Artefact Cards Blog

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 - 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 - Oliver Legris

Posted 11 October 2012 by John Willshire

How did you think you'd used the cards? 

I thought I would lean how to draw in 2 days and create Powerpoint presentation made of evocative images.
I thought I would use this time each time before launching Keynote.

How did you actually use them?

I think I use them for everything they were not designed for.  The great things with Artefact Card is that they are in a credit card format. Therefore everywhere you go with a wallet, you should always have your artefact cards with you.  So I use them to capture idea while commuting.

Two weeks ago, I lost my wallet. Due to incredible circonstance, the person who found it used my Oyster Card to get my information and gave it back to me. So now on, I made a special Artefact Card that sits on top of my pack for the next time I lose my wallet

I also use them to chose the next idea I want to share on my Tumblr. Every idea is on a card, I just shuffle them and pick one randomly.

I also tried to use the take note during a conference. The experience was good, it forces you to be short

Last week end I was in Stockholm, and I saw an exhibition about Christer Strömholm where he was capturing at night quotes and thoughts on rectangular paper and archive them for further inspiration. I guess I may will use the Artefact Cards that way.

Have they changed the way you do anything?

For the moment, a bit but I guess the more I will capture thoughts and fill this "library of random thoughts" the more they will become powerful. 

And who knows, maybe one day I will start using them properly

How do you describe them to others? 

The best support your thoughts can live on.

Any final thoughts..? 

Like notebook, I hate looking for them. So I put cards a bit everywhere. In my wallet, in my bags, on my work desk, in my room, the same way I do with my notebooks. (sometime I also use Evernote)

There is this famous quote that says "The best camera is the one you always have with you", same thing with Artefact cards ;)


Posted in Artefact, Artefact Cards, blank cards, brainstorms, cards, Interview, Olivier Legris, thinking, We Are Aqueduct, workshops