Using the Cards


You’ll see in the box with the cards there are also two worksheets (download them here). You don’t have to use them, but they can help structure your thinking.

Juxtaposition Workshop

A juxtaposition workshop is the best way to get started using the cards. It won’t solve a problem you have (well, it might), but it will give you experience thinking metaphorically, that you can then apply and use. The instructions here assume a group setting, but you could also do this on your own.

Stage 1: Make your metaphor

Choose some image cards and some concept cards. If you’re in a group of five people, maybe choose 10 of each type of card. Pick randomly if you like (shuffle the cards) or lay them out and choose whatever catches your eye.

Spend a few minutes looking through them, and try juxtaposing (pairing) different combinations of the image and concept cards (as in the picture on the previous page of the booklet). Are there pairings that seem interesting, or promising?

If you’re in a group, pick one or two pairings that the group can agree on exploring further. (Maybe nothing seems to work—if so, force yourself. Shuffle the cards and pick one image and one concept card and stick to them.)

Stage 2: Map connections

Use worksheet A to list some of the characteristics or features of the image(s) and concept(s) you’ve chosen. There are no wrong answers here (or in this whole process). You can use multiple images and one concept, if you’d like to compare them. Groups can work well here in pointing out characteristics that individually we might miss.

Then try mapping connections or commonalities—essentially, how could this work as a metaphor? For example: patches (on the road surface) could be an interesting metaphor for anxiety, because both might involve constant rounds of temporary repair, trying to ‘fix’ underlying issues but only superficially, presenting a ‘strong’ face to the world even though underneath things are falling apart.

Stage 3: Brainstorming

So, you now potentially have a metaphor, or more than one, with particular characteristics or connections between them. Depending on your interest or expertise as a group, or the context you’re working in, you can now use that metaphor to start off a brainstorming process— designing (or at least coming up with a concept for) a new kind of product or service or interface, devising new ways to frame or communicate an issue, developing a new policy, even writing a poem.

It works well for this stage to be relatively quick—20 minutes or so—at least when you’re doing the exercise to gain experience with the metaphor process rather than for a specific issue you really need to solve. Feel free to extend and change the metaphors you’re working with—these are meant to be spurs to thinking, not constraints (unless you want them to be).

Stage 4: Discussion

In workshops with multiple groups, we normally now have each group present the ideas they’ve come up with, and everyone discusses them together. In presenting their ideas, groups usually talk through their process (including the mappings they did in stage 2).

Workshop for your own concepts

Once you’re experienced with this kind of metaphorical thinking, you’ll probably want to apply it to issues or topics you’re working with—it could be a big concept such as ‘explaining artificial intelligence’ or ‘reframing education’ or it could be something very specific such as ‘redesigning the interface for a personal finance app’. Or it could even be for a kind of therapy or self-reflection. In these cases, you only need the image cards, and don’t need the concept cards (although you could use the blank ones included), but it will be helpful to work out a simple way of formulating your topic, to enable you to step through the sequence 1–4 in the same way. You can use the same worksheet format for this. Of course, if this is an issue that really matters to you or your organisation, this workshop would just be a starting point. You might consider working through the characteristics and relevance of multiple image cards, or related ideas.

Collecting your own images

You may well get bored of the 100 image cards quite quickly, and so perhaps the most exciting phase of using New Metaphors is when you start to build up your own collection, your own repertoire of images that you find interesting or could be generative or provocative, or which resonate with you in some way. You could become accomplished at noticing things in the world and photograph them, or collect images or screenshots from media which seem to embody particular qualities enabling re-use (compare how different meme formats emerge). Another way to do this could be to start with a particular concept you need to find new metaphors for, and list / map its characteristics in detail, ideally with a group of people with different perspectives—then use these to suggest real-world things to photograph.

Using the backs of the cards

The backs of the image and concept cards include templates with some optional questions and space for notes, that might help you as you build your familiarity with the cards and a ‘metaphor’ mindset.