Introducing The Artefact iPhone App

Yes, it’s been a little quiet on the blog of late – but with good reason.

A crack team of Adam Hoyle of Do Tank, Darrell Whitelaw of Siberia and myself (of making tea and random ideas) having been finishing off… the Artefact App for iPhone:



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?


Artefact Cards Meetup #1 – These Pages Fall Like Ash

I’m delighted to announce that we’re holding the first Artefact Cards Meetup in London on Wednesday 24th July, from 5pm onwards.

It’ll be at BBH on Kingly Street, Soho, and you can get one of the free) tickets for it here:

Thanks massively to Helen (helenium) and Mel (melex) from BBH for hosting.

Why a meetup?

I thought given the Artefact Cards were now a year old, it’d be nice to bring together some users, so they can share ideas and thoughts on what makes them work.

Yet that seemed a little… tame as an idea.  Nice to do, but I thought it could be a much more valuable and interesting experience for everyone.

Over the last year, I’ve also wanted to get under the skin of some of the projects I’ve seen using them (through people blogging, tweeting, photographing them etc); I’ve said before that whereas I started off seeing the Artefact Cards through only the lens of the work I did, a years worth of talking to people has given me the chance to see what a wide variety of ‘knowledge’ work looks like through the lens of the Artefact Cards.

With that in mind, I want to use the meetups as opportunities to find out from the creators more about some of the amazing projects that’ve been using the cards somewhere in their formulation.

I’m therefore very delighted that Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman will be giving a talk about These Pages Fall Like Ash – here’s a wee video preview…

These Pages Fall Like Ash from Benjie Croce on Vimeo.

Tom & Duncan’s talk will be later on in the evening (6:30 or so), so from 5pm onwards there will be various wee ‘ show & tell’ things too, and of course some refreshments too.

I hope to see you there:


Smithery doubles to make Artefact Cards shrink


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….

cards with test logo

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…
Early use…
Concept testing…
Alpha to beta…
Early manual…
Gratuitous detail…
Launch day…
Branching out…
Factory visit…

…and of course there are are the user interviews I’ve done with folk too…

Phil Adams
Tina Bernstein
Annabel Bird
James Caig
Paul Chaplin
Warren Church
Ian Fitzpatrick
Louise Flett
Olivier Legris
Antony Mayfield
Kev Metta
Joe Roberson
Martin Roberts
Ian Sanders
Thomas Skavhellen
Michael Wallis
Dena Walker
Simon White
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 –



Make Things Like Tony Stark

A talk I gave last week at the inaugural Innovation Social event, held at the Google Campus on Bonhill Street in London.

Some things worth noting…

i) it was the first time I’d done a presentation by only writing it on Artefact Cards, then using a beta version of the App I’m making with Adam Hoyle of Do Tank Studios, & Darrell Whitelaw of America.

Artefact App

So the presentation only needed to touch a computer when uploading it to Slideshare (and those guys have been great in helping us build in a function for the future where you can share straight to Slideshare, which is massively exciting…

Basically I’m not very far away from having a system that lets me write, present and share ideas without ever opening Keynote or PowerPoint.  Which is nice.

ii) the presentation needs a voiceover.  It’s a little more oblique than usual, perhaps.  I’ll get on to that.

iii) the development that it’s talking about is that of the Stattys that have recently launched on the Artefact site.  They’re amazing Electrostatic sheets of paper that stick to any wall, and that the Artefact Cards then stick to.  You can basically build yourself a whiteboard style wall anywhere you like, use your Artefact Cards with them, then take down the whole thing in five minutes as if you were never there.

They keep selling out, but there’s some just back in, so if you tried to buy them before and failed, get on over there.

iv) Google Campus on Bonhill Street is in the exact building where I started in media.  There used to be a research agency called BJM there.  It’s a bit like coming home.

Why I messed up the Artefact Tulipmania experiment…

This is a story about experiments, Artefact Cards, Plumpton Mornings, the 50/50 Good project, visibility and apologies.

The thing with experiments is that they can, and do, go wrong.  The Artefact Tulipmania experiment was one such thing that has gone wrong, and badly so.

I’ve fucked it up.  Sorry.  In short:

i) Nature conspired against me, but it’s not her fault
ii) I completely hid the most important part of the box
iii) I disrupted the visibility of the boxes in use

Now, it could be argued it’s not entirely my fault, but you know, I’m definitely to blame for 2 out of 3, and given nature never asked to be part of this, I’ve probably got to take the hit for the other.

So, what’s happened?

i) Nature conspired against me, but it’s not her fault

It seemed such a good idea at the time; the colour of the Artefact Cards for this seasonal special would be whatever colour emerged from the ground of the Smithery in the form of tulips.  I wrote it all up on the original project description, which is still up here.

And all the while, the suspense was amazing, watching the tulips poke up through the soil…

square pic

Then I went to the Do Lectures, over in Cardigan, which was amazing.

Then I came back, to this, which was not amazing.

Tulip denouement

If the main big surprise of the seasonal Artefact Cards is based on what colour they’re going to be, then my garden producing row-upon-row of yellow and white tulips is not very helpful.

I can hardly make a “special edition” card when they’d be exactly the same colour as the normal cards.

And yes, there’s red in them, but red is a terrible colour to try and make a black pen ‘pop’ against.

What’s the solution?

Well, here’s a thing… whilst I’m not going to do the cards in red, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do the Sharpies in red…

In each box, you’ll now get two new RED Artefact Sharpies, specially commissioned for this – I’ve been testing them on the existing yellow/white cards, and they work beautifully… you can even replicate the tulip style patterns, if you so wish…

red 2

As soon as the pens are in made and shipped to us, we’ll start getting the ordered boxes out.  The card boxes will also have special edition art on them, so they won’t just be a normal box of the Yellow Artefact cards.

But first I need to tell you what else is inside…


ii) I completely hid the most important part of the box

Now, I had also promised there would be other things in the box:

– There will be a present from Plumpton Green
– There will be something to help people
– In one in ten of the boxes, a special extra thing (selected at random)

Which was deliberately oblique, and stupidly so, in hindsight.

What’s the solution?

Well, to tell you what’s in the box, of course.

I’d like you to cast your mind back to October 2011.

The Good for Nothing guys, in collaboration with Made By Many, put together the 50/50 Good project, to raise money for UNICEF’s East Africa Famine appeal.

I said I’d do something for it with Plumpton Mornings; to create a raft of different small artworks, and then sell them in a twitter auction.  Plumpton Mornings, if you don’t know, is a long, slow photographic project (read more on it here).

Whilst the twitter auction didn’t happen though, the artworks did.

I ran one test auction, for one of the Tiny Plumpton Mornings Art books and a tiny coffee table to stand it on.  Thomas Skavhellen over in Oslo won that one, with a bid of £36, as I recall.

tiny book 1 tiny book 2 tiny book 3


There are only another two of these, one of which has just returned from being loaned to the Royal Mail’s Real Network Project.  Two of the Tulipmania recipients, selected at random, will win those.

Then there are three sets of three Tiny Photo Cubes, in vinyl & acrylic, featuring various different Plumpton Mornings scenes.  Another three Tulipmania recipients will win those.

tiny cubes 2


Then in every box, there will be a one off postcard print, numbered and signed.  Although they all feature the same six Plumpton Mornings pictures, each one is absolutely unique, through creating an algorithm to determine the patterns of all possible variations, and asking people on twitter to then pick a number between 1 and 720.

There are only sixty of them, thirty with white backgrounds and 30 with black so that each one has a ‘pair’ somewhere in the world.  They are called The Herrmann Iterations, after the Austrian national economist Emanuel Herrmann, who invented the postcard.

Herman iterations 2


The main point of all this was to raise money for 50/50 Good, and that still remains the case – the first £10 of the £30 cost of each box goes straight to Unicef.

For what it’s worth, in a nod to the tulips I consider that the postcards, photo cubes and tiny art books have been acting as bulbs, hidden away in the dark, and now finally ready to raise the money they were created for.


iii) I disrupted the visibility of the boxes in use

The final problem is a simple one; for all of the seasonal editions so far, when the first people buy them, they tend to get very excited about them when they arrive, share pictures and tell friends.  Then friends buy them, and do the same.

But of course, I stipulated in the original product post that, because of the set-up, I wouldn’t send any boxes until they’ve all been sold.

Which means that the boxes haven’t sold out, and we haven’t sent any out as yet at all.

So I’d like to apologise to all the people who’ve bought a box so far – the wait has been far too long already, so we will be working doubly hard to get the pens ready and sent out to you.

Thanks for believing in the box, and the project, to buy it ‘sight unseen’.  I can only hope that seeing what’s actually in the box makes the wait a little more bearable.

If you haven’t bought a box yet, and now fancy one of the remaining ones, then click here to see the product page.


The Do Lectures: notes from a field

I was lucky enough to be at The Do Lectures Start Up the other weekend. There are many stories to be shared from that another day, especially around the ‘start up bit’.

But for now, I thought I’d share this – it’s my notes from the weekend’s speakers, which I captured on Artefact Cards rather than a notebook or device.

I was road-testing two things by capturing notes this way.

The first is a more robust, beautiful way of travelling around with the Artefact cards and using them spontaneously. I love the current boxes they come in now, I really do, but they’re just not pocket sized.

Whereas this little fella is just the job…



It’s ostensibly a leather business card wallet, made by Bernard Heathcote and his sons at Lichfield Leather. This is a style they already do, so in the spirit of “the Tony Stark school of building one quickly“, I just used the off the shelf solution to see how it worked out.

And it worked pretty well. The flap opens up to give you a little shelf to hold the card whilst you write on it…


…which proved massively helpful on a small wooden chair in a tent in Cardigan. If it works there, it’ll work anywhere.

Next steps on that are to work with Bernard to create an Artefact version specifically. I’d like to be able to do a limited run of them for the first birthday of Artefact in June.

The second thing I was testing was the Artefact app… Which is what I used to capture all the cards, rearrange them, and export them as a presentation to upload to Slideshare.

More on the app another day… It’s getting very close now, though.

Draw what you’re thinking about

I’m reading ‘The Thinking Hand’ by Juhanni Pallasmaa again. A great passage from it:

“Sketching and drawing are spatial and haptic exercises that fuse the external reality of space and matter, and the internal reality of perception, thought and mental imagery into singular and dialectic entities”.

It’s a fusion of the thing and the way you perceive it.

It made me think of the trouble a few people have with drawing on Artefact Cards.

They don’t like drawing, because they say ‘I can’t draw’.

I often tell them it’s not that they can’t draw, but that they don’t draw much any more. We all used to draw loads. Most people stop. It’s just a matter of drawing more again, practicing, getting better.

The passage above made me think that maybe there’s an issue too with people worrying what the drawing looks like as they do it.

It doesn’t look like the thing they thought it would be.

Nothing I draw is ever the drawing I imagined before I started. You discover what the drawing as as your doing it, and after you’ve finished it.

The trick is not thinking about the drawing itself, but the thing you’re trying to show.

Don’t think about what you’re drawing.

Draw what you’re thinking about.


The Perils of Inadvertently Making a Cuturematic

I’ve been reading Grant McCraken’s Culturematic this week.  I met Grant at an event last year, after Mark introduced us, and insisted that I showed Grant some Artefact Cards.

“That’s a Culturematic” said Grant, holding the cards.

Shape of Artefact

Having not read the book, I didn’t get what he meant, really.

I probably did that slightly gormless nod, smile, mumble and shuffle though.

…as an aside, I’m a terrible reader at the moment.  The social web is breaking my ability to get through books, it seems.  More on that another day…

Now, sitting here having read the first third of the book, I’m getting a grip of what Grant means by “Culturematics”.

Which means I’m beginning to understand the interesting/worrying implications that has if I’ve made one inadvertently.

What is a Culturematic?

In Grant’s words, it’s “a little machine for making culture.  It is designed to do three things: test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value”.

I interpret it as this; you find a problem, a problem that bothers you.

You could spend ages trying to solve it, and solve it well.

It could turn into another project that sits on a box on a shelf for months whilst you try and get it right, turning to it in spare moments with a lessening frequency over the years.

Or you could glue some little legs onto the first version, and send it off into the world to meet people, who’ll help it become a solution to the problem.

Or they’ll point it in the direction of new problems, and use it to solve those instead.

Now, there are nine features that Culturematics have that Grant Identifies…


Culturematics Start Playing In Our Heads Immediately
Culturematics Make The World Manageable
Culturematics Are Something We Want To Try

Culturematics Are Both Playful And Deadly Serious
Culturematics Work From Naive Curiousity
Culturematics Like Order Out Of Accident
Culturematics Aim To Change The Contents Of Our Heads
Culturematics Find Value Invisible To Others
Culturematics Make Scientists, Social Chemists And Adventurers Of Us All

Without going in to death-defying detail (which I may do another day, heaven help you), I can go through each of them and go “ah-ha”, spotting parts of the development journey as I go.


If the Artefact Cards are a Culturematic, which they might well be, then I’ve done a really, really daft thing with the new website.

I’ve made a website for normal products.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 20.56.55
It’s clean, simple, works across any device beautifully.  And it’s probably an excellent template for a website if you’re selling shirts, or bicycle bells, or anything else that people clearly understand what it is.

It has short, simple descriptions of each product.  It has customer quotes saying why people like them.  It has all the stuff you have on a normal website.

But I don’t need a normal website.

I probably want a website for a Culturematic, with lots of weirdness and rabbit holes, that’s quite hard to find what you want on, and more long, rambling product descriptions like there used to be.

The website for a Culturematic probably needs to be a Culturematic in its own right…






A Factory Visit, and the Future of Print

This week, I visited the Axminster Printing Co. with Tim Milne, to see where the Artefact Cards are made.  And to meet Keith Rockett, who runs the business, and whom I’ve only ever spoken with on the phone.

I took lots of photos, and then afterwards, Tim and I sat and had a chat about various things on a bench in the town Square in Axminster, for the ongoing Audioboo stuff for the 2013 Media Projects.

Anyway, it occurred that I could try something a wee bit different with the audio & visual; I’ve taken all the photos, in the order they were in (save for a three photo loop at the end), and used them as a visual accompaniment to the conversation.

Rather than spend hours editing the pictures with whatever was most appropriate in the conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see if telling two separate stories at once (the pictures of the day, and the wee interview about the day and other things) actually worked.  See what you think…