Pause For Thought

Pause For Thought

The other week, my friend Rob Poynton launched his new book, Do Pause.

I knew he'd been writing it, as occasionally he'd send me pictures of the Artefact Cards he'd been using  as part of the process. Then when I opened the book, I was thrilled and honoured to see a photo of those cards in there.

It started me thinking about the time it's taken to get the new Artefact Cards boxes out. It's taken over a year, which on the one hand feels like a long time in terms, certainly in terms of what contemporary development practice suggests.

On the other hand, though, a slower pace of development has allowed ideas the opportunity to ferment, during the times where I wasn't actively focussed on progressing.

Which I think is kind of in line with a Rob's book (which is excellent, and you should read). What forms can pauses take, and when is pausing the right thing to do? I've tried to think back across the last year to just reflect on our process, in order to set a template for future project development.

It was in the early days of January 2018 that I sat and doodled the new shape, and Fraser drew up a (much) better version of what the new box would become...

Then there's a pause.

Sure, within a few weeks, Tim had made up the first samples; a couple of boxes with some variations on the folding and sealing, working out what might be machine-glued, and which was better finished by hand.

But the space between the sketch and the first prototypes allows time for imagination just to play with the box mentally. Just thinking about what the experience would be like, imagining people picking it up and opening it.

Then, when we sat together and got out hands on it for the first time, that imagined world crashed into reality, and the similarities and differences between the two became apparent. One of the prototypes that did enough of the right things to use in testing.

We took that prototype, and used it to start thinking through the various criteria it would need to fulfil. It had to be well made, constructed of robust card, to stand up to constant opening, reopening, refilling and the like.

It had to be made to sit on a shop shelf (as we move into retail), and effortlessly bear being opened and reopened again and again, as curious minds and fingers enquired "well, I like it, but what is it?".

We also didn't want something that needed to be suffocated in plastic, and designing something now that withstands any inevitable shrink-wrap legislation in years to come is important.

So we started thinking through the tolerances of the two pieces, what the resistance should be, and how that played out in both the assembly and manufacturing process. 

All these things are things you can decide for yourselves quickly, of course. But you've then got to see how it lasts in the long run, not just when it's freshly minted. Hence something we called 'the bag test', another form of pause.

Whilst rattling around in my bag that spring, this box went through a lot. I carried it everywhere for over four months, nestled in whichever kit I was carrying that day or week.

It was played with on a daily basis, swapping in fresh cards whenever I needed them. It was used to take notes in lectures, to work from in coffee shops, from across the UK to Germany, Spain, and India.

It was handed to old friends and new acquaintances to gauge their reaction. It was doodled on as we begin to discover the right graphic design to fit. 

There wasn't any real way to rush it, to fake that testing. Just throwing the box down the stairs to bash it up, or repeatedly squashing it in your hands doesn't tell you what will really happen.

In this pause, then, things are happening, but almost happening around the idea, rather than to the idea. The next phase isn't decided, or directed, but there's just a sense of letting the thing do what the thing will do in the hands of people. 

It's a pause that's more about taking your hands off the thing; just watch, listen, think

After four months of this, action picks up again; there's enough gentle lived experience to inform progress. We gave the box a name; Pokéshu. Like Pokémon means 'pocket monster', so Pokéshu means 'pocket tool', and start refining the designs for the printed version.

Then though, we had anther stroke of good fortune - an email from Innovate UK invited us to a free IP consultancy session. We took the new box along. 'Very cool' said some nice lawyers, 'did you design that from scratch?'. Yes, I said. 'Well, you can probably protect the design rights' they said. And thanks to them, we did. Of course, that took another couple of months, as that process takes time.


Yet whilst is was an enforced pause, but a welcome one, as a few production prototypes made their way into the hands of friends, and again it became about watch, listen, think; smoothing out the last few wrinkles as you observe people doing things you hadn't caught before.

After all that, and a series of final tweaks, we launched the new box. It's now a delight to see the Pokéshu boxes on shelves over at the Somerset House Shop (and more places soon, to be announced soon).

And yes, I do sometimes go and hang out in the shop just to see what people are doing when they pick them up.

Reflecting on the development process in this way, though, it makes me realise something. It's one thing to look at this process and say 'yes, so next time we can save time here, or do that there, or make sure that we have this lined up before that'.

But to do that is to ignore the value in the pauses, which is where I feel a lot of the great stuff in the new design has come from. 

Moving forwards then, I'm going to think about building in pauses, not reducing the opportunity for them to happen. Learn to pause, for thought.

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