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.
A little brother to the desk camera. First test run tomorrow.
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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.
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”
And in there, you’ll find the limited edition Hiut 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.
They’re available now, from the Hiut Shop:
Got get some before I buy them all back myself.
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“It’s genius, it’s Moleskine for Post-its”
So said Matt Sadler, my friend and fellow graduate of the IPA Excellence Diploma’ of Artefact Cards, as we caught up for the first time in AGES tonight.
I liked that so much, I made him write it down. Then put his face very close to it.
We were down at the launch of an initiative at The Bakery, which has been started by Alex Dunsdon & friends; Alex is another friend of ours from the Excellence Diploma. The Bakery brings together brands, agencies and technology companies, to try and solve problems consumers have with technology, rather than just use it to deliver advertising.
MTPW > MPWT, etc.
Anyway, the two things together (“Moleskine for Post-its” and Tech startups) made me remember a conversation that Mark Earls, Tim Milne and I were having yesterday, about one of the subjects around Mark’s new book he’s writing.
When people are pitching new tech startups to people, they tend to throw together two familiar things to make an unfamiliar thing. It’s Last.FM for Running. It’s Etsy for Auto Parts. It’s Mailbox for Calendars. It’s Instagram for Video. It’s X for Y.
Anyway, there’s probably a clear formula to use.
It’s [POPULAR THING] for [BROKEN THING]
And it’s all out the “Cut Up Technique” play book, of which Artefact Cards a definitely of the school of. Cut Up Technique is basically where you take an existing body of text (or images)’ cut through them all, and start rearranging to find new combinations.
It’s what the brilliant William S Burroughs quote “When You Cut Into The Present The Future Leaks Out” refers to. Cut into what exists, reorder, and see what might exist in the future.
Try it tomorrow. Write down lots of popular things in culture, and a set of broken things around the thing you’re working on. Then mix them all up, and see what you can create.
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We had the first Artefact meetup last week, which was great fun. More on that over here. But there will be more, that’s for sure. Thanks to Helen & Mel at BBH for hosting, and the guys over at Carlsberg in Copenhagen for being the beer sponsors (and sending us some fine craft beer from the Jacobsen microbrewery).
At the end of the evening, Adam mentioned that he’d heard someone describe the app as “Minimum Viable Presentation”. Which I think is brilliant. I just wish I knew who it was who’d said it.
Anyway, get your MVP tool for iPhone over here, if you haven’t already – http://bit.ly/15D4uOh
And if you have it already, do be a dear and write us a review of it
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Yes, it’s been a little quiet on the blog of late – but with good reason.
One of the things I’d picked up a lot when talking to users, or using the cards myself, is that there wasn’t an easy way to get the cards off the table or down from the wall, and into a computer or phone and sent to someone as a digital file of some form.
That’s the problem we set out to tackle, and I’m so so pleased with the result -it’s free to download and have a play with, with the advanced features being the very modest price of £2.49.
It’s not just for using with Artefact Cards, clearly – it works brilliantly for any sort of working practice where you’re surrounded by piles of sticky-notes and flipcharts that need capturing. Snap ‘em, order ‘em, and export as a presentation, PDF, or just the pictures.
It’s already been featured in the likes of PSFK, which is very nice. If you know anyone else who might want to feature it, just send ‘em my way.
Finally a wee postscript; working on it over the past few months with Adam (build) & Darrell (design & UI) who’re on opposite sides of the pond has been a brilliant, brilliant experience. Basically because they’re both awesome people with a fondness for tea. And very, very good at what they do. Thank you, gents.
And you should see what we’re planning next for it…
Ta-ta then, happy playing.
What, you’re still here?
GO PLAY WITH THE APP ALREADY…
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So, for the summer Smithery has become two people… I’d like you all to say hello to Fraser Hamilton, who’s going into the final year of his Industrial Design degree at Loughborough in the Autumn.
He’s just finished up a placement with Mark Shayler at consultancy Tickety Boo, who tackle product design, packaging and services in a much more environmental fashion. And funnily enough, he’s from East Kilbride, only five miles from where I grew up in Hamilton. Smithery is defintely a Lanarkshire thing, it would seem.
We met at the Do Lectures, the long and interesting repercussions of all of which I’ll get round to writing up some day when I can / have time /get my head around everything.
And alongside some other client projects (including the SEKRITPROJEKT for Carlsberg which has been amazing fun over the last few weeks, roping in James Wallis, Mark Earls, Tim Milne & Sophie Henderson along the way), Fraser’s going to be looking at designing a new box for the Artefact Cards…
….WHHOOOAAAA, screams the Artefact faithful… but we love the box. The box rocks. Or rox, or something. Don’t CHANGE it….
I know, I love the boxes too.
But there are reasons…
Firstly, it’s about where these existing boxes are from. They’re white label MOO packaging of course, as they have been from the start. I couldn’t find a British maker of boxes who’d make a box that small, so the next best thing I could do was use a great (and MOO are great) British supplier of boxes.
But they have to import the boxes themselves, and I’d rather that Artefact Cards were 100% made in Britain. In the long term, I’d like them to be 100% made in the region or country they’re sold in too, but we’ll tackle that one later.
Secondly, they are substantial boxes, and my gut feeling is that it’s a bit too much packaging around the cards themselves. And because they’re weighty and heavy filled with cards, the shipping boxes that we then use to send out the cards ned to be more sunstantial too. There’s too much material there that, whilst beautiful, doesn’t need to be there. I’d like to reduce that where we can.
Thirdly, I believe the lovely MOO boxes actually prevent some people from using the cards. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who don’t want to use the cards they’ve bought because they feel so perfect and clean in that box. I’m not really into selling people a pristine item to sit on a shelf. I want them to be something people use to make better ideas faster.
Lastly, I want the cards to cost less. Largely because I’ve seen what happens when you put them in the hands of young people, and young people can’t really afford them at the moment.
It started at last year’s Young Rewired State hub in Brighton, I helped out for a few days and donated enough Artefact Cards for all the kids to get a box, and was blown away with how naturally they took to them and how creative they got with them.
Then, Artefact SuperFan Simon‘s wife is a Maths teacher, and has been using them in her lessons at a secondary school, and there’s a forthcoming blog post on that. And I also sent some up to my Mum, who took them into the primary school she used to teach in, and the teachers saw loads of opportunities to help kids learn and create in a playful way.
So if I want more students and school kids to be able to afford them, there’s two ways to do that:
1. I make and sell more. The last production run we did down in Axminster was for 250,000 Artefact Cards. But it turns out that in the econonomies of scale of material culture, quarter of a million Artefact Cards isn’t cool. What’s cool is a billion Artefact Cards (to paraphrase The Social Network). When we do many, many more, unit cost comes way down.
2. I reduce the cost of making them, which by making better packaging, we can do, I think.
So that’s the plan.
Fraser’s spending some time over the next couple of weeks getting into some ideas and seeing what’s what, and we started this week with a good conversation with Tim which we’ve recorded or posterity here…
Then I’ve listed out an Artefact Chronology – the most useful thing about developing in the open, perhaps, is that you’ve got an entire history of a project ready to share whenever you need to:
The first mention… http://bit.ly/14YaOQy
Early use… http://bit.ly/14YaPUk
Concept testing… http://bit.ly/14YaPUl
Alpha to beta… http://bit.ly/10oVP24
Early manual… http://bit.ly/10oVRqQ
Gratuitous detail… http://bit.ly/10oVRqR
Launch day… http://bit.ly/10oVRqS
Branching out… http://bit.ly/10oVP27
Factory visit… http://bit.ly/10oVRqX
…and of course there are are the user interviews I’ve done with folk too…
Michael T Williams
So there’s lots for Fraser to go on here too.
As a final request to all the Artefact users though, if you know of anything else Fraser and myself should look at, either Artefact Cards-specific or wider inspiration from other lean packaging, then please do drop a note in the comments section below.
Fraser will be writing some posts to update everyone of progress as he goes, of course.
UPDATE – we’ve opened up a new Flickr group to capture just how you use, store and carry your Artefact Cards at the moment – upload as many or as few pictures as you like, but the more the merrier really, as they will be brilliant visual insights into what we’re designing for – http://bit.ly/18jM33p
- A real super-fan response too Agree on bulldog clip approach … by John V Willshire
- Ooo, silicone… That’s interesting. I don’t think it runs … by John V Willshire
- Being a super-fan – ha! – I use the box as a desktop … by Simon
- Some cards you use once for a specific presentation or project. … by Phil Adams
- Hi Jonathan – see the previous reply to Warren, will set up a … by John V Willshire
- Plus 5 more…
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