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Five ways we changed the Index Card to improve User Experience for agile teams

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Five ways we changed the Index Card to improve User Experience for agile teams

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about index cards? Taking notes, making a to-do list, flash cards or even doodling.

Going back to 1735, their original purpose was organizing and classifying organisms and minerals in Carl Linnaeus’ scientific collection. Later they took off in library catalogues and revolutionised the way libraries were organised. My favourite application of Index Cards was two friends Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine who, in 1895, used index cards to create a Search Engine. Yes, the first Google was based on Index Cards!

In the world of Agile, they are the bread and butter for an agile practitioner. Agile’s iconic columnar boards are created using Index Cards and post it notes. Often Index Cards capture user stories with smaller post-it notes capturing the tasks associated with that user story.

So why did we, in the Agile Stationery team, think of changing these Index Cards? We believed that a few simple changes would significantly improve the experience of an agile practitioner.

In Agile, Index Cards have a number of roles to play.

  • capture a user story with a title and a story point
  • be visible from a distance
  • be stuck and remain stuck on a board for considerable periods of time.

Were these purposes being fulfilled? Not in their entirety, no. And this is because index cards are designed to be stored in drawers and read at arm’s length. Originally, they did not even need to stick to anything.

So we changed five things about the Index Card to improve the user experience for the practitioner.

  • Thickness – We increased the thickness from an average of 170gsm to 250gsm to make the cards more durable. In agile contexts cards are repeatedly handled and re-positioned. Blu-tack is nice and sticky but causes the card to crease each time it is moved, so your cards take a battering.

    The greater thickness also expresses the high esteem we hold for the work we do.

  • Lines and colour – In a typical Index card, coloured paper is used with the same grey lines. For agile contexts we wanted to maximise the visibility of your words, so we swapped the design over. We print coloured lines on a white card, so we get a sense of colour but your words appear in clean white spaces.
  • Wide Ruled lines – We designed wide rules to allow space to write with sharpies and white board markers common in your workspaces. Wide lines also encourage taller letters - better for being seen from your desk.
  • Blank notch on one corner – Much of the time story point estimates or team avatars are placed on the bottom right corner of a story card. We provided a space here to stop lines intersecting this key information. When we write down important data, we don’t usually put a line through it!
  • Fixings – neither our A6 story cards nor our smaller task pads use adhesive strips. They don’t work, letting your work get lost on the floor. Worse, they cause the paper to curl. Unless you have been on a special post-it note training course your post-its will probably curl up, impacting legibility. We have searched for the right alternative and recommend self-adhesive magnetic dots. They will slide easily but even an earthquake won’t let them fall to the floor.

One last thing:

It was important to us to make these changes in a flexible minimalist sort of way to ensure that these design changes did not get in the way of your process.

We made the notch borderless so you can write straight over it if you want. We chose a mix of colours with and without strong positive and negative connotations. We know your process is unique and a product that prescribed what you do with it would not work for you.

So did this work out? You tell us :)


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