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17 December, 2010 / Ash

Using Cards in User Experience

IDEO Method Cards in use

Lately, there’s been a trend of people creating decks of cards for use in UX. From IDEO’s Method Cards, to the AT-ONE project’s Touch Point Deck – these cards are externalised snippets of knowledge, and can be used for inspiration, as a memory jog, mapping a sequence, or planning.

User Experience is a multi-disciplinary area, so I try to stay current across a number of fields. After many years of reading theory, planning projects, and using an array of research and design techniques, I am surprised when I re-open a textbook or look at an old project and think “I forgot about that.”

This is where cards can come in handy.

Putting knowledge on cards does two key things:

  1. It externalises the knowledge; and
  2. It makes the knowledge tangible.

Externalising knowledge

When you have a vast field of knowledge to remember, some things – especially that which gets used least often – will inevitably get lost. Especially when you’re under pressure.

A little anxiety is a good thing. It helps focus the mind. Common project features such as ridiculous deadlines, slashed budgets, political infighting and missing stakeholders can crank that anxiety up a few notches though. This is when the mind goes into fight or flight mode. It narrows focus tightly: great for mechanical tasks like outrunning a predator, but terrible for abstract or creative thinking.

In such cases, it is advantageous to have your memory externalised. Being able to refer to a series of cards that represents possible ideas, methods, theories or approaches to a problem is a practical approach to a common problem.

Note: This is why pilots have Ops Manuals and Checklists. They are externalised or systemised knowledge for times of increased anxiety and cognitive load.

Turning knowledge into tangible objects

Knowledge objects are self-contained snippets of knowledge. Since they are self-contained, such cards provide a tangible form of communication for all stakeholders that can be grouped, mapped, arranged, or chosen from – either individually, or in teams.

A practitioner can rapidly come to agreements with stakeholders, using cards in workshops to do things like:

  • Form themes for a project by grouping design inspiration cards.
  • Map a customer’s journey through an interaction with the organisation (to ensure a consistent experience), using touch point cards.
  • Decide upon a pragmatic approach to user research by using method cards.
  • Plan a strategy for the organisation using inputs from research with behavioural cards.

Types of cards available

There are a large number of cards out there. I’m currently doing a meta-analysis of the following, top 10:

IDEO’s Method Cards

Stephen Anderson’s Mental Notes

Nokia’s PLEX Cards

AT-ONE’s Touch Point Deck

UXBasis’s User Journey Cards

Dan Lockton’s Design with Intent Cards

SILK’s Project Planning Cards

nForm’s UX Trading Cards

Jasper van Kuijk’s Recommendations for Usability in Practice Cards

Whitney Quesenbery’s UX Story Telling Cards

I’m planning on putting together a series of consistent UX decks (with boards if required) for planning, mapping, and inspiration.

Are there any key decks you use that I have missed? Please let me know in the comments.


Leave a Comment
  1. Stephen / Dec 18 2010 9:36 AM

    You forgot some of the card decks / games that the team I work for have put together Ash – we are always willing to share stuff 🙂

    • Ash / Dec 18 2010 9:28 PM

      Sorry Stephen, I thought your stuff was just based on the AT-ONE project? If you could send through what you are doing, that would be wonderful. 🙂

  2. Gary Barber / Dec 18 2010 10:04 AM
    • Ash / Dec 18 2010 9:23 PM

      Excellent find! I hadn’t come across the Design for Usability cards.
      Thanks Gary. 🙂

  3. mccricks / Jan 27 2012 8:10 AM

    Ash, here’s a post discussing Context Cards out of Lund University, with links to papers describing the PIC-UP cards and Brain cards developed in my lab at Virginia Tech:

    There’s also Envisioning Cards out of the University of Washington, and more generic card sets like the Creative Whack Pack and ThinkPak.

    • Ash / Oct 3 2012 8:10 PM

      Wonderful. Thanks.

  4. Chelsea Winkel (@hirechelsea) / May 5 2012 5:29 AM

    Great post, thanks!

  5. Jason Yip (@jchyip) / Oct 3 2012 6:08 PM

    Did you ever get around to creating an aggregate set of cards?

    • Ash / Oct 3 2012 8:07 PM

      Not yet, Jason. Still in the works, but with the focus of doing a Behaviour Design set of cards.


  1. 2012 in Review - a Content Strategy Retrospective | Intentional Design Inc.
  2. 21 Card Decks for Creative Problem Solving, Effective Communication & Strategic Foresight | emergent by design

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