Seattle studio’s ‘Tarot Cards of Tech’ help users see the future, slow down and ask better questions

The Tarot Cards of Tech, from Artefact in Seattle. (Artefact Photo)

Picture a scandal that has rocked the tech world in the past year or two and chances are the people or company involved have been blamed for launching a product before fully realizing its potential impact on society. If only they could have seen the future, so to speak.

In an age when tech giants and startups alike are expected to “move fast and break things,” the Seattle design and innovation studio Artefact is encouraging folks to slow down and ask the right questions. And they’re doing it with a creative set of cards called the Tarot Cards of Tech.

The set of 12 cards first showed up on a micro website with interactive cards that could be flipped to reveal a series of questions aimed at anyone creating and releasing something into the world.

With names like The Scandal, The Big Bad Wolf, The BFFs, The Backstabber and so on, questions on the cards range from “What would using your product too much look like?” to “What’s the worst headline about your product you can imagine?”

Artefact is now offering a limited run of physical cards, with proceeds benefitting the Technology Access Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education to empower communities of opportunity in Seattle.

“The response to the initial website really took us by surprise,” said Hannah Staton, a senior marketing and communications manager and key member of the team that conceived and built the cards at Artefact. “It was kind of an experiment for us and people loved them. We had so many people actually reaching out to us saying, ‘Where can I buy a deck?’”

Tarot Cards of TechTarot Cards of Tech
(Artefact Photo)

Staton and a team of Artefact designers and web developers were tasked with thinking differently about the products that the company was helping its roster of clients to create. Amy Wales, Artefact’s vice president of marketing and communications, said there had been a shift in the company’s sense of how it wanted to show up in the world.

“Part of the conversation was, how do we take our future-forward, values-focused design thinking for creating change in the world — how do we bring that to the world in a way that’s useful and could function as key conversation starters?” Wales said. “Around the same time, the tech sector was experiencing this reckoning around unintended consequences of products and user experiences and the like and we felt like there was this opportunity for us to drive the conversation around thinking differently.”

The objective wasn’t just to wring more hands over this scandal or that fallout, but to be proactive — and to create something tangible in the process. And like any good company bent on seeing change take place, Artefact began work on the project before some of the bigger storylines — around Facebook, for example — even surfaced.

“We really challenged ourselves, and honestly a lot of it happened before probably a lot of the major scandals you’re thinking about, and when those actually happened it was like, ‘Oh, they need the Tarot Cards of Tech!’” Staton said.

Tarot Cards of TechTarot Cards of Tech
(Artefact Photo)

Artefact, a 12-year-old studio with about 57 employees, didn’t set out to lecture anybody. The company didn’t want to put out a white paper with an academic look at the issues at hand.

The idea was that it would be like sitting down for a tarot card reading, and people would get in the mindset of thinking through future outcomes.

“The reason they’ve been successful is they’re not just whimsical and cute,” Staton said. “We spent just as much time developing those questions and those provocations because we wanted them to actually be something any type of technology company, from the startup to the large ones, could take to a team and it would actually help them think things through.”

And that means not just thinking, “Will people like my product?” or “Will they engage with it?” but rather, “How will it impact their lives at a societal level, at an industrial level, at a personal level?” The questions get users to consider abstract concepts of usage, disruption, access and equity.

Staton said that type of thinking results in not only a better impact on the world, but better products and a better company.

“There’s sustainability for you in thinking through outcomes,” she said.

TAF co-founder and executive director Trish Millines Dziko accepting the Geeks Give Back award at the GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Trish Millines Dziko, executive director of TAF, accepted the Geeks Give Back award for the organization at the 2018 GeekWire Awards in May.

“We are building your pipeline,” Millines Dziko said from the stage at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture at the time. “We have black and brown kids that are ready to come work for you. Come invest in us.”

Artefact is hoping to sell as many as 500 decks of the gold-trimmed, double-thick Tarot Cards of Tech. Priced at $45, the company will donate $5 from each sale to TAF after using the rest of the funds to pay for printing, shipping and processing costs.

The company is also hosting a free webinar on June 21 at 11 a.m. PT called “Trust, Transparency, and Tarot Cards” during which a team will discuss how to use the cards and elaborate on their expanded, actionable approach to looking at the relevant issues as well as “designing products for preferable futures.”

Tarot Cards of TechTarot Cards of Tech
(Artefact Photo)

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