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.