I recently received a set of Khandu cards after backing a Kickstarter. These cards are designed by a company called Seven Thinkers, their aim is to get kids thinking like designers early in life. I was interested immediately on reading about them, since part of my research focus is on the idea of design decks. I’ll have a paper published at CHI ’16 on the topic, and I’m working on another paper that will hopefully be accepted soon.
Design decks are decks of cards that help us work through a design process. These cards work well, because they mix up the lessons that a novice designer needs to learn in order to be a successful designer. In this post, I’ll discuss the format of the Khandu cards, and what I see as the value for novice designers.
The Khandu cards are based on a fictional world where the Khandus live. The Khandus are visible on cards, and some of their problems are described in the challenges. The cards are broken up into several decks. Each comes in a bag with names printed on them for storage. The decks are themed: challenges, people, tools, and actions. The Tool cards are further subdivided into 4 decks: prototyping – materials, prototyping, ideation, and inspiration.
Challenges involve 15 activities that players can complete with the other sets of cards. People involves various characters (the Khandus themselves) that are analogous to design personas. Several of the activities refer to these personas specifically. The Action cards include various tips on how to get past a creative block, or team organizations to try.
The Tool cards I find the most interesting, however. First of all, the Prototyping-Materials deck lists various physical materials that an instructor or designer could provide to their students in order to give them cheap, disposable prototyping material to instill good design practices. These include things like Marshmallows, beans, and bricks (Legos, which I’m sure the creators couldn’t reference for legal reasons). These materials are referenced on the Prototyping cards, which include ways to create prototypes, like storytelling, storyboarding, and on screen (analogous to paper prototyping).
The Ideation deck gives students ideas about how to build their ideas, including following What If scenarios, recombination, and even a card that describes a simple participatory design scenario.
Finally, the Inspiration deck describes various simple research methods, including interviewing, creating personas, and what we as designers call contextual inquiry, but what most other people would call job shadowing.
Looking at this from a design perspective, I’m incredibly impressed with these cards. The designers of the cards have found a way to boil down complex design methods into a single paragraph or even a sentence that can be translated by people who aren’t designers. Their focus is children, and while I might expect to see cards involving a lot of hand-holding and over-explanation, instead I find clear, simple explanations that I recognize immediately as a more involved method, but in this format, can be understood by anyone who’s attempting to solve a problem.
By boiling down these complex methods, the designers invite students into a design process, and get them thinking in the way that a designer might think, and solving problems the way a designer would solve them.
For example, there is a card called “Letter to the Future”, that reads in part: “Write a letter to yourself in the future about the most important things you learned while researching”. It sounds like a fun idea, and it essentially describes the concept of Design Fiction. Design Fiction is an emerging method in HCI research and is still being discussed and debated among scholars about how the method should work, and in what contexts it should be used, but this card gives a basic version that non-designers can follow.
Some professionals and academics might be horrified at this kind of simplification, but I think it’s excellent for its target audience. Learning how to think like a designer involves a lot of failure and critique. This can be incredibly stressful. By introducing these concepts with colorful cards, and cute characters, the designers of the cards seem to say “Relax, we’re just having fun!” Not just children, but anyone using these cards should get this impression.
For children, I can see the value of the Challenge, People, and Action decks, but for older novice designers, I don’t think these would be as necessary as they inherently have grew accustomed to thinking in these terms.
The Challenge cards are very specific, and could be good as a warm-up, but I expect that design students using these might be applying these cards to a class assignment. However, other students who are not focused on design could begin with these cards as an introduction to the world of design.
The People cards are mainly used to build out the world that the designers have created, and would be useful if the instructor wanted to immerse their students in that world, but otherwise, they would be mostly there for flavor.
The Action cards can definitely be useful for design teams, but from my experience, designers might need to struggle for a bit to develop their own strategies for working in a team. Giving them a card with a possible answer might stunt that growth. For non-designers, I think I would use these cards.
But the Tools cards are the real gems here from my perspective. Any young designer struggling with methods or ideation would do well to take a look at these.
So far, the cards only seem to be available through the now completed Kickstarter campaign, but you can watch for updates at their site: http://khandus.com/
TINY DISCLAIMER: Khandu cards are developed by a Spanish company. While the cards I received are printed in English, the only guide I could find online was in Spanish, so I’m making some assumptions about how the company recommends the cards to be used. I will update this post if my understanding changes.