Artefact Cards Blog
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.
I'm delighted that Dan Thomas of Moov2 has shared with us his experience of using Artefact Cards for 'Card Sorting' in UX work... thanks Dan :)
Card sorting with Artefact cards
Card sorting is a popular UX exercise for planning and organising a website or application's IA (information architecture). It's a quick, low fidelity starting point to get an indication of content requirements and helps to organise and prioritise structure and navigation.
What is card sorting?
The basic premise is to catalogue representative content items onto individual cards and then task people to organise them into logical groups. This is best carried out by representative users and can be done either "open" or "closed". Open card sorting enables the team to define what they consider to be logical groups with which to organise the content whereas closed dictates the grouping and tasks users with associating cards to those groups. For more details of approaches to card sorting check this article on Boxes and Arrows or wikipedia.
One of the merits of card sorting is that it's a great collaborative exercise and can really help promote empathy within a team of mixed objectives and responsibilities. It also brings to the forefront of a project how involved and complex the content considerations might be. Something which is usually just assumed to be someone else's problem and not deserving of time and attention.
Why Artefact cards?
Despite the name, card sorting is often carried out using post-its or other similar scraps of paper as these are the resources typically to hand. Recently (and finally getting to the point) I had the opportunity to utilise a couple of sets of Artefact cards for such an exercise and it had a subtle but noticeable impact on the output. Using an unfamiliar, premium product seemed to trigger pause for thought and more care and attention when committing to writing on card.
A typical card sorting workspace can become cluttered and messy with a crumpled, scribbled and torn notes but with Artefact cards much more importance was seemingly subconsciously placed on the task. The glossy finish allowed cards to be passed around the design surface easily (much like dealing a new set of playing cards) and generally gave the exercise a more quality "feel".
These are subtle points and certainly a pack of post-its is a cheaper option but working with quality materials sets a good tone for working with a new project team. If something as simple as cards for note taking is given a plush feel then you're setting a good standard for the rest of your engagement.
Dan has been at the helm of Moov2, a digital technology agency (or “bunch of software geeks” to the buzzword averse) for more than a decade. During this time he has helped develop many web, desktop and mobile applications for the likes of Barclays, Hasbro and Mars. His focus of late has been closely following the exciting rise of HTML5 and its exorbitant influence on the modern web and device evolution.
It's very simple to do - make up a person in the middle of the page who is your customer, think about them when they're in the market you're operating in, and start to flesh out their life in relation to what you do.
What do they think and feel? See? Say and do? What do they hear? Then think about what causes them pain in the market, and ways in which you might create littles gains for them.
Compared to things like demographics, segmentations, or audience profiling, I find this a much more useful way to get people in workshops thinking about an audience for two reasons.
Firstly, the teams who create these people tend to co-create them. They might initially be rooted in a real person that somebody knows, but they will be embellished by the group to round out the personality.
And because the teams create them together, they all start talking about them as if they know them. It also stops people debating about what is implied by a broad, bland target audience definition.
Secondly, because the people on the Empathy Map are more 'rounded' than typical audience profiles, the ideas people in workshops create to solve their problems tend to be more interesting, away from the generic centre ground.
Lately, I've been interested in pushing people even further from the centre in this type of workshop (partly inspired by Brian Millar's ideas on Extreme Consumers).
What happens when you place weird users in the middle of Empathy Maps? And how do you get groups of people to come up with weirder than normal people?
I found the answer, as with many things in life, in LEGO...
When I was a kid, LEGO minifigs weren't that exciting, to be honest.
Yes, there were knights and spacemen. Possibly emergency services. But the boring old normal LEGO minifigs had plain blue tops, red trousers and so on. There was perhaps one type of hair they could have. It was all pretty standard.
Nowadays though, if you go rifling through the 'make your own minifigs' bin in a LEGO shop, you'll be hard pressed not to find a piece that doesn't have some sort of weirdness to it.
A prisoner's jacket, mermaid tail, surfer vest, bullet belt, lumberjack shirt... I can't keep listing them of course, due to the sheer variety.
Which makes LEGO minifigs really handy to create 'weird users' to create products and services for.
I used this approach most recently during a three-day workshop in Brighton; it was part of a longer mobile product innovation programme I've designed with Mark Earls and James Haycock and his guys from Adaptive Lab.
We did it on the morning of day two, though in hindsight we could have gone earlier with it in the process, as soon as the teams had formed.
To run it, we used a pile of minifig pieces, and a pile of Artefact Cards to build up stories around them. Now, you may have loads of minifigs lying around, but it's good to buy a selection fit for purpose perhaps.
I bought a big pile of minifigs from the LEGO store in Brighton (thanks to Alice there for being amazingly helpful). We had teams of five people so provided each table with ten heads, bodies, legs, hats/hair, and accesories.
NB - unfortunately, your typical LEGO bin is a poor representation of the world when it comes to a male/female split. I searched as hard as I could for female heads etc, and only ended up with around ten out of the fifty possible minifigs being female. Hopefully this will change soon with things like this letter.
With an average of two potential minifigs per workshop particpant, it meant that there was enough for people to choose from, but not so much that they could keep circling through parts until they found 'easy options'.
This was important because the participants were asked not to ignore the weird bits on the minifigs they built, but to make them an integral part of that customer through the use of metaphor.
The questions from Empathy Mapping (what are they feeling, doing etc) become the ways in which you get people to create little stories around the minifigs.
Why, for instance, would somebody be carrying a shield?
Or why, for instance, is someone who's got a belt full of bullets looking so worried and anxious?
At the end of the process, because each team member created a minifig, and the associated stories around them on the Artefact Cards, each team ended up with a really interesting mix of customers and stories in the middle of the table to design solutions for.
The soutions had to take into account that they would be for different types of people, so avoided some of the one-dimensional focus that some Empathy Mapping sessions can result in. But because the types of people were be so wildly different in each team, the teams had to become more creative at thinking about what sort of products they would design for their 'weird audience'.
Having the little stories on the Artefact Cards proved really useful, as they good be grouped, rearranged, kept and redealt all through the remaining days of the workshop, depending on what form the latest solutions being created would take.
All the ideas that came out by the end were tied back to the users as defined in this exercise, even to the extent that they were used in the majority of the presentations as little 'user talismen'.
A lot of them now live on the desks of the clients as well, which is a lovely, unintended consequence of the experiment.
I'd be really interested in hearing from others who try this approach out, or who use Empathy Mapping or LEGO for workshops already, as it seems to be both a really fertile and really fun way to think user-first in workshops. We all found it highly productive and playful, and hope you might too.
After what must be nearly three months of work, we've cracked the new box prototype.
To say we're delighted would be an understatement.
Into production very soon, expect them in September...