Designing Card Decks for Equity

the story of a 24-hr design sprint

This is the story of the process and outcomes of a Stanford Winter 2018 PopOut. PopOuts are short, immersive learning experiences that take place out in the world. If you are interested in using or contributing to the evolution of these prototypes, let us know!

POP-OUT GOAL: explore the intersection of card decks as a sensemaking powertool and the challenge many organizations face in creating a safe, open dialogue about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Day 1

January 18 5–8pm hosted by IDEO Palo Alto

What do the Table of Elements, the first IBM computer, and the novel Lolita have in common? Before they were icons of human achievement, they were card decks. Card decks are powerful tools that designers use for pattern finding, diagnosing complex issues, and exploring new approaches. On day 1, students gathered to learn the methodology underlying card deck design and card deck mechanics.

Stephanie Gioia introducing Card Deck 101 design principles

Designing valuable tools for users isn’t easy, and it starts with knowing when a particular design solution is appropriate. We explored when a card deck might be the right tool for a situation and when it isn’t.

Students playing with over 50 card deck examples from the Deckaholic library

By playing with over 50 example card decks, students identified underlying properties and principles of card deck design.

Students identifying card deck design principles from game play exercise

These principles were carried forward into Day 2 prototyping.

Five Properties (what makes a card deck a card deck)

1) Nodality
2) Complete Set
3) Taxonomy
4) Multiple Valuable Configurations
5) Sidedness
more on this at

Seven Motions (how we interact with card decks)

The Randomizers: Shuffle, Deal, Draw, and Flip
The Sensemakers: Sort/Group/Stack, Sequence/Rank, and Compare/Combine
More on this at

Day 2

January 19 9am–5pm hosted by SAP AppHaus

Day 2 used our new expertise in card deck design to rapidly prototype tools for a specific user: leaders inside organizations who are responsible for diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities.

Step 1: Need Finding with Users

Students and expert design researcher interview user panel of diversity, equity, and inclusion experts

We were delighted to be joined for the day by experts from the front lines of diversity, equity, and inclusion work inside organizations: Katie Augsburger, Britta Durtsche, Nina Narelle, and Nadia Gathers. We questioned our experts about where they are getting stuck in their work today, what the most difficult conversations are for them, and what tools they wish they had to unlock greater progress.

We looked for patterns among the needs identified.

Our expert panel helped us prioritize their three biggest needs. We translated each need to a ‘how might we’ statement.

Challenge A: How might we become fluent in inclusive, intersectional vocabulary?
Challenge B: How might we diagnose which components of our organizational ecosystem limit inclusion?
Challenge C: How might we align on interaction norms at this organization?

Step 2: Solution Concepts

Students and experts worked in teams to develop at least five concepts for how card decks could be used to address these three challenges. Students used concept canvases to articulate their ideas.

Our experts provided feedback on the 13 concepts and provided input on which concepts should move forward to prototype.

Step 3: Prototyping

Students and experts formed design teams around their interests, joining one of the three challenges.

Prototyping in teams

Teams had 90 minutes to prototype a testable card deck, including instructions.

Step 4: User Testing

Our experts rotated to a team they had not been working with to test the prototypes. Students were not allowed to present their prototype, provide instruction, or intervene in the testing. They observed how the user interacted with the prototype — where they got stuck, what seemed to be valuable to them.

Prototype testing

Next, students interviewed their expert tester about their experience and sought feedback on improving the card deck, both in terms of mechanics and how well it met their needs.

Step 5: Prototyping Round 2

Testing was the biggest breakthrough for the students, uncovering assumptions about the users interactions that they weren’t expecting. All three teams significantly changed their prototypes as a result of the feedback. Students had another hour to refine their prototypes.

Second round of prototyping

The Concepts!!!

Concept A: Hello! Cards

Challenge: How might we become fluent in inclusive, intersectional vocabulary?

Deck of identity terms and vocabulary. Each card has a different word on the front with definitions and discussion questions on the back. Words represent a broad range of current and historical acceptable use to encourage a safe place for conversation and discovery about how and why language is changing over time. The cards can be used for a wide variety of group activities. The goal of play is to explore our personal assumptions and understanding about the language we use to describe mainstream and margin identities.

Concept B: Breaking the Wheel Cards

Challenge: How might we diagnose which components of our organizational ecosystem limit inclusion?

This card deck helps organizational leaders visualize the elements of their organizational system (e.g. compensation, recruiting, onboarding) and critically self-assess how those systems are or not helping the organization achieve greater inclusion and equity. This deck was sparked by the challenge that today’s most established HR practices were developed decades ago in organizations dominated by white men. The goal of this deck is to help organizational leaders reimagine and thoughtfully design HR mechanisms to support their current values.

Concept C: Yo! Yo! Get to Know Cards

Challenge C: How might we align on interaction norms at this organization?

This card deck is a tool for multinational organizations to introduce local culture and norms. The deck provides a safe, fun way for new employees or non-local visitors to explore unfamiliar and often unspoken norms through a guided peer-to-peer interaction. The deck balances fun topics like ‘where’s a good place to eat lunch?’ with cultural topics that often go undiscussed like ‘what is considered late here?’ or ‘is it normal for a superior to take me to dinner alone?’ Game play gives the user the psychological safety to ask the difficult questions that have been on their mind.

What students learned (in their own words)

“Going through the design process allowed me to learn about each step and reflect on what it’s like working in groups”
“I now understand what design thinking is in a practical matter”
“I’d learned about the process [before] but never actually executed it in a full comprehensive project”
“I feel more comfortable in design thinking activities”
“I never knew so many things in this world could be better organized or portrayed through card decks”
“Learning about decks gave me a lens through which to organize information and think about the hard decisions I face in my own life, not just product design. Helpful in so many ways”
“I learned that I am empowered by other women, diversity equality and inclusion, and being creative”
“I am learning to include creativity as part of how I think of myself — this really helped!”

How to get involved

Please let us know which concepts you think we should produce! We’d love to hear from people who would like to support the further development of these prototypes into products. Take this quick survey to let us know you’d like to be involved with the project as it progresses!

Thanks to our students, our experts, our hosts, and all the supporters of this project!!