...and the cards have returned, fresh from Trial #2! Which has now just this moment become V0.2 of Making Sense, so with that, it's time to debrief... Firstly, allow me to introduce the very first public participant for the Making Sense card trials - Sarah Fosh:
I had actually very recently met someone called Claire, a friend of Sarah's at The Growth Hub in Gloucester around the time I attended the SAGE Start and Grow event at the end of February. Claire had been part of a small focus group I was part of during one of the breakouts around the Start and Grow sessions. After hearing my 60-second pitch for Making Sense, which I delivered to our small breakout group, I was met with a sudden burst from Claire:
"Ooh!! I have a friend who I know would just LOVE to try those out!"
I was sold - if that's the first thing that comes through your mind after an elevator pitch, then I think I believe you! So with that, Claire passed my details over to Sarah and a week later she got in touch, confirmed her interest in the cards, and the arrangements for her to be the first public participant in the Making Sense trials were made. Sarah is a concept artist, having studied illustration at undergrad and postgrad levels, she has worked exclusively as a freelance illustrator with the large majority of her work centered around concept designs for various media projects (an absolute prime representation of my target audience, and furthermore my suspected early adopters). Sarah has produced work for indie video game development, animation, and commission for fashion and lifestyle editorials/magazines. Some of her project-in-progress activity sadly cannot be revealed here due to NDA's (welcome to the world of game development!) but it's safe to say, that Sarah is involved in some exciting work in the world of New Media indeed. For her trial with Making Sense, Sarah was keen to re-explore an old brief she was given several years back at the start of her freelance career. She was asked to develop a series of concept artworks, specifically landscape design explorations for a point and click (or point and tap) adventure game.
"Although this was a small project...one of the first I worked on after my time at uni, I still think back to this opportunity from time to time. Although the project didn't amount to much in the end, I am proud of the work I explored back then, but also think about it a lot in terms of how I could have done it differently." - Sarah Fosh
The brief featured a request for 5 landscapes to be developed for this point-and-click adventure game. One of the core mechanics of this game was time travel, broadly described as "a mechanic available to the player that enables you to change the timeline of your surroundings, used to trigger events required in the gameplay to solve puzzles." The 5 concept sketches needed to depict the same location, but demonstrate its visual evolution over time. Now that Sarah was ready, it was time to deal the cards. Fresh from the studio, and complete with their new card smell - I shipped the entire deck of cards off to her ready for her to explore in conjunction with her creative brief.
Sarah spent a few hours with the cards in total, spread over the course of 3 days, after which I received a message saying that she was done and ready to chat about the experience:
"Although I learned that there are 5 categories that make up the deck, to me it actually felt like it was split into two; longer form questions, and the single ingredients." - Sarah Fosh
In the space of 10 seconds, I went from being pretty surprised by this statement to realising that actually makes a great deal of sense. Up until this point I had perceived Making Sense to be split 5 ways due to the 5 core categories, but actually away from their definition on paper, and especially when looking at these cards in the flesh, it actually does seem that way. As you can see:
After discussing this distinction, Sarah went on to talk about two of her favorite categories
"I absolutely love the red and yellow cards. They feel like creative lego. Some of the words that appeared through some of the coloured cards (red, yellow, blue) immediately got me thinking about the other people/roles involved in the project I was working on, which was fantastic as it meant that I was able to 'connect' with the wider team through that process even though I was working remotely on my own breif." - Sarah Fosh
Sarah also explained how certain ingredients from these card categories enabled her to create a formula that unlocked a new way for her to attempt these illustrations. Her ideas were triggered by the following combination of cards:
[REINFORCE A THEME] ensured that the notion of time travel remained in focus as she thought about how the visuals could look (i.e. what would the building look like in the distant past, the near past, the present, the near future, and the distant future). Then around the [VISUAL] modality card (given that she would be illustrating) and in conjunction with the [MOOD] card, she began to generate ideas on how visual mood could play a big role in her illustrations in order to reinforce the theme of the game (referring to the likes of colour tones, black and white, sepia, colour, fluorescents, and their temporal connotations, etc). She even went on to explain how she started to think about how the environmental sounds of the game could then link with creative elements of her visual decisions - she said these considerations were triggered when she placed the [AUDITORY] modality card down alongside the other cards. For me, this was a pivotal moment. I had just heard her describe a process where the [AUDITORY] card got her to design work while considering the wider ingredients of the project, ingredients that she wouldn't be directly responsible for - in this case, the work of the audio producer(s). I certainly hope to see more of this kind of creative thinking which is stimulated by the cards as future trials unfold! For me, this is what creative generalism is all about. EXACTLY that.
Also, as a result of these trials, Sarah has actually made what has become the first external contribution to the Making Sense card deck, with the addition of a new card - [VERBAL].
"I noticed that in the Modalities category, the ingredient 'Textual' was featured on one of the cards. This seemed like the only mode of language/communication that was present in this deck, it only felt right to suggest that you should also include "Verbal". - Sarah Fosh
So when they arrived back in the mail. I did just that.
Lastly, Sarah has one more major contribution to make from this trial. A fun little system that she developed for engaging with the cards:
I also enjoyed attempting to develop my own approaches to using the cards. I tend to be someone who likes to play by my own game, which is why I developed the ‘Throw the Deck’ approach for using the cards." - Sarah Fosh
Sarah's 'Throw the Deck' system was very simple - grab the entire deck, shuffle it, and throw it up into the air, any cards that landed face up were the cards that you had to engage with as you generated ideas.
An aleatoric design system; a system that honors the outcomes of chance. Simple, and playful.
In regards to difficulties faced during the trial, Sarah talked about her uncertainty about what some of the cards were referring to:
“I had no idea what some of the words used across the red and yellow cards were... This wasn’t a huge problem as I was able to look them up, but it did break the experience of engaging with the cards somewhat. I wonder if there’s a set of online digital resources, like videos or reference pages, that provide you with more information/reference points regarding the keywords across the red and yellow cards?” - Sarah Fosh
Now, this is something I had been mindful of as I turned the previous sticky notes into the first draft of these cards a few weeks ago, but clearly more work needs to be done here. I suppose with this opportunity to normalise creative generalism by signposting all of these key creative ingredients, also comes the wonderful opportunity to educate. There will simply be some ingredients that will be new concepts for some people who use these cards. Now, I do maintain that the cards should indeed remain simple (i.e. short questions and keywords with supporting iconography) but having said that I'm quite excited by the prospect of Sarah's suggestions for resolving this issue because there are several ways that this could be achieved. ...and after a check-in tutorial with Dr Matthew Lovett just recently, I had referred to Sarah's comments about the idea of a portal of supporting digital resources - one such suggestion that was given in response to this made my pupils dilate: Augmented Reality.
I have to say, this is the first time I've ever been excited by the prospect of pulling Augmented Reality into a project that I'm working on ...and there's a part of me that really hates that I feel this way. Only... I've never been a fan of how various creative communities skitch onto Silicon Valley trends; shopping for the latest tech revelations purely for the sake of it. It happens all too much. Okay I know, Augmented Reality isn't a new fad anymore, and it's actually starting to come along well as it currently sees its second-wave revival at the moment. Back in 2008, it slumped to the ground, covered in goop and attempted to stand up, being the clunky new-born lamb it was at the time. First experiences of which were popularised via the likes of the iPhone 3Gs, and all experiences came across as a cool gimmick, but a clunky gimmick that nearly always got in the way of a good experience. My feelings on AR now, however... well what can I say? Zack Lieberman anyone?
...and on top of that, the glorious communal computer system of Dynamicland even. After all, when the concept for Making Sense emerged at the start of this year, I was keen for this toolkit to not just be modular, but also for it to be multimodal; a reflection of the kind of creativity it was supporting people in creating. The idea of the cards serving as physical markers not just for the keywords, but also as markers that trigger portals to digital media, is actually super fucking exciting to me. Not so much that it provides some futurist sheen, but because it champions the cards, it keeps them squarely in the line of sight of the user, keeping them in the same mindful, considered space - the cards remain a centerpiece 0f the entire process.
There's certainly something to this. But let's shelf this for now, and return to this at a later point. In regards to moving forwards - I feel like I've learnt a valuable lesson in regards to being too open and under-defined... therefore, for the rest of the trials I have put together some more structured guidance. The guidance itself has been split into two key components:
Part 1) The 'Free-for-all' - a chance for practitioners to use Making Sense with minimal preconditioning of their behaviour with the cards, providing the space for them to potentially invent new rules of engagement with the cards.
Part 2) - The Prism Framework - A 4-step framework featuring my own approach to using the cards that I have begun to put in place to accompany them since changes to V0.1 of Making Sense (in response to Sarah's findings and contributions).
The full details of this trial guidance for upcoming participants can be found via the following .pdf document:
From this point onwards, this guidance document will now be presented to each participant, along with an updated draft of the cards at the start of each new trial. This will add structured repeatability to each of the future trials enabling me to compare findings like-for-like across all participants and start to explore who prefers a free-for-all, and who prefers to be provided with a considered framework for engaging with the cards. ...and just in time, because the next trial is soon to begin. Time for me to package them up and get them out into the world again. ...oh! that is...with the addition of two more auditing resources cards as well: