Phase 1 of the participatory design process for Making Sense has just concluded.
The process has seen 6 creative freelancers, from all backgrounds and contexts trialing the cards in response to a wide variety of creative project briefs of which they pulled in for the purposes of these trials. They have used the cards to explore ideas around their creative briefs, evaluated their experience with the cards, and made their own unique contributions to the product in order to better the experience with this toolkit, making it relevant and useful to the widest possible audience of creative freelancers. ...and on top of all that, this whole process has actually been a lovely way to stay connected with the creative community as we go beyond cabin fever in the current COVID climate! To my surprise, these cards actually provided me with a higher resolution of professional-socialising than the likes of creative powwows over Zoom or Teams (which less face it, of which the linseed oil coating is now starting to yellow...) Although weekly iterative versioning of the card drafts had taken place over the last 8 weeks, there were a lot more outputs from these trials which have been left until now to consolidate and reflect on ...and although there are many more participants already lined up for further trials over the summer, for now, it's time to hit the breaks, digest, and reflect to see where the cards have ended up.
This digest shows how each trial resulted in 3 kinds of outputs: 1). new cards contributed, 2). unique frameworks developed, and 3). additional elements that could be potentially situated around the cards in order to enhance the experience with this product.
Let's break these down for the record:
1). The Cards Contributed.
So far in this participatory design process, trial participants contributed the following cards to the Making Sense deck:
"Verbal." - addition to Mapping Modalities category by Sarah Fosh.
"Timing." - addition to Transferable Terminology category by Ben Dobson.
"Dilate Time." - addition to Conditions & Cognitions category by Ben Dobson.
"Stretch Time." - addition to Conditions & Cognitions category by Ben Dobson.
"What drives you as a creative?" - addition/tweak To Auditing Resources category by Kayla Painter.
"What research do you need to do before you begin this project?" - addition to Auditing Resources category by Matthew Evans.
Auditing Resources and Conditions and Cognitions saw the most amount of new cards contributed. Although not everyone directly contributed to these, many of the participants had commented on how they feel the Conditions and Cognitions cards could potentially feature many more useful causal/mechanical ingredients. This is something I am going to fully stretch in the run-up to establishing V1 of Making Sense in the coming months.
That being said, I also don't believe that we're through establishing the Mapping Modalities category either. During Trial #2, Sarah's contribution of "Verbal." had brought about this realisation. Her card contribution is what brought about my broader definition of what Modality is referring to in the Making Sense glossary. Before this, I had been utilising this term in regards to both the modes of media and the modes of the human sensorium, but there was a third - modes of communication. Inspired by the 'Textual' card, Sarah had wondered why this was the only mode of communication that was signposted by this category and therefore contributed "Verbal" to broaden that pool.
"According to the New London Group, there are five modes of communication: visual, linguistic, spatial, aural, and gestural."
But looky here! It turns out, by this definition from the New London Group, some modes of communication had indeed already been flagged, totally without my acknowledgment of them being considered modes of communication - e.g.. 'Spatial' and 'Gestural' were actually previously added to the deck due to my experience working on Interaction Design. ...but nonetheless, coincidences are not the basket I want to put my eggs in for this project! There's clearly still some barrel-scraping to do on this front, and that barrel is going to be thoroughly scraped clean for the Mapping Modalities category in the run-up to Version 1 of Making Sense. ...oh also, while were on the topic of the cards themselves - a tweak in the language for one of the card categories had also been made on conclusion of the final trial. Translating Terminology has now become Transferable Terminology, which is much more suited to the role of those cards and their nature; that being discipline-agnostic keywords that are relevant and transferable across creative disciplines. (dead chuffed that I've kept the alteration alive across those 3 categories throughout this process must say!)
2). Unique Frameworks & The Prism Framework.
Making Sense V0.6 is latest edition of the cards, and sans the card contribution for Matthew Evans in the final trial, it's actually largely defined by a more detailed edition of The Prism Framework, which was developed to accommodate the advice from Matthew that more detailed guidance wouldn't diminish the experience with the cards, it would enhance it. This is a sentiment that had indeed bubbled up a few times from other participants in previous trials, but Matthew specifically came down hard on this during Trial #6 - and with that it was the nail in the coffin for me on being wary of providing too much guidance around the cards. My worries of 'more guidance = less creativity', in the end, was just simply unfounded. Throughout these trials, there were (broadly speaking) 2 types of card users; those who needed guidance, and those who didn't.
Now having pointed that out the relationship that everyone had with The Prism Framework was positive across the board. It was loved by those who struggled in part 1 of the trial, and it was equally loved by those who had fun inventing their own system for using the cards in part 1 of the trial. In what I thought was going to be a case of [while catering for one type of card user, I would fail the other] ...the balance actually turned out much more like this:
Which provided me with a unanimous decision. Making Sense must be shipped with a well thought out primary rules of engagement framework to support people in using these cards. To do the opposite would be to diminish access to this resource and alienate less like-minded creatives to this way of working that these cards present. ...and even with there's absolutely no reason why those who like to play by their own game can't develop their own system for using the cards as well. With this decision, I am able to cater to the preferences of both of these types of card users. After all, for this not to be the case (i.e. not providing an official framework) would've conflicted the core rationale that has driven me to develop this resource. Making Sense is an effort to materialise my own brand of creative freelancing strategies, and a dedicated framework is a way that I can achieve this -the card signpost the ingredients I consider as a maker, and the framework shows people how I go about engaging with those ingredients. Don't get me wrong, if these trials showed a need for the opposite of this then this absolutely wouldn't be forced. However, it hasn't. It has simply confirmed that this is what is needed and desired by my target audience.
So this week I spent some time expanding the initial bullets of The Prism Framework into a 5-page guidance, which provided much more detail around the steps required and the mindsets demanded of each step:
Like everything that has begun to take shape through this Fieldwork process, the development of The Prism Framework is naturally still ongoing, but this will be fully established over the coming months in the run-up to the launch of V1 for Making Sense.
3). Additional Elements.
Lastly, in regards to the additional elements that can surround and support Making Sense. There have been many interesting suggestions, all of which boil down under two headings:
a). Supporting resources:
Although the spirit of Making Sense is to keep the cards simple, elegant, and free from bloat, there were some genuinely lovely suggestions from the trial participants that I feel are worth mentioning here, and even potentially exploring in the next few months in the closing phases of development for this product.
Firstly Sarah suggested that the cards could point to some form of a digital resource that provided more information/reference points for some of the ingredients that the cards highlight. Keen to address this very valid request, but mindful to not create something that takes people away from their experience with the cards, I began to discuss this idea with several people. These conversations led to the suggestion of a digital Augmented Reality experience that would unlock a virtual portal of references and additional information beyond the simplicity of the card prompts.
I got excited by this, then quickly shelved it, in an effort to be mindful of the focus of the current round of trials. However, even after letting the dust settle on this, it has only grown more appealing to me as a concept. This appeal was further stimulated by post-trial conversations with Jack Rees (after Trial #3) and his remarks around elements of the ceremony, divination, and the will of the cards. I really feel that an integrated AR experience (a secondary component that is not necessary for the use of the cards) could contribute to those theatrics of ceremony. It could become an element of the card that can be evoked when it is needed, but remains silent and unseen when it is not called upon; a hidden voice of the cards that keeps the primary channel of the creative prompt (that of the printed material medium) super clean and clear.
...I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think I'm genuinely going to explore this concept in the final round of development for Making Sense.
To jump back to the competitive benchmarking from a while back, the article on Medium by Paul McGregor said that a card-based toolkit needs to look beautiful and make the user feel special. I feel that this augmented layer to the cards could really max out the bar on that front for Making Sense (and even potentially raise the market value of this product!) Beyond this, elements of gamification sprung up several times, mainly expressed by those who saw success in developing their own systems for using the cards. Jack went on to suggest the addition of a printable, or ready-printed, game board template to promote specific spatialised engagement rules with the cards could be a valuable addition in unlocking more playful engagements with the cards. ...and again back to the analysis of the value in card-based toolkits from our friend Paul McGregor - he had also flagged that they need to make the process feel like a game. Therefore I feel it's time to start doubling down on the ludic possibilities of this toolkit, especially as the Seminar Offer begins to take shape, and considerations on how to engage groups in the use of Making Sense are now coming to the forefront of the design for that offer; workshop environments thrive on gamification.
b). A Community Portal:
All of those who participated in these trials are now featured in the early edition of the community portal on the Making Sense website. Suggestions on what this component of the website could eventually become were also explored with the participants. Those who saw success in developing their own systems for using the cards had expressed that it could serve as a place for card-users to disseminate their own systems of use for the cards, provide an online mixing pot of game rules that could be adopted by other card users to mix up the experience. (I can see a whole heap of people adopting Sarah's Card Throw randomiser technique.) Also, nearly everyone felt that it would be a nice place to connect visitors to the Making Sense website to not just the people who have used the cards, but also to any projects that had been realised through the use of the cards. All of which championing mixed disciplinary creativity; and with it, my efforts to contribute towards the normalisation of the modern creative generalist would begin. So as I'm stood at the end of this fieldwork process, I'm left thinking about what has happened so far, and what comes next:
I can currently envisage MD7405 being made up of three key activities:
In their totality, these three key activities for MD7405 form the basis of the new structure and identity for my creative practice and professional identity, that of Systems Thinker... or how I prefer to think of myself now, as Systems-Creative. And under this new professional title, I would complete the delivery of my first practical project as a Systems-Creative, a project that would be powered by Making Sense. It would also see me launching the first public version of the Making Sense toolkit. ...and it would also see me deliver the first instance(s) of the Behind the Cards seminar offer targetted at arts and business hubs across the country, and beyond! All of which would mark the beginning of the new me, and the business model that sits behind my new independent practice.
...and as that green line begins to connect to the first stop on the roadmap MD7405 I will be continuing to consult with the arts and business hubs to finalise the seminar offer, as well as initiate a new final round of card trials this summer as I get the flywheel up to full speed for MD7405 come September, and although I haven't even begun to catch my breath from the rollercoaster that has been the last few months... I honestly already cannot wait to get stuck in.