Design tools: The awesome of index cards

We’ve been doing a lot of planning lately, and the biggest help in this process has been the humble index card. So far, we’ve used them to plan development timelines and game/story progression with far more success than other collaborative design tools (including whiteboards and online collaboration tools).

I’m seriously in awe of just how useful these tiny, simple things really are. Why is this, and how do we use them? Find out after the jump.

The first thing I want to do is to outline just how we use index cards. The process goes something like this:

  1. I get out a bunch of different coloured index cards, and give a few and a marker to each person in the group
  2. We write out cards for the high level tasks/chapters
  3. We write out cards for subtasks/game elements/story points that we want to hit, colour coding as we go
  4. We arrange the cards on the table to work out our development timeline/level progression (this is where most of the discussion happens)
  5. We take a photo or label the index cards with numbers
  6. I then take this and reproduce it in some sort of digital form
  7. Profit

Simple, right?

A finished level progression, index card style

The great thing about this process is the sheer amount of engagement you get from the people involved. Because everyone is equally able to add cards to the table and move things around, there’s no sense of  having to run every idea past someone (which is a particular problem with whiteboards, which is better suited to a leader/follower model than a collaborative one). Moving concepts around is dead easy, the ability to colour-code on the fly is sheer magic, and at the end of the day you can blue-tack them to your wall to have a physical and alterable version of your plan.

That’s really all there is to say about index cards: they’re a really simple object with a usefulness rating through the roof*.

Are there any collaboration tools that you just find dead useful? Do you have a cool index card story? Throw them in the comments section – I’d love to hear them.

*On a semi-related note, the HBR IdeaCast recently had an episode on collaboration that highlighted the dangers of over-collaborating. So use index cards, but use them in moderation. And with care.

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