Artefact Cards Blog

DOTS - How do you connect ideas?

Posted 17 July 2014 by John Willshire

I'm really excited to have been invited to talk at Dots, a conference being put on by Brilliant Noise as part of the Brighton Digital Festival in September:

"Dots is about connecting ideas. Innovation happens when things are brought together in fresh ways. Ideas from outside of your field can make a profound impact when brought into step with existing practice. Dots is about sharing and celebrating ideas that have been created by connecting things in new ways, as well as the people who connect them."


Usually, at things like this, I'm asked to talk about Smithery work, but the guys have asked me to talk specifically about Artefact Cards.

Antony and I caught up briefly over email quickly, about what might be most interesting and useful for folk.

Antony said: "A lot of people will be talking about specific innovation projects - looking at a great cognitive tool, like Artefact would work really well. I think interesting questions to ask might be - when to use tools? Which tools to use? When to switch? How people use the tool differently?"

That's a good brief.

And one I'd like to think about for the next month and a have with the best information I can get on the topic, which in this case means asking you guys how you use Artefact Cards as a tool*.

Very simply, I'm looking for you (yes, you, at the back there... are you chewing..?) to answer four simple questions about Artefact Cards:


i) What do you use Artefact Cards for?

ii) When do you use Artefact Cards in your process?

iii) Why are Artefact Cards similar to other tools you've used?

iv) Why are Artefact Cards different to other tools you've used?


I've set it up a simple research form here - please do take five minutes to fill it out when you can, it'd be very much appreciated.

You can opt to make your feedback either private or public (e.g. I'll put some up here on the blog).

Thank you in advance



*Artefact Cards are, of course, a tool. I spent a while when I first started making them thinking they were a technique, and would write and talk about them as such. It was only when I started interviewing people about how they were using them that I realised they were less complex, more accesible.

I had started off seeing Artefact Cards through the lens of my own work, but I only understood them as a tool when I saw lots of peoples' work through the lens of the Artefact Cards.

And hopefully, by collecting and sharing all your stories again, that'll help you get more out of them, and make for an interesting talk at Dots.

Posted in Artefact Cards, artefactcards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, thinking, visual thinking

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

Using Artefact Cards - Annabel Bird

Posted 13 March 2013 by John Willshire


You might remember Annabel Bird, a London lifestyle blogger and interior designer, who wrote this excellent post about the Artefact Cards... we both thought it was definitely worth a wee interview to talk about how else she uses the cards...

Hi there Annie.  You wrote a wonderful post on productivity & creativity using the cards, and I wanted to ask you a few questions about some things you mentioned.

First of all, I love your 'project wall' where you rearrange and prioritise - there seems to be something in "spacial awareness" that changes the way we think about things.  What do you think?

For me it’s more about being able to see the bigger picture. One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read is The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. Organising my projects this way helps me see the entirety of what I am trying to achieve and when the wall is too crowded and nothing is jumping out at me, it simply means there’s too much going on and everything is suffering in the confusion. I can clearly see then that I need to move some cards off to the side into a ‘not for now’ area. I now have only four cards in my ‘must concentrate on’ area of the wall and that feels right for me. But having the other cards visible helps keep me focused on what my goals are.

"Keeping things visible" is interesting - it's hard to do peripheral vision on a screen, but it sounds like that's where your other cards are - not in mind, but in view?

Yes that's exactly it. I find if I write things down in lists and put them in a notebook or on my laptop I just forget about them and never look at them again. I like to be able to see my workload in its entirety and keeping the less urgent stuff on the periphery really works for me. Generally on a screen you are working on one focused task, writing a document for example, so everything else slides out of view.

You mentioned about using the cards in the finance industry, which I find really interesting, because they're not renowned as the most creative of places.  But you've found there's space and acceptance for the cards there?

I move around a lot of different companies and I see the same thing everywhere I go: people who desperately want to work in more creative and interesting ways but have never been taught how to. It’s a misconception that people in finance aren’t creative – everybody is creative - but many people in my industry just don’t know how to harness it and apply it in project work.

I have found that when ever I get my Artefact cards out people’s eyes light up. People take them off me and start stroking them. And then they try to steal them from me. People in finance will grab on to any ray of creativity they see and are highly enthusiastic adopters of new ways of working and are entirely open to, and in need of, having more fun in their jobs.

But the simple truth is projects are the same across all industries, they are the articulation of and implementation of ideas and so what works in one industry should work in all. Artefact cards help me order, adapt and explain my thinking.

Finally, you mentioned about your frustration with post-it notes (and yes, I totally hear you).  It's strange that the post-it has become so ubiquitous though, I think - did you consciously pick up the post-it note habit from somewhere, or had they just crept into daily life? 

I think I must have picked up the post-it note habit at work – that’s the first time I had access to exciting stationery like that! I think I was taught how to use them by peers. It’s interesting that we have adapted their use from a simple note making system to using them for the articulation and organisation of ideas. I still think they’re great for making notes but endlessly frustrating for us with design problems. A reader commented on my blog that Post-its are one of mankind’s most useful inventions but that now it’s time to move on. I’d agree with that. 

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, thinking, visual thinking, vizthinking

Using Artefact Cards - Paul Chaplin

Posted 27 February 2013 by John Willshire

This interview, with Paul Chaplin, is like Q&A poetry thanks to Paul's answers, I reckon... enjoy.

Hello Paul.  Tell us a bit about yourself...

Someone called me a dilettante, which was sounded dead sophisticated; then I looked it up.  

Putting long job titles aside, what I do is reengineer marketing to deliver more for complex B2B organisations.  

You've talked about the cards helping overcome hesitation with a project
...can you tell us more about that?

I wrote the answer to this question four times.

For me, it has a lot to do of apprehension of how a project might sound. 

Be it a customer event, a podcast, or a new website.  

Hesitation is a bit like stage fright.  

You dry up, you might be laughed out.  Worst of all, found out.   

Artefact Cards come with instructions... just start with a mark in the centre of the card.  

That helped.  

On reflection, maybe the cards became my friends instead of my audience.

What did you mean when you said to me
"My noggin keeps trying to organise categories and words before they are ready"?

Do we think before we speak?  

No, I don't think so, at least not in ordinary conversation.  

Yet thinking about problems and their solutions seems to tie us in knots, or at least it does me.  

There's something pre-emptive about thinking which isn't helpful when it comes to getting the thoughts out.

Why do the cards help you get all those ideas out and structured so quickly do you think?  

Because they're in bits.  Or at least allow me to throw out fragmented things.  

The job then becomes one of reordering and assembly.  

And starting with something, a bit of something, is rewarding.  

It's easy to become disheartened but Artefact cards are somehow encouraging.  

They're a positive move.  

Is it a faster way for you to get into the state of 'flow'?


This took me completely by surprise.  

I didn't realise I'd done it.  

How did you share the project with others?
And what was their reaction to the cards as opposed to a document?

Snapped the layout on on my iPhone and emailed the pic to colleagues... 

who replied in minutes saying that it looked like what we needed to do.

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, thinking, visual thinking, vizthinking, We Are Aqueduct, workshops

Using Artefact Cards - Tina Bernstein

Posted 27 February 2013 by John Willshire


Hi Tina - tell us about yourself, please…?

I studied Graphic Design at Central St. Martins but quickly moved into different areas, everything from business to interior design to home finding and various creative projects in between. My overall passion these days lies in lifestyle design, trying to find ways for people to lead a more creative, healthy and satisfying existence. I'm working on a project right now where your artefact cards will be invaluable;-) I LOVE blogging -

How have you been using your Artefact Cards?

I juggle many balls and to start with I simply used the cards for headings of to-do stuff/projects/ideas/blog post:-). They are on my notice board and because the yellow with black is so vibrant it sticks out.  Although some (of the above) will not be actioned immediately, they are there, seen (vibrancy) and filter through to my subconscious. Eventually they will be actioned….AND NOT FORGOTTEN, which really is the main thing! So, for now I'm using them as Layer 1 of a multi-layered plan…if you get my meaning! It's the way I roll...

That way of working must give you a quick sight of everything you've got on pretty quickly? 

Yes, I can see it all in front of me… but then you have the tricky bit of prioritising and seeing what's first (Important vs Urgent)…as you rightly ask in your next question!  Do you remember me asking about other permanent colours?

Ah yes; the multi-colour pack has definitely been added to the Artefact to-do list.  So do you move them around on the board to prioritise?

NO! They are stuck down with a bit of MT tape (Washi) and they form an interesting pattern as some are vertical and some horizontal. I'm using stickers to highlight, prioritise or simply draw my attention to it. What I love is that they are very much in my face so I CANNOT ignore or forget!!! It's that yellow :-)

That's interesting about the patterns - I find using the cards lets you see 'the shape of ideas', which spread out at all sorts of angles.  It sounds like the same principle, yes?
I'm not sure I mean the same thing here. For me, it's the way I stuck them down and also the size and weight of the marks I make indicate some importance. My cards, at the moment, simply show me what I'm working on in the next couple of month. The next layer would be to individually flesh out a particular project, where, no doubt, other patterns would form.

Is there something useful for you in giving the projects a physical, permanent presence in your workspace?  As opposed to having a to-do list on a device, for instance?

Gosh, you're talking to the wrong girl. I'm still old school in stuff like this. I keep diaries, notebooks (moleskins), sketchbooks. I've ALWAYS written stuff down with pen and paper.  There is some sort of commitment and permanence that could NEVER be achieved with to-do lists on a device. Sure I use those for shopping lists or reminding me to get something or other but not for anything creative, important and stimulating. I'm a mind-map girl…. I love maps, sketches, infographics etc.

You should check out Austin Kleon's book "Steal Like An Artist" - he talks about having an analogue desk (paper, pens etc) where he 'creates', and a digital desk, where he takes what he's created to 'edit & publish'.

Yes, know it but just ordered it:-)

It's been great talking to you - any final thoughts or requests?

Not really, normally don't like publicly showing what I'm working on but in this case I don't mind… On second thoughts, what about a pink set of artefact cards??? :-) and neon green and neon blue… so we can differentiate between projects!! 

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, thinking, visual thinking, vizthinking, wireframing, workshops

Using Artefact Cards - Thomas Skavhellen

Posted 19 February 2013 by John Willshire

Here we go - it's the first dual-language Artefact Cards interview, with my good friend Thomas Skavhellen over in Oslo.  He, along with Thomas Moen & Helene Svabo, run the Social Winter / Summer conferences which they were kind enough to invite me to speak at in 2011.  i presented off a prototype set of the Artefact Cards, funnily enough, and handed them out 'slide by slide'.  Perhaps somewhere in Oslo, the whole presentation still exists...

...anyway, I digress...

You can read the English version below, or head on over to Thomas' site for the Norwegian version

Hello Thomas - who are you, and what do you do?

Hi John, I'm Thomas Skavhellen, a 30 year old man living in Oslo, Norway. I work for a small digital agency called MottiMotti where I mostly work with sales and marketing. I also arrange two big conferences a year, Social Summer and Social Winter. Overall very interested in communication and social media.

What do you use your Artefact Cards for, then?  I saw a picture of you holding some at this year's Social Winter conference in Oslo...

I've tried out the Artefact Cards now for both my conferences, for pitching clients and also for making my own product. At Social Winter I have the part of introducing all the great speakers that we have on our event. I use the cards to point me in the right direction of the evening. Every card has a start time and an end time so I always now where we are in the program. I use the white side for when I need to introduce a speaker, their name and some fun facts are usually written here. Then I use the yellow side for breaks and sponsors. I don't know why, but this makes it easy for me to know when I need to be serious and when I can joke around on stage. Yellow means fun time!

For customer pitches I've been using the cards for capturing good ideas in workshop to wireframes for mobile application. They are perfect for pitching for small groups, but I have yet to try it out in a big serious meeting room filled with important solution takers. I think it could work with a great story telling in that room, but the cards are small and I feel them best fit for a small audience.

There is something really intimate and lovely about presenting with the cards; initially i wondered if it was just the novelty factor of doing it, but I've presented to some folk repeatedly and they just get more into it.  I've been wondering if it's about 'communal space' - because you put the cards on the table, the ideas become the property of everyone.  What do you think?

We talk a lot about story telling in the communication industry now days. Also like you and many other have mentioned before, it's all about the bonfire effect. I think the cards are the bonfire, people want to see what you are doing and listen to the story. Card magic is a good example of this, as long as the story is good enough you want to be part of it and you follow along. And if you manage to do a little trick with the Artefact cards in the end of a good presentation, I think you have closed the deal :)

I love Oslo (having been twice now), and there's a certain 'clean and simple' vibe I get from a lot of the deisgn and architecture I see there.  Should we open up an Artefact Norway branch..?

Thanks! Yes I really love Oslo too. Even though I'm from Bergen, Oslo offers a lot more of this clean and simple vibe you are talking about. And also a big city of opportunities. Norwegians are really open for new things and really curious about everything. It's probably not the first impression you get from a typical Norwegian, but still we all are inside some where. So I absolutely think and Artefact Norway Branch should be the next big thing.

In my network GTD by David Allen is a big hit, showing us that people want to be more productive and learn new ways of organising the things we need to do. Artefact cards is kind of the same thing, only that we need to learn new ways of organising good ideas and how things come together. So I'm very interested to see what other people have done with their Artefacts, maybe there is a system in here some where? :)

I keep switching between two views on this.  Are the cards a tool, to be deployed however the user sees fit?  Or is there a technique, or a number of techniques, which show people the best way for them to work with the cards?  Let's try something out - what would your top tip for working with the cards be?

I really believe that the cards are a tool, but there is various techniques for using the tools. They are like a Swiss Army Knife, they can be used for storytelling (keynotes), organising thoughts, showing a workflow, building ideas. I absolutely believe that you should do some workshops around this product. There is so much potential here that nobody knows of when they first receive the cards.

My top tip for working with the cards would be as follow:

- Start with a good question or idea
- Take advantage of the two colours. Yellow means something and White means something, what is up to you.
- Understand that what you write on the cards a permanent, use for capturing just really good stuff.
- Try laying out the cards first, get the yellows in their right spot before you start marking them
- Don’t try to make it too clean or professional, blame ugly drawings on your kids if you can :)


Brilliant, thank you Thomas - Takk for nå.

Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, thinking, visual thinking, vizthinking, wireframing, workshops

Using Artefact Cards - Martin Roberts

Posted 29 January 2013 by John Willshire

Martin is an Information Security adviser, who works with companies and their suppliers, to identify and manage risk or to design bespoke training courses

Hi Martin.  So, how did you think you'd use the cards?
Initially I thought I'd use them during process design and risk workshops to replace copious amounts of paper and flip chart use.
How did you actually use them?
I've used them for all sorts - risk workshops, teaching aids, course design, report design and mentoring / coaching. We even used a card to help form wings for the Christmas tree angel :)
I had thought I'd use them to encourage others to share ideas on risk during workshop sessions. This does indeed happen, but I've also got a core set of cards that I use - they act as a prompt to spark discussion and debate. I now carry a couple of boxes routinely - one set of core cards and a blank set to design and share on the fly.
I find the cards useful to focus thinking - Yellow side for my problem statement and then white side to play with solutions.


Have they changed the way you do anything?
I initially thought I'd do more visual thinking using them. In reality I find I write a heading and then doodle later. They change the dynamic of risk discussions which have historically been quite static - when a risk is written on a flip chart people move on... with the cards, people play with ideas for longer and switch the context or make better links between related items.
I never thought I'd use them for training and mentoring, but have found them great for simplifying things or posing a challenge question for someone to take away and mull over.

How do you describe them to others?

An interactive media to share, explore and expand ideas and thinking...batteries NOT Required!

Any final thoughts..?

Buy a box for each place you work - I have a set in my bag, a box on my desk and a box at home. I also stash them in my wallet, iPad case and mobile phone... You never know when an idea will hit... Be prepared, seize the Sharpie!

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

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