Empathy Mapping with Lego Figures

I’ve been a huge fan of the principles of Empathy Mapping since I first read about it in Gamestorming (by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown & James Macanufo) a few years ago.

It’s very simple to do – make up a person in the middle of the page who is your customer, think about them when they’re in the market you’re operating in, and start to flesh out their life in relation to what you do.

What do they think and feel? See? Say and do? What do they hear? Then think about what causes them pain in the market, and ways in which you might create littles gains for them.

Compared to things like demographics, segmentations, or audience profiling, I find this a much more useful way to get people in workshops thinking about an audience for two reasons.

Firstly, the teams who create these people tend to co-create them. They might initially be rooted in a real person that somebody knows, but they will be embellished by the group to round out the personality.

And because the teams create them together, they all start talking about them as if they know them. It also stops people debating about what is implied by a broad, bland target audience definition.

Secondly, because the people on the Empathy Map are more ’rounded’ than typical audience profiles, the ideas people in workshops create to solve their problems tend to be more interesting, away from the generic centre ground.

Lately, I’ve been interested in pushing people even further from the centre in this type of workshop (partly inspired by Brian Millar’s ideas on Extreme Consumers).

What happens when you place weird users in the middle of Empathy Maps? And how do you get groups of people to come up with weirder than normal people?

I found the answer, as with many things in life, in LEGO…

When I was a kid, LEGO minifigs weren’t that exciting, to be honest.

Yes, there were knights and spacemen. Possibly emergency services. But the boring old normal LEGO minifigs had plain blue tops, red trousers and so on. There was perhaps one type of hair they could have. It was all pretty standard.

Nowadays though, if you go rifling through the ‘make your own minifigs’ bin in a LEGO shop, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a piece that doesn’t have some sort of weirdness to it.

A prisoner’s jacket, mermaid tail, surfer vest, bullet belt, lumberjack shirt… I can’t keep listing them of course, due to the sheer variety.

Which makes LEGO minifigs really handy to create ‘weird users’ to create products and services for.

I used this approach most recently during a three-day workshop in Brighton; it was part of a longer mobile product innovation programme I’ve designed with Mark Earls and James Haycock and his guys from Adaptive Lab.

We did it on the morning of day two, though in hindsight we could have gone earlier with it in the process, as soon as the teams had formed.

To run it, we used a pile of minifig pieces, and a pile of Artefact Cards to build up stories around them. Now, you may have loads of minifigs lying around, but it’s good to buy a selection fit for purpose perhaps.

I bought a big pile of minifigs from the LEGO store in Brighton (thanks to Alice there for being amazingly helpful). We had teams of five people so provided each table with ten heads, bodies, legs, hats/hair, and accesories.

NB – unfortunately, your typical LEGO bin is a poor representation of the world when it comes to a male/female split. I searched as hard as I could for female heads etc, and only ended up with around ten out of the fifty possible minifigs being female. Hopefully this will change soon with things like this letter.

With an average of two potential minifigs per workshop particpant, it meant that there was enough for people to choose from, but not so much that they could keep circling through parts until they found ‘easy options’.

This was important because the participants were asked not to ignore the weird bits on the minifigs they built, but to make them an integral part of that customer through the use of metaphor.

The questions from Empathy Mapping (what are they feeling, doing etc) become the ways in which you get people to create little stories around the minifigs.

Why, for instance, would somebody be carrying a shield?

Or why, for instance, is someone who’s got a belt full of bullets looking so worried and anxious?

At the end of the process, because each team member created a minifig, and the associated stories around them on the Artefact Cards, each team ended up with a really interesting mix of customers and stories in the middle of the table to design solutions for.

The soutions had to take into account that they would be for different types of people, so avoided some of the one-dimensional focus that some Empathy Mapping sessions can result in. But because the types of people were be so wildly different in each team, the teams had to become more creative at thinking about what sort of products they would design for their ‘weird audience’.

Having the little stories on the Artefact Cards proved really useful, as they good be grouped, rearranged, kept and redealt all through the remaining days of the workshop, depending on what form the latest solutions being created would take.

All the ideas that came out by the end were tied back to the users as defined in this exercise, even to the extent that they were used in the majority of the presentations as little ‘user talismen’.

A lot of them now live on the desks of the clients as well, which is a lovely, unintended consequence of the experiment.


I’d be really interested in hearing from others who try this approach out, or who use Empathy Mapping or LEGO for workshops already, as it seems to be both a really fertile and really fun way to think user-first in workshops. We all found it highly productive and playful, and hope you might too.

GPS by James Bridle

One of the objects in CONTAINER is GPS by Mr James Bridle… I’ve just seen that Tim’s put a short interview with James about the piece up here:

Interview with James Bridle about his item in CONTAINER #1:Hot&Cold from Tim Milne on Vimeo.


Which, in turn, reminded me to do the thing I meant to do ages ago with it…

…swapping out the Earth in the planets that hang from the kids’ bedroom ceiling.

James Bridle GPS 2

James Bridle GPS


I’ll explain to them, as best I can, but only when they ask and not before.

I do think all the things in CONTAINER should be used, and so I’m plotting how to use them fittingly for each use.  Also, I did a full unboxing video for CONTAINER if you want to see more – it’s here.

Forget Tone of Voice; Find A Certain Tone of Action

I had the pleasure of speaking at the first ever Folksy Summer School a couple of weeks ago, to their burgeoning community of Designer-Makers about brands and ideas around how to talk about themselves.

The video’s just gone up here:

John V Willshire at Folksy Summer School from Folksy on Vimeo.

When writing the talk, I stumbled into a way to think about the major advantages that these brilliant, creative individuals had over established, inflexible ‘brands’, and found an interesting line of thought along thinking about not having ‘a tone of voice’, but instead demonstrating ‘a certain tone of action’.

The slides are just up here too, if you want them:




CONTAINER: Unleashed

I received my Artist’s proof of CONTAINER last week, the exploration of what form might look for the future of magazines curated, produced and edited by Tim Milne from ARTOMATIC.

I was delighted to be in the company of fellow contributors Accept & Proceed, James Bridle, Daniel Eatock, Malcolm Garrett, David Hieatt, Leila Johnson, Mother, Rebecca & Mike, Nic Roope & Violetta Boxhill.

Now, I’d been saying to Tim (for about two months) that I’d write a wee blog post about my contribution.  But I haven’t.  Instead, I’ve done a wee unboxing video. What was surprising to me was that even though I was part of the project, and knew roughly about everything else that was going in, how much more it made me think unpacking and holding everything for the first time.

(you can get CONTAINER here btw)


PS – there are undoubtedly people buying this who consider themselves ‘collectors’ of things… hoping that the early stage things they buy go up in value.  I think though we’re going to use ALL of the things at home somehow; I’ll post up what we do with each item perhaps.

Back at the Forge

I’ve returned to the Smithery forge after a wee break which culminated in talking at the first Folksy Summer School.

Full talk (slides plus audio) to follow soon, but I’ve also been playing around with the new camera (a fantastic Panasonic Lumix LX7 – perfect for carrying around if you don’t want a full-on DSLR).  It’s for capturing a project which I’ll talk about another day.

In the meantime though, here’s some slowed down footage of the bonfire we made on the Saturday night at Folksy….

It’s like Michael Bay meets Baden Powell; slow motion footage of firey shit and that.  Thanks to Anne Hollowday for the inspiration on experimenting with it.




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?



Wearable Tech or Full Manual Tech?

I was sitting with Mark & Snowy earlier, talking about a wee project we’re plotting, and this thought crept up on me around “Wearable Tech”.


The line of thinking, in it’s very infancy of course, is this.

Everyone is making a smart watch. There’s FuelBands and FitBits everywhere you look. Google Glass is an interesting open experiment to watch develop. The are various smart clothes and fabrics that keep popping up every now and then.

But perhaps it’s not the fact that it’s wearable that makes it interesting, it’s just that ‘Wearable’ is a handy term to help categorise some of the interesting uses of technology we’re seeing.

I wonder if there might be a broader category of stuff that ‘wearable tech’ is a subset of though. The sorts of things I also think of as part often same wider category would be Good Night Lamp or Little Printer perhaps. Things that aren’t lots of pixels under glass, essentially, and encourage more use of our hands and the signals we can get from them in conjunction with other senses:

“Hands are the main structures for physically manipulating the environment, used for both gross motor skills (such as grasping a large object) and fine motor skills (such as picking up a small pebble). The fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body, are the richest source of tactile feedback, and have the greatest positioning capability of the body; thus the sense of touch is intimately associated with hands.”


I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but the working title might be ‘Full Manual Tech’ – devices which are created to make the most of the feeling we get from both Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skillls. Clicks and pushes and elaborate swooshes. The feeling of the world pushing back.

Anyway, as always, thoughts are very welcome…

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… https://smithery.com/story/digital-storytelling-statues-and-strata/
Early use… https://smithery.com/society/the-art-of-gently-blogging/
Concept testing… https://smithery.com/making/artefactcards/
Alpha to beta… https://smithery.com/making/2012-projects-making-things/
Early manual… https://smithery.com/making/artefact-a-user-manual/
Gratuitous detail… https://smithery.com/making/artefact-cards-sign-up-to-be-first-in-line/
Launch day… https://smithery.com/making/a-good-day/
Shopkeepin’… https://smithery.com/artefact/a-nation-of-shopkeepers/
Branching out… https://smithery.com/making/artefact-cards-the-autumn-batch/
Factory visit… https://smithery.com/economics-2/a-factory-visit-and-the-future-of-print/

…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 – http://www.flickr.com/groups/artefact/



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.