Artefact Cards Blog

Walkshop - Wandering & Wondering

Posted 25 November 2015 by John Willshire

Last year, Fraser and I ran a thing called a 'Walkshop' for the first time, with our friends at Adaptive Lab, which was hatched as a good way for a team to thrash out strategic direction together.

It was also one of the first places we tested out the Artefact Field Kit.


Something really wonderful happened on that day - the route that we took started to change the dynamics of how the group interacted.

People started to walk & talk as big groups as they marched through wide fields, or narrowed down into pairs down narrow tracks.

Without much prompting, it became a very organic and natural way for groups to find their own way through important and interesting conversations.

We thought we'd set up another couple of Walkshops this autumn to see how that played out if we were looking & planning for that to happen, using the landscape as the crucible for certain things to happen at certain times.

I ran a small, intimate one with Paul, Tracey and James the week before last; just to four of us, a slow amble, and sloe-picking.






We also decided to run a slightly bigger one, to observe what happens with groups that could form different sizes and forms.

Fraser planned out the timings, routes, light activities and the like. I booked the lunch & dinner stops, because that's my main strength. Mmm, lunch.

And so it was that last Friday, our band of merry experimenters arrived in Plumpton, East Sussex, to start the day; Curtis, Ben, Abi, Leonora and Simon, in addition to Fraser and myself.

Off we went on a rough route with a rough plan in mind.

Because we were all on iPhone, we created a collaborative reel on DSPO, a new(ish) app from the Hipstamatic people that allows you to shoot a reel together of images through a specific time period (we chose 6 hours), and then export as a collection, slideshow, or in this case a wee video flickbook...


A video posted by Artefact Cards (@artefactcards) on


Now, I've got form with the Hipstamatic creations.

I used the randomness of the original all to create the Plumpton Mornings project about four or five years ago. And whilst still a bit buggy and jarrying in places, I've loved using DSPO so far to do things together as groups. Needs an Android version, and then it'll be a perfect workshop tool.

And then, after some mucking about with getting the app set up on phones, it was off into the wilderness...






























As you'll see, the day followed a pattern which went something like this:

i) A gentle 'intro' walk (people find out more about each other, the plan, the tasks). Walk through mixed terrain, with new Artefact Field Kits in hand.

ii) Stop in a circle, in a lovely open glade. Face each other. After discussion, ask people to start committing their initial inklings of what they want to discuss.

iii) Wind our way through various tracks and fields, towards lunch together in a cosy country pub

iv) Over lunch discuss the things we were thinking of, and see how they connect.

v) Set off up a big hill after lunch, reflecting on the things we talked about

vi) Open out into large, broad fields with a big sky overhead, as groups naturally form to expand on subjects

vii) File into a long, gentle track which descends gradually, as people pair off and speak shoulder to shoulder.

viii) End with a nice glass of wine, and an exploration of what we've talked about and discovered that day, and what should be next...


There are many things which came to the surface during the day, indeed too many and myriad to list out here (I'll link out to other thoughts that people are writing up below, as they go up).


Here's Curtis' take, and a new thing he's starting next year too... get involved :)

But the big thing for us was the ability of the landscape to shape conversation gently, naturally, without having to instruct people to 'get into groups of four, now'.

As well as running more Walkshops next year (there's even a site for it now, which as Fraser says, means it is a thing now), I'm interested in how you take some of these ideas about environment changing groups, and recreate it inside buildings, or through cities. Starting as broadly as you can we thinking about not just what people will do, but where they will do it, should be a priority.



If you're interested in something like this in 2016, between now and the end of the year we are looking at how we can make this something we can run for teams & businesses

Add your name to the mailing list below, and we'll let you know when we're good to go...

Subscribe to the Walkshop Mailing List


Posted in design thinking, discipline, practice, thinking, walkshop

Video: Metaphorical Design Mechanics (why we all use cards to build ideas)

Posted 9 November 2015 by John Willshire

Those lovely folks at Adaptive Lab invited me to give a short talk last month at their inaugural Pi People event over in Old Street.

I talked about why there are so many different card decks around at the moment (culturally, creatively strategically etc), and what's going on when we use cards to create ideas that work on the web - here's the video they've made of the talk:


The second Pi People event is coming up very soon too, which you should totally get yourselves along to - more details here.

Posted in cards, design, design thinking, discipline, making, play, playing cards, practice, thinking, visual thinking

Custom Artefact Field Kits

Posted 22 September 2015 by John Willshire

It may seem early to talk about Christmas. It's certainly too early to be eating mince pies. But it's not too early to be working out what you're sending your clients this Christmas.

These are our glorious all-leather, high quality Field Wallets, as made by Bernard and his family up at Lichfield Leather here in the UK. They really are beautiful, check them out here.

Last year, people asked "can we do custom ones for clients as Christmas presents?", and we said "no, sorry, it's too late". This year, we're letting you know early enough, to avoid disappointments.

When we say 'custom' we mean that you can replace the custom printed yellow leather panel you see below with whatever you like.

As well as the premium leather Field Wallet, you'll also get cards inside the wallet, a box of Artefact Cards to restock the Field Wallet with, and a custom black Sharpie, all inside a clean white presentation box.

Prices are as follows (excluding shipping & VAT)

50   - £18.99 per kit
100  - £16.99 per kit
200  - £15.99 per kit

(further discounts available for larger orders)

We need your expressions of interest by Monday 28th September in order to get them to you by 1st December.

Please email us here with all orders or to ask more questions.

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, card sorting, cards, design, discipline, drawing, eames, making, practice, resolutions, teams, thinking, visual thinking

Planning Your Project Like A Documentary

Posted 9 March 2015 by John Willshire

Every so often, someone shares a project they're working on using Artefact Cards and it makes me think again about all the things that make them work.

Dave Birss did this yesterday, when he casually threw out a tweet saying "Today I'm planning a documentary on St Paul's with Artefact Cards", and included the following picture:

First off... look at those cards. Beautifully crafted, perfect encapsulations of just enough information.

They are major plotting points of Dave's documentary, no doubt, each one constrained by the space it has to exist.

I wish I could draw like that. More practice needed, as always.

The main point though is that it's inspired me in another way; to think about documentary making, what it is trying to do, and how it achieves that.

Here's my simple version. A documentary tries to take a wide selection of facts and viewpoints, capture the best in a compelling way, and find the order in which that all makes the most powerful, compelling case to the viewer. I think there's something in that process that can transfer well across to any type of project.

First of all, there's Capturing.

It's akin to running around in the meadow of idea butterflies, which is a thought that Faris & Rosie set off in my head when they referred to our Field Kit as the "perfect present for idea lepidopterists".

It's something we often tend to do in one compressed session, either on our own or with a team of others. The tendency is to quickly binge on some specifically gathered source materials, usually during the meeting we should have prepped for.

What I've found really useful is having packs of different collections of Artefact Cards that you add to over the space of 48 hours, or even longer if you have the time. Travelling through different times, spaces and events means that you naturally find different perspectives on things, and therefore vary the sorts of things you think of capturing. What's notable now might be unremarkable tomorrow, and vice versa.

Working in this way means that over the course of a couple of days, you can have a meaty subject deck that varies wildly from what you'd get in one binging session. Collect those butterflies as you go, rather than hope they all turn up in the same hour. Documentaries are often stories that reveal themselves over time, so build that into your process where you can.

Then, when you've got a good stockpile, it's time to work them up a little. It's all about the Crafting.

As we always say, it's good practice with the Artefact Cards to make 'em like you'll keep 'em. They're robust enough to stay around for a long time; not wipeable, or disposable, but keepable. If you've done that as you go, great. If not, try taking the pen back to existing cards, work on them a little, add a drawing, fill out the letters a little. Put some love and thought into them.

(BTW - If you want a little more practice, then follow our Sixty Second Sketches for quick daily drawing tips.)

Whatever your approach or style when it comes to working on the cards, in the moments when you're making 'an artefact', there's a little magic that happens. As you work with both hands on crafting something on a small card with a permanent marker, it really focusses your attention on what you're doing. It's the quickest way we know of of entering a state of flow, as the outside world swiftly disappears. As a result, you'll feel yourself thinking more deeply about the subject matter on the card.

If we're thinking in terms of the documentary, then each Artefact Card you make is like a little scene. The way in which you convey the most important part of an idea to the viewer is important. Each of those moments needs crafting if your project is to be a success.

Pretty soon, you should have a collection of ideas that you're really invested in, and seeing them all together will start to unlock more new ideas and connections between the different elements.

Which is where the third part comes in; Directing.

With all the cards laid out in front of you, you can start to build up the story as you want it to flow. Gathering little loops together of four of five cards, moving them around to see where they fit best, swiftly re-editing the project in front of you to find exactly the right order for the project that will let you quickly start making it happen.

Because of the effort you've put into the cards at the Crafting stage, you'll have created a significant amount of meaning around each card, especially if you've included drawings as part of the card. This means that it's not just what's on the card that's important, as it's a representation for all the associations you and others have around it.

The more the card is used, the more it gathers new meaning, which is why it's important you view it as something permanent and keepable. One of the biggest advantages of Artefact Cards is that you've created a robust, reusable set of cards that have all your ideas captured on them. You can re-edit the movie of your project as often as you wish, just unpack the box and dive straight back in.

There we have it, then, the documentary approach to working on projects with Artefact Cards; Capturing, Crafting, Directing.

Thank you Dave for sharing your project, and thanks to all of you who share how you're using the cards. It's an endless source of refreshing inspiration, and I thank you all for it. Remember to tweet us @Artefact_Cards so we can don't miss a thing.

Posted in design, discipline, drawing, thinking, visual thinking

Listening to the inaudible, seeing the unseeable,

Posted 23 February 2015 by John Willshire

As part of our wee initiative to help Artefact Cards users see what other people are doing, Jason has sent in this idea. It's really great, illustrating how you can bring all voices in a team into a conversation (instead of just the usual more vocal ones), and then turn a conversation which could be lost into a visible part of the environment that people work in.

Thanks for sharing, Jason. If you have a story to share about how you've used Artefact Cards, just send us an email to hello [at}


I'm the Personnel Manager in a large supermarket. I wanted to explore how to improve morale.

Normally if you get a group of colleagues together only one or two will speak up, so you don't get a representative view.

On this occasion I gave everyone an Artefact Card and a Sharpie, I simply asked them to draw on one side of the card what makes them "Happy in work" and on the other side draw what they would like to see being done differently in our store to achieve this.

We then went around the table and each person talked about their card. It was great I had tangible out from every colleague that I spoke to and these then become part of a larger display of our action planning

Posted in discipline, making, resolutions, teams, visual thinking

Sixty Second Sketches

Posted 9 December 2014 by John Willshire

Yesterday, we started a wee thing; Sixty Second Sketches.

Basically, it's about drawing more. We draw quite a lot anyway; often those wee drawings are exploratory, little probes reaching out to find meaning or form in ideas. It's a really good disclipline, to try and draw what you mean.

The more you do it, the more it becomes natural, and useful.

So in order to help other Artefact Cards users up into the practice, we thought we could create something as a minimal, daily prompt. We'll draw something, on one card, in a way that helps and prompts other people to draw. A dog-whistle for drawing quickly.

How does it work?

Easy - just add your email address in this box here, and we'll send you a drawing a day. What happens after that is up to you...


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Posted in discipline, drawing, making, practice