Using Artefact Cards For Hack Days


I did think about starting this brief post with the usual supporter malarkey.

You know, “We at ENTER COMPANY HERE are delighted to be supporting, BECAUSE IMPORTANT” and all that.

But you know how important it is (especially given the events of the last year) for people with the skills and talents to help us all work with our governments, and hold them to account where necessary.

That’s why you’re doing it, and that’s why I believe in supporting the people who can make that difference however I can. Because, you know, I can’t. I code like Arthur Bostrom spoke French.

P1020802So, this weekend, everyone taking part in #NHTG14 will get a pack of Artefact Cards on their arrival. They’re like blank playing cards which you use with a black Sharpie marker pen. I’ve been making and using them for nearly two years, originally as an internal tool for my work with Smithery, then as a standalone product in their own right.

They’ve also been used for the last two years at the Brighton hub of Young Rewired State, as a tool to help the teams create and work on their ideas together.

Despite the promising initial progress of my home TARDIS project, I’ll be unable to be at all of the centres to talk about using them, so instead I thought I’d quickly sketch out some initial ideas about how you might find them useful, using some of the ‘rules of thumb’ card inside each pack.

1. You’re Not Writing A Note. You’re Making An Artefact.

Whenever you put something down on a card, remember that it’s a pretty robust little card. It will persevere in this world, it has a more concrete existence that a scrap of paper or sticky note. It will certainly bear up to being pulled and pushed this way and that at a hack weekend. So make it like you’re going to keep it, or give it to someone else to use. Make it more than just legible, make it beautiful.

2. Use Them As Playing Cards. Shuffle, Deal, Order, Rank.

One of the biggest benefit the cards have is their playing-card-ness. The great thing about playing cards is they can be in constant motion, finding new homes, new owners, new players, new groups to belong to. In this constant motion, you will be able to find new ideas, new connections, new solutions. So keep moving them around until you discover something you want to build. As William S Burroughs said, “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out”


3. If It’s Not Right Right Now, It’ll Be Right Later On.

Every idea, every element, every Artefact Card you make will have a time when it is relevant. So don’t bin them as the weekend progresses – keep them. Whether they’re data sources, interface types, user stories, personas… keep every card you make, and revisit them when you get a bit stuck, or want to test different directions, or just need to restate your assumptions. It’ll also offer your hands, eyes and brain a quick pitstop away from the computer.

4. It’s Not A Card. It’s a Single Brick. Build A House.

The temptation is always to cram as much onto a piece of paper as possible. That’s why the cards are small, so you can’t. Instead, think about all the separate elements that might be appropriate in building what you’re building. Don’t decide what order they go in as you draw them out of your head, but instead let the cards represent single parts, and build the

5. Makes Shapes Of Your Ideas, Or Maps, Or Scaffolding, Or…

Ideas aren’t documents. They don’t naturally follow a neat, linear flow (as much as we sometimes want them to). They have weird shapes, and loops, and that’s good, because it helps you understand them. Find the right shape in the idea with your cards, or even push it further and make it into a metaphor. Create a physical world in front of you, to understand what it is you need to do to live there.

Best of luck, everyone.

Artefact Colours-01

Artefact Cards are made in Axminster, Devon.  They were created by John V Willshire (@willsh), who runs innovation studio Smitherywhich helps people Make Things People Want rather than Making People Want Things.   You can find out more about Artefact Cards here.


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