable, or both magnetic and wipeable cards.
I reckon it's because a lot of people and companies are used to working with whiteboards and walls where complex projects are arranged in a common space.
They saw the Artefact Cards and probably thought yeah, nice, but if only they'd fit in with what we're using already... I can totally understood where the desire for that was coming from.
I could have spent days researching it 'properly' with those people, designing something that might be wrong, based on something a few people say in a given moment.
But I though the best way to deal with it is to make a version really quickly, and discover what it was like to work with that version.
If I was trapped in a cave, some men were coming to kill me, and magnetic artefact cards would save me... what would I do...?
Luckily, the cave I'm trapped in has the internet.
And virtually everything that will ever exist is already for sale on the internet, just in its constituent parts.
After twenty minutes of googling, I found some magnetic vinyl from ebay, which claimed to be "ideal for office whiteboards"
(SPOILER ALERT: it wasn't).
But the "buy now" button has a hypnotic quality to it, and so soon a large sheet of magnetic vinyl was winging it's way to Keith down in Axminster who makes the Artefact Cards, to cut it out into Artefact Card shapes.
(DELETES LONG PARAGRAPH ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO CUT MAGNETIC VINYL ON A METAL CUTTING MACHINE)
These first cards aren't very good. At all. There are clearly several things wrong with them:
1. Because they're wipe-clean, you can't use them like an Artefact Card. You can't write or draw or put together a well thought, well designed card, because you're writing in wipe-clean marker on vinyl. It's like writing on a tiny white board and it's rubbish.
2. It's not even very good vinyl - it doesn't wipe-clean well, and so after just one use, you get this horrible pen residue smearing the card.
3. Magnetic cards are heavy. And thick too - instead of 90 normal cards, you only get 20 or so in one of the boxes.
4. The magnetic sheet is made up of loads of tiny strips of magnetic material inside, so they've never sit flush on top of each other
...the list goes on, but those are the main ones.
The best thing, however, about having this version at a really early stage was that it got me standing in front of a magnetic whiteboard, with cards, working out what people might be thinking.
I wasn't holding the right tools, but I was making the right actions. Thinking well is something that takes both your brain and your body working together to do.
MARK II - MAKE IT LIKE IT'S DAY ELEVEN, TEST THIRTY-SEVEN...
The next thing to do is to test lots of things..."iterate wildly" is a phrase I've seen in various things coming out of GDS, and the playfulness of it is spot on I think.
I also like the oblique Smiths reference...
The first version gives you a fairly good idea of what it isn't, but that serves to set off lots of thoughts about what it might be.
And you've got to go through as many of those as you can get your hands on.
Here's a selection of things we tried.
It became clear from the first test that it wasn't massively practical to make wipe clean magnetic cards, but we still sourced a better version.
It now adorns my fridge at home, demonstrating exactly why it's useless:
In short, wipe-clean is awful if you want to craft something with a bit of permanence. Nobody has ever written on a whiteboard and been truly satisfied by what they've done. Wipe clean wan't right.
Magnetic was still interesting though.
We tried a thin sort of magnetic paper material, but it wasn't wipe clean and felt too wasteful. People would be scared to write on them too.
We tried magnets on cards. I still use the best of the magnets on the whiteboard in the Smithery office, though largely because the whiteboard is now fixed to the wall for testing magnetic stuff.
These specific ones are useful in that they can hold together decks of cards (up to 12 or so), so you can pack ideas away yet still keep them on the board. But the magnets did (and do) feel a bit 'in the way'. They disrupt the fluid process of moving the cards around to quickly find new connections.
What else could we use instead of magnets?
Annabel's great post on using the cards pointed us in the direction of washi tape, a Japanese craft tape that's a little like masking tape:
It was definitely the best of the 'sticky' options; blu-tak, white tack, snot-dots and son on, we tried the whole 'stick things temporarily to thinks' range. And all of them seemed to degrade the cards in some way.
Yet whilst washi tape was the best, but it wasn't quite good enough to be the answer. Ripping bits of tape on and off, or picking blu-tak off the cards, is again disruptive to the process.
MARK III - MAKE IT LIKE YOU'RE RUNNING BEFORE YOU CAN WALK...
Here's Stark testing the suit, live, before it's properly, properly ready.
It needs checks, calibrations, etc etc. All the sensible things you'd do if you were very safety conscious.
But if you've a feeling, after all the iterative testing, for how things are going to go then sometimes you've just got to go for it.
I guess I alluded to this on a guest post I wrote for Colour Living this week - it’s only when things are exposed to the
oxygen of people that we begin see what they are. They can be snuffed
out by the wind, or burn brighter with the purified air.
But how do you know when the right time is to jump off?
All through the second stage of testing, you'll pick up feelings for things.
I try to compress all that stuff into the "three things that matter".
It could be behaviours, observations, insights, recurring issues... just the three most important points that you'd put into a version you'll take for a test flight.
For this project, it went like this...
i) people like to work vertically, but don't always have a vertical work surface to hand
ii) people get a lot out of working with Artefact Cards in their current form; how would 'wall working' support that?
iii) adding another object to the card detracts from the card, which means it detracts from the idea
If I could crack those three things, I'd have something interesting to use in a test flight.
Knowing the sort of thing I was looking for was helpful; some quick shorthand, some rapidly created heuristics to filter things I came across.
As soon as I was pointed in the direction of Stattys when I was talking to Jay Cousins about materials (and thanks Dougald for introducing us), I knew I was on to something really interesting: they're statically-charged pieces of film, which stick to walls. Any walls.
And because the charge works on both sides, it means that the Artefact Cards stick to the Stattys:
I'm very pleased indeed - they're a brilliant addition to the working method of Artefact Cards, and they're created and sold by a great kindred spirit in Germany, called Mikko Mannila. Thanks Mikko :)
So, as of today, you can head over to the shop here, and buy some Stattys to go with your Artefact Cards.
It's a test flight, really, to see how everyone gets on with them. As ever, all feedback, good and bad, is massively valued - either email me, or tweet me @Artefact_Cards.