Artefact Cards Blog

House of Cards, by Charles and Ray Eames

Posted 27 July 2014 by John Willshire

As we speak, I'm diving in to the internet to try and discover more about Charles and Ray Eames' House of Cards (thanks to Tina for the heads up).

An interlocking system of cards with either images (I think the smaller cards) or single colour panels (the larger versions),the six slots of each card let you slot together the two dimensional images into three dimensional shapes.

I love the idea of putting together ideas in a three dimensional structure like this. I'm going to get a set from somewhere, have a play and report back.


Of course, I'd love to have a play with the Computer House of Cards, done for IBM's Pavilion at the World's Fair in Japan in 1970, but at $650 for one of the original packs, I'm not sure I'll have a chance any time soon...


Posted in Artefact Cards, blank cards, design, eames, visual thinking

Abi's Amazing Activity Artefacts

Posted 23 July 2014 by John Willshire

Every so often, people do things with the Artefact Cards that make me go YES, GODDAMN IT, THAT'S AMAZING, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT..???

I was chatting to Abi Green of The Conscious Project on email the other day, and she mentioned that just in time for the summer holidays, they'd been creating the most amazing thing to do with the kids... I'll let Abi explain...


Hi Abi - so, tell us what you've been up to preparing for the summer holidays?

I’ve got 3 boys age 10, 7 and 4 and I see the Summer holidays as a brilliant opportunity to do all the things I like doing with my kids - I mean the fun, silly stuff, outdoors time, and things they often get no chance to do at school. So I’ve been scratching out a set of Artefact Cards with a pick-and-mix of activities for them, for those moments when they say ‘I don’t know what to do, I’m bored!'

What got you started on this? And why use Artefact Cards?

Uh, in the moment, when one of my children tells me they’re bored, my mind goes blank! I wanted to catch my ideas as and when they came to me. The cards are the perfect tool, They feel nice, a great size for children, and we’ve used words and pictures on every card so they work for my youngest who is pre-school. I could go on… the whole point is that ideas don’t disappear so once written in permanent ink, the water bomb card can still go back in the pack after all the bombs have been thrown. I’m planning to present them in a treasure box which makes it easier for the children to shuffle and pick something they fancy, and emphasises that a great idea stays great… so you can do it again!

How difficult was it to make a whole pack?

We’ve been collecting ideas for a week or so now- our ideas and theirs- and recording them on some fantastic bright green Artefact Cards. We haven’t quite finished the pack yet but the lovely thing now is that they’re contributing more and more of their own ideas about what they’d like to do. I’ve got some fabulous ideas from Pinterest and various blogs as well.

So, imagine you're a parent reading this and want to give it a go - what are your top three tips for getting started.

(1) Keep a note of things your children like to do but never get enough time to see through (e.g. craft projects, junk modelling, recording their own songs...)

(2) Have a look in cupboards, shelves and drawers for toys or games that could be re-invented/refreshed or just taken outside (e.g. draw a chalk maze on the pavement, make an old sheet into a pirate ship sail, take paper aeroplanes to the park)

(3) Include some ideas based on what you’d like to see them doing! (e.g. Phone Grandma, FaceTime your cousins, make someone a card and send it)


Right, I'm off right now to do some, err, urgent important work stuff or something....

*goes and gets kids*...



Posted in Artefact Cards, blank cards, cards, games, imagination, kids, kids games

Global Grid Testing: Argentina & Brazil

Posted 1 July 2014 by John Willshire

We launched the Artefact Cards Global Grids last week, a set that was initially inspired by the World Cup, but then morphed (as these things tend to around these parts) into an exploration of how the different grid and pattern styles common in the idea creation stages of different cultures can change how we think, and make, ideas.

As always, though, I don't think you can really know what something is truly for, or how it works, until you play around with it. Thinking with your fingers, let's say. So I took delivery of the first boxes off the line at the weekend, and all this week (and possibly next) I'll be testing them out, and recording what happens here. It's hard, of course, to objectively evaluate your own working method, but I can heartily recommend trying.

Yesterday, I was using two different sets in a series of client interviews, to note down and describe different things as they occurred in conversation.

I've always used drawing to help explain what I mean (the major benefit of a background in Economics perhaps), and nowadays with the cards that's just easier to make these little drawings come to life in conversations; they become commmunal things on the table, rather than things jotted in one person's notebook.

Anyway, to the grids; how did these two packs influence the way I worked?

First up, Brazil:

The design on these is quite left-field (which is what happens when you design them with someone who's four and three-quarters - see the product page for more on that). The yellow side is more subtle, but when you see them in real life, it looks like you're staring down on the top of a pyramid.

Because it's quite subtle, I found that I could just use it as a standard card whenever I wanted too, but in doing that it seemed to 'pop' a bit more. I don't know if it's the three-dimensional aspect lending it more presence, or just the feeling that it feels more 'designed', but it's really pleasing either which way.

I also found myself occasionally going with the lines, rather than ignoring them, to explore the relationship between two different things. For future designs though, it feels that for this to work properly, I'd need to replicate the top left corner in the bottom right.


The green side of the cards are different, more leading. Based on the Brazilian flag, the card is neatly segmented into a centre and four corners. You can of course use it as a normal card, and it just acts as a background to the words and pictures again. It's a little less subtle and pleasing than using the yellow side for that though.

Where the green side really comes into its own is as a directional device to separate central themes into four sections, or group four ideas under one heading. I found myself sweating ideas a little bit harder, trying to work out what the fourth part might be, or what things might be brought under one banner. It's a devious little nudge (and an unintended one, I have to admit), but it just pushes your brain a little more.

Of course, you have to wath out you're not just forcing it for the sake of it, but all in all, I'm really pleased with what it seem to do.It seems to work having a subtler, 'all-purpose' side, and a more pronounced side with might be for something. Will wait for feedback from other users to see if they find the same.

The second pack I tried out was Argentina:

Now, the blue side was a reprise of the Ice Blue Grid pattern from Winter 2013, but this time around it's a slightly darker blue, for two reasons.

Firstly, it's more in keeping with the Argentian colours (a lovely blue in its own right). Secondly, we've established (in making cards for the last two-plus years) that how much ink you put on them makes a structural difference to the cards. If a colour is too light, it needs less ink to guide it away from the white card, and so the card feels flimsier. Just, but enough. Tina spotted this first; thanks Tina.

Anyway, it turns out I really like the new blue. The black sharpie still punches out nicely on it, and the thin white graph offers even more guidance than before (by increased contrast). Looking back at other cards I've made recently, I can instantly see not just the effect that the graph has on the drawings, but also on the sizing and spacing of letters and words.

Things just tend to end up the same size, equally balanced with each other. I guess it'd really help people who're less usre about drawing and writing well on the cards. It also makes you feel that you're working in a way that is a bit more scientific; on the one hand, that's a bit daft and irrational, but on the other to be completely expected I guess, as we're all a bit daft and irrational.

As much as I like the blue side though, I'm in love with the orange graph, inspired by Argentinian papel milimitrado.


Using a light coloured graph on a white background is something we've not done before, and if anything it produces more punch than the blue cards. I ended up using blue graph for headers, and orange graph for content, as I could still write and draw relatively small, yet retain stand-out. Additionally, every small box is a millimetre long, and thus every larger box is a centimetre. So it's a nice impromptu ruler as well, should you need it.

Another lovely aspect was the effect of the pen on the card as I drew lines across it. I could feel the pattern of the graph under the pen, which I hadn't expected at all; imagine a tiny version of drawing on corrugrated card as a kid.

It was funny how the sensation connected me more to the cards, I'm struggling to fully explain it perhaps, but there was more of a sense of 'thereness'. Perhaps will live too much of our working lives on smooth glass surfaces now? Dunno, again it's one to see what other people feel when using them.

One added benefit of using graph became apparent; it makes you more likely to idly play with the cards, and move them around, as you start lining up the graph boxes on different cards at different angles and positions (especially, if like me, you can find yourself prone to idle pattern making or what might even be mild OCD).

The graph makes you move the cards around, but in doing so, inadvertently brings you to new combinations of the ideas on the cards. The abilty to continually move around and play with cards is fast becoming the most popular reason people reference when i ask what they love about them.

Anyway, that's it so far. The Global Grid boxes start shipping this week, and if you've already ordered or plan to, I'd love to hear from you (email here) on how you find the cards make your work differently, either in comparison to normal Artefact Cards or just in general for your working practice.

More testing results later this week.

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, artefactcards, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, design, drawing, gamestorming, Interview, play, thinking, UX, UXcafe, visu, visual thinking, vizthinking, We Are Aqueduct, wireframing, workshops


Posted 9 January 2014 by

A new addition to the ever increasing army of cameras… a Logitech 930e on a gorrillapod tripod, for use as a portable desk projector for Artefact Cards.

A little brother to the desk camera.  First test run tomorrow.

JARVIS 2 Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 20.44.20


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Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, visu, vizthinking, wireframing, workshops

Playful, And Something Up My Sleeve

Posted 28 October 2013 by John Willshire

I was honoured to talk at Playful last Friday, a brilliant conference in London run by Mudlurk.  The theme this year was 'Playing With Form', and I talked about "putting things in things", and how the language and concepts we've been brought up with in various fields don't necessarily work with 'internet boxes', as it were.

My slides are here, but more than ever I probably need to add narration, which I shall endeavour to do this week.


Playful 2013 - Putting Things In Things from John V Willshire


It was a great day, but don't just take my word for it - Frankie used some Artefact Cards to take sketchnotes from the whole day too, (below is an example), and Simon, Anjali and Heather have also been writing up their thoughst afterwards.

I'd also worked with Greg from Mudlark to design a light wee game for going aropund the conference, or indeed other conference and gathering spaces, called Seven Cubic Feet. 

We have a few left too, which may make it into the site here at some stage if anyone feels they missed out.


Now, you may be wondering what that is around the deck... well, it's the sleeve we've had, ahem, up our sleeve to go around the new box. 

Artefact fan Andrew pointed out that the new boxes were nice, but not ideal for him.  He tended to carry the packs around individually in his bag, and they'd end up falling out moreoften than not. Which, admittedly, isn't ideal.

User feedback like this is always ideal; precise use cases that you can go and test for yourself, and think of workarounds.  We've been playing around with the 'sleeve', like a matchbox skin to slide over the top of boxes as you carry them around.


It actually turns out to solve some other problems as well.  Firstly, we'd lost the place for branding we had with our old boxes - on the old box, we had a clean, stickered space on the front, like this one we did for The Do Lectures this year (picture by Jonathan Cherry):


Now, we've set up the sleeves so they can be printed digitally down at Keith's in Axminster, so we can do pretty short run branded kits again, which is great (just email me for now if you're interested in doing branded packs like this, I'm be setting up a new FAQ shortly about it, but until then will just answer any queries).

The other great thing about the sleeve is that we've made sure the notch is the same level off the ground so you can make a double-leg stand for the cards, if you wish:

All in all, the sleeve is looking like a total winner, so we're going to start including them on future packs from this week onwards.

(If you've already bought a box recently with the new pack style, but would like some sleeves for them, just give me a shout and we'll sort you out with some).


Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, artefactcards, blank cards, boxes, cards, design, invention, thinking

Superheroes, Origin Stories and Artefact Cards

Posted 3 October 2013 by John Willshire

My talk today from Best of Britannia, a show of the finest in British Design and Manufacturing.  It's about Origin Stories, both from the perspective of the retelling of Superhero stories, and the power of making things in Britain:


Superheroes, Origin Stories & Artefact Cards - Best Of Britannia 2013 from John V Willshire
We're also running a wee Artefact stall there over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so if you're in the area (four minutes from Farringdon Station) then please pop in and say hello (we're on the second floor):

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, artefactcards, batman, batman begins, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, design, drawing, man of steel, superhero, superman, visual thinking, workshops

Don’t meet your heroes. Work with them. Presenting Artefact Cards for Hiut Denim…

Posted 23 August 2013 by Shopify API

David at Hiut Denim asked me earlier in the year “would you like to do something together for our second year book?”  I eagerly said yes.

Fast forward a couple on months, and the new year book has just landed on my desk.

Year Book - On Desk

At the back, there’s this: “A small shop of products that we curate to show off those that we think do their one thing well”

Year Book - Open

And in there, you’ll find the limited edition Hiut Artefact Cards:

Year Book - Artefact Cards

You would not believe how long I sat and just looked at that page.  Yeah, I know.

There’s something about the red and yellow that just works.  It’s rhuburb and custard, perhaps.  They’re my favourite ever Artefact Boxes.

Hiut Artefact Pack Shot

They’re available now, from the Hiut Shop:

Got get some before I buy them all back myself.


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