Artefact Cards – Ideas That Go Bump In The Night

Well hello.  It’s high time for an update on the Artefact Cards.

Firstly, thank you – to all of you who’ve tested, bought, shared and generally been very nice about the cards.  They were the first of three projects for 2012 out of the traps, but such has been the response I’m kicking the other two projects over to 2013.

Tim from ARTOMATIC reckons I’ll only be doing Artefact in 2013 at this rate, but Tim has always been amazingly glass-half-full about everything… 🙂

Actually, just to clarify something; I use ‘we’ when talking about Artefact because there is a ‘we’ – the people who make Artefact happen are myself, Tim and Keith at Axminster Printing.  Essentially I design the things, Tim produces the things, Keith manufactures the things.  Some folk have asked about that before, thinking I’d started invoking a weird habit of talking about myself as ‘we’… I have weird habits, but that is not one.

So, what next?


Autumn 2012 Edition

The autumn batch is being planned as we speak.  The seasonality idea is something I’ve long admired in Field Notes, and so as the leaves turn and begin to drop, we’ll say goodbye to the Sunshine Yellow of the first batch, and hello to Pumpkin Orange…


This is a mock-up, of course.  I try not to show anything that isn’t real, but I really wanted to share the most exciting bit of the autumn box; given it’s Pumpkin Orange for Halloween, each box will have a Glow-In-The-Dark sticker…

…because the best ideas go bump in the night.


I am perhaps more excited about the Glow-In-The-Dark thing than anything else in the entire Artefact project so far.  Which is a bit daft, maybe, but I really like Glow-In-The-Dark stuff, it still feels like magic even when you’re 34 years old.

By the way, there are still a few last boxes of the Sunshine Yellow left, so if you fancy a bit of an Indian Summer, head on over to the shop to pick those up.



Now that we have a better sense of the process behind making & shipping the cards, there can now be a wee expansion in the range; rather than just the central kit, there will be three kits that will be on sale in the shop…

Firstly, a trial kit – one pen, a half pack of cards, and one of the instruction booklets.  I know some people have been curious about the idea, but without using them or seeing them in action, they don’t really know if it’s for them.

The trial kit will contain 50 cards for them to test out, which is enough for a reasonably complex project for one person, or a focussed workshop for a few of you.

Secondly, there will be the standard kit as before; two boxes of cards, two pens, two booklets, then some random nice accompaniments (it was badges and stickers last time round).

Thirdly, there will be a refill kit – 4 packs of 50 cards for you to keep restocking the boxes you’ve already bought in the standard kit.  I have been thinking about this a lot; because the boxes last for ages, people go through the cards quicker than the boxes.   Having refills seemed like a useful thing.

I also wanted to do them as an anti-Gillette model; rather than give away the handle for nothing then stiff people on the blades (which you do if you’re a global mass manufacturer), I’d rather find people who believe in the idea enough to buy the box, then supply refills pretty cheaply.

Three kits then; Trial, Standard, Refill.  Everyone likes things in threes.

Well, actually, there’s a fourth kind of kit… the community set.


Community Set

I’ve realised two things about the cards in relation to seeing other people using them.

Firstly, it’s that because people use them for work, they find it really hard to share the cards… they’re private, secretive, undeveloped, unfinished, important.  Not something to flash around.  So even though there was an #artefactcards tag, people only really used it to show pictures of them receiving the box.  Or, as Phil very neatly puts it in this post, doing Shutterstock homages…


The second thing is that watching the cards at work across the community of people working on demonstrates just how effectively people learn to use them from each other.

A bunch of us (Mark, Tim, Louise, Collyn and myself) have been helping Royal Mail design their new MarketReach function, which has been set up to understand the place and power of physical communications in the modern communications landscape.

As part of the process, we’ve been using Artefact Cards since the project kicked off, and it’s become part of the culture of working, so much so that Tim Hamill there asked me if I’d do a special edition MarketReach one for them, which I was more than happy to do, of course.


If people who work together on things have sets of Artefact Cards, they work out together how to use them.  And interestingly, it’s not how I would have envisaged using them a lot of the time; the group creates an informal set of rules about what you do with them.

With all that in mind, we’re going to do more ‘community sets’ – a way to deliver a big bunch of Artefact Cards to a business, workgroup, conference or other community.

The idea is to make up a slimmed down version of the standard box; one box of cards, refills, one pen, instructions inside the lid, then your logo / design on the case and on the fascia of the box (as above with MarketReach).


All in all, making more cards for shipping in October should mean that we can offer all of kits (trial, standard, refill & community) at pretty reasonable prices too, depdning on how many folk are interested.


What do you want me to do then?

One of two things, really…

i) if you are interested in the community sets for your organisation, or know someone who might be, I’d like you to click here and tell us how many you might want, and for what

ii) if you want to be kept up to date on when the Autumn 2012 Boxes, Refills & Trial packs go on sale, then please sign up to the mailing list.  Each batch is offered up to the mailing list first, so if you think the Glow-in-The-Dark will disappear fast, then get on the list.


Artefact Cards in the FT today


I’m delighted that the Artefact cards have been featured in a piece on visual thinking in the Financial Times today, written by Ian Sanders. It’s a great piece, well worth a read, especially for Mike Rohde‘s tips for people who think “…but I can’t draw”.

Read it here – it’s behind the paywall, but you can quickly register for free to get a limited number of articles.

Or… maybe just type “The Simple Power Of The Doodle” into and you can get straight through.

And if you want to grab a box of Artefact cards before this batch runs out, head on over to before the FT lot snap ’em up.


Winning, Making, Waiting

A Friday post about three things…

The Huffington Post

Some amazing news first… a few weeks ago, I started banging heads with the guys at Gravity Road and Atom 42 on an very exciting pitch; growing the The Huffington Post in UK.



The ties go back to PHD, of course; some of the founders from each part of the triumvirate (Mark Eaves of Gravity Road, Andy Atalla of Atom42, and myself) used to work together at PHD on various accounts. It’s a little bit Blues Brothers… getting the band back together. I’m playing the strategy keyboard and innovation glockenspiel, Gravity Road are on creative trumpet and content viola, and Atom42 are rhythm planning and search drums.

Or something.

Anyway, we only went and got appointed, which is very exciting indeed, because we now get to deliver the strategy and ideas we pitched. We were up against some very good agencies I have a lot of time for too, so we were even more pleased with ourselves (a feeling that can only ever be allowed to last until the hard work starts).


Artefact Cards

I’ve just had the first printed Artefact booklet through the post from Tim at Artomatic this morning. I’m delighted with it, I can’t stop flicking through it. Lovely thick card and very, very black ink. It’s like staring into the untempered schism.

The booklet is an A6 introduction to Artefact Cards, a concise 16 pages, something to pick up quickly and get ideas on how to use them. It’ll ship inside the first 100 kits which are on sale now at (the first half of which have disappeared already).


We could have done it simply as a digital or lithograph print job in any old printer in London, of course, that’d have been simpler, quicker and cheaper. But given that the good folks down at Axminster Printing Co who’re making the Artefact Cards themselves have a lovely letterpress machine, it seemed rude not to use that.


It did mean that I had to be extra careful when writing the copy, and putting it together in Adobe InDesign (which I’d never used before, but ten years of hacky PhotoShop experience meant it was easy enough to pick up). Because with letterpress, you’re making something that’s going to be hewn for eternity on letterpress plates (read more on those here). You’d better be sure you mean what you write.

I’m now trying to work out the next steps to sharing the ideas behind Artefact Cards.


They’re not an easy thing to ‘get’, largely because they seem unlike any of the ways that people tend to work nowadays. Although as Neil Perkin pointed out to me, they are cut from the same cloth as cut-up technique, as used by Dadaists, William S Burroughs, David Bowie and more.

The short form booklet works when you have them. I’m writing the long form manual (version 0.1 was generally well received and useful, it seems) for iPad & PDF. I’d a lovely note from Joe Fry at Google suggesting that a video of them in use is probably a must-do (I know he’s right, too, just haven’t got round to it yet.).

The good thing is that in the testers, contributors and first customers of Artefact Cards, I have a what Leo from Buffer was talking about in his post about ‘the first people using your product’…

“A common misconception I found is how first time founders think about the first users that will sign up to their product. Most, seem to believe that this is your one chance to WOW people signing up with a stunning new experience to change their lives forever.

They believe it is regular Joe signing up. He is expecting to build your product into his every day workflow, stomping off angrily if he finds a bug and the product isn’t working as expected. The truth is, regular Joe won’t sign up. He won’t sign up for quite a while. Only after he has seen your product 7-10 times, read articles about you in the press or several of his friends recommended him your product. That’s when he will take a look.

Instead, the kind of people who sign up to use your product when you first launch, are a very different kind. They are fascinated by newly built technology, helpful, friendly and want to give you feedback. They expect bugs, will make feature suggestions and eventually become your raving fans. They are your visionary customers.


It scares the shit out of me when I think about shipping the first sets of Artefact Cards out in early July, but reading that post made me realise that’s fine and natural and the people who get them will just help make them even better.



Lastly, we’re waiting on the imminent arrival of our second child… which, as I write this, is already three days later than the date they gave us said. Come ON, baby, they gave us a DATE, does this mean nothing to you…?

All very exciting though. But I may be a lot quieter than normal for a bit, and at short notice too.

A nation of shopkeepers

Today, I opened the Smithery Shop to the general public.

Which is quite exciting.


The first thing in there is the limited edition Artefact bundle (2 boxes of cards, pens, instruction booklet, badge, sticker).

Artefact cards, as you’ll no doubt know if you read this blog regularly, are a card-based thinking system, to improve how you craft you own ideas, how you work with others, and how you share stories and structures.

They’re born of my massive dislike of post-it notes (transitory, disposable flimsy nonsense that no idea worth its salt would be seen dead on) and frustration with the ‘stickiness’ of digital working (it’s much harder to live inside ideas, move elements around, create new connections and so on).

Artefact Cards help you craft ideas that have a greater permanence, and find their own perfect shape a lot more readily.  “Like playing with ideas on an air hockey table” as James Box from Clearleft said.




It’s brilliant to move out of the concept testing stage of the project and into a real thing.

Of course, there are still many things I want to do with Artefact as an idea (quarterly subscriptions, different patterns & devices on cards, bulk orders for partnering companies etc etc), but this really the first stage to fuel those next ones, a proof-of-concept to myself that this really is a useful thing that other people buy into, and get a lot of value from.

To get here, it’s been through the hands of lots of people already.  I’d like to thank them all publically, actually, because all of their feedback and assistance has really helped shape this next iteration.

Thank you, you clever, generous people:

Tom Abba, Toby Barnes, Ben Bashford, David Bausola, James Box, Kevin Brown, Rachel Coldicott, William Corke, Russell Davies, Graeme Douglas, Mark Earls, Mark Elwood, Stefan Erschwender, Mel Exon, Chloe Gottlieb, Robin Grant, Tim Hamill, Anthony Harris, Henry Hicks, Kala Horvitz, Adam Hoyle, Mo Husseini, Clare Hutchinson, Curtis James, Gareth Kay, Deb Khan, Matthew Knight, Peter J Law, Matt Locke, Ben Maxwell, Matt J McDonald, Matthew McGuinness, Tim Milne,  Johnnie Moore, Anthony Nelson, Neil Perkin, Cara Poirier, Damian Proctor, Anjali Ramachandran, Ben Richards, Ian Sanders, Matthew Scott, Philip Shepherd, Matt Sheret, Dan Shute, Sarah Sutton, Ben Terrett, Clare Townhill, David Wilding, Faris Yakob


What’s also been really apparent over the last week or so in making the shop (using the excellent Shopify) is how easy it is to be a shopkeeper nowadays.

Which should suit our national psyche, surely?  After all, wasn’t it Napolean who called us ‘a nation of shopkeepers’..?

Well, it turns out no.  It’s from Smith’s Wealth of Nations, originally (back to Adam Smith again, eh?) –

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers.  It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”

In short, the empire existed to great a big enough customer base.  Britain is just a small island, so finding lots more people elsewhere means that the products we create can find a bigger audience across the globe.

We don’t need an empire nowadays.  The internet provides a global customer base.  Maybe the ‘shopkeeping’ thing was only a means to an end.  I think we’re more of a nation of tweakers and tinkerers that Gladwell referred to in his review of the Steve Jobs bio.  We only needed the shop front to sell the ideas.  Britain had to build an internet of customers by using wooden ships and vast armies, rather than superfast broadband and next-day delivery.

Anyway, I digress slightly.  The empire can wait for another day.

Pop on over to the Smithery Shop and have a look.  And please, if you feel inclined, share it with the world.


A new look for Artefact Cards

It’s all go on Artefact Cards at the moment.  There was the excitement of the new cards last week, and now, a new logo…

The logo was designed by Michael Wallis of CorkeWallis, who’ve been keen and brilliant testers of the Artefact prototypes.  I’m hugely grateful to Michael for putting his hands to this, I’m delighted with how it looks.  Thank you Michael.

Production & packing starts next week down in Axminster.  If you think you want one of the first limited edition sets, or want to be kept up to date with the project, then please do remember to sign up to the mailing list:


Artefact Cards: sign up to be first in line

Artefact is a project I’ve been cooking up for nine months since starting Smithery. I’m delighted to say it’s very nearly ready.

It is a card-based thinking system. They help you organise ideas on your own, create new ideas with others, and tell stories about ideas.

Overly fifty testers have been putting them through their paces, and they’ve proven very useful for everything from creating user journeys and mobile apps to telling stories on a stage, designing organisation training programs and pitching movies.

Essentially, Artefact is a deceptively simple way to change the way you work.




The cards are made specifically to order. They were wrangled by my good friend (and general master of atoms) Tim Milne of Artomatic, and manufactured down in Devon by Axminster Printing. The boxes that hold them are from Moo; Lisa and Gemma there massively helped out here, so thank you both.

Artefact cards are a 250gsm clay coated reference card, with a 5mm radius corner created by platten-cutting the cards.

Platten-cutting is like using a pastry cutter. A very sharp, heavy pastry cutter. It’s shaped to pop the exact piece of card out again, and again, and again. Each card is cut individually, so that the finish is consistently perfect.


Each cutter has a unique fingerprint; a tiny hole left at the edge, so that the cards are easily freed from their steel creator. It means that each card is ever so finely marked with a unique identifying ridge along one side. I’d now know an Artefact card wearing a blindfold. Me, that is, not the card.


This all means that each box is like opening a fresh pack of playing cards. Except, of course, there’s nothing on them…

One side is a white as pure as the driven snow, the other has been dipped in sunshine, otherwise known as PMS012 Yellow. Combined with the finest market pen to grace this earth, the Sharpie 1.0mm fine point, you have the perfect combination of clarity and definition.



I would suggest having a read of this wee instruction manual, which is still very much a work in progress but you’ll get an idea of what it is. It has lots of ideas not just from me, but from all the testers too.

If you want the normal PDF, download from here.

If you want the iBooks format for iPad, download from here.



The first limited edition batch of 100 bundles will be offered first to people on the mailing list, which you can sign up to here:

(just type your email into the box and hit ‘return’)


Each bundle will come with two boxes of cards, two Sharpie fine point pens, and a few other special things we’re making. So one for you, and one for a friend, maybe.

Exact cost TBC, but with VAT and shipping it will be around £30 I think. The plan is to use all the profits from Artefact to keep pushing it further, making bigger and bigger production runs, and bringing the cost down as I do.

I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest enough to sign up above. All that’s left for me to say is…



Make Things People Want or Make People Want Things? – my slides from #IdejaX

I was honoured to be invited to talk at IdejaX in Croatia this year.  I’m just back home to lovely chunky broadband, so thought I’d upload my slides.

View more presentations from John V Willshire


It’s a completely new presentation, based on a lot of the blogs posts I’ve been writing of late, and all the thinking I’ve been capturing and remixing on Artefact Cards since Autumn last year.

I’m pleased with how it went, but realised afterwards how densely packed it is.  So shall be expanding the world and the thinking over the next few months.

If you go through the slides and think ‘ahh, it’s just like this example here’, I’d love to hear about it, so use that comments box, folks.



Artefact – a show of hands, and a free eBook

A very short, sharp post on Artefact – the thinking system I’ve been developing to help with:

i) thinking and building through ideas on your own
ii) working with teams & workshop groups to produce better ideas
iii) telling other people about ideas in a flexible, more intimate way

Things are progressing well, it seems, so I’m planning to sell a limited edition first run in the Spring.  I have a figure of about 100 in my head as a good number, given how many people have expressed interest already.

But if they’re are people out there interested at this stage, then I might plan to do slightly more.

So: If you’re interested, or think you might be, please leave your name and email address on this list here

It’s the modern day equivalent of a show of hands.  “Who wants tea..?”


“Errr, hang on, I don’t actually know what this is..?”

Ah, right enough, you may have missed the project progress so far.

If you’d like to find out a little more about them, then I’ve been putting together a manual around the concept,  the practicalities of using the cards, and also some broader brushstrokes about where working like this fits in between the computer and the sticky note.

Here’s a normal PDF – download.

And here it is in iBooks format for iOS – download.

Enjoy… and please do let me know what you think.