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  • 02.04.15

From Obama’s Campaign Designers, A Card Game To Help Companies Define Their Brand

Cards Against Humanity for the boardroom? It’s here.

Cards Against Humanity—the hilarious party game that plays like profane, multiple choice Mad Libs—has become a smash hit around dining room tables all over the world. Now, the designer behind Cards Against Humanity is teaming up with Chicago-based design studio Simple Honest Work to try to make the same kind of impact at the boardroom table. Now on Kickstarter, the Brand Deck is a simple card game that companies can play to help give them clarity on what they really are.

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“The Brand Deck is really just a more polished version of a game we’ve been playing with our clients for years,” says Simple Honest Work’s Scott Thomas (who, full disclosure, has done design work for Fast Company). The agency would take a deck of 100 cards and put it in front of new clients. Each card would have an adjective on the front—”simple,” for example, or “fun”—and then have that word’s antonym on the back, like “complex” or “professional.” Simple Honest Work would then ask their clients to agree on, at most, six cards that defined their brand. “It was just a really great way to establish some ground rules with clients and figure out how they viewed themselves and what they wanted.”


To turn the Brand Deck into a retail product, Thomas turned to his old friend Max Temkin. Thomas and Temkin go way back: they both worked on the groundbreaking 2008 Obama campaign together, which resulted in Thomas writing a book about the experience, Designing Obama, in 2009. That book was an early Kickstarter success story, which in turn inspired Temkin to try his hand crowdfunding this subversive little party game he’d come up with in which players filled in the blanks on (often profane) phrases with (often dirty) words printed on black cards. Temkin called it Cards Against Humanity. The rest is history.

“I wanted Max to help us with this for a couple reasons,” Thomas says. “First of all, he’s a guy who has experience making a lot of cards, which is definitely a skill we needed. But two, he’s just an interesting game maker. We were thinking about how to bring this new game into the workplace, and how to play in that environment, and it just made natural sense to team up.”


There’s another perk to Temkin joining The Brand Deck team. In addition to the straight version of the game, the Cards Against Humanity guru is helping Simple Honest Work come up with a NSFW edition of the game, which will ship to Kickstarter backers as a stretch goal. “The basic concept’s the same, except instead of adjectives people like, the cards are filled with words you wouldn’t necessarily want to self-apply,” Thomas tells me. “It’s the blowing off steam version of the game.”

Why release the Brand Deck on the world at all? Thomas admits he doesn’t think it will ever be the kind of popular success that Cards Against Humanity was. “It’s definitely a game you play around the boardroom table, not the dining room table,” he says. And is it really a wise idea for Simple Honest Work’s designers to make available for sale this awesome proprietary exercise they do with clients to set themselves apart from competitors? Why give that away, if not for free, than for the price of a $25 deck of cards?

Thomas thinks so. He characterizes the Brand Deck as Simple Honest Work’s Trojan horse into board rooms all across the country. “My wife works at Ideo, and they use it there,” he laughs. “It takes our process, pours it into a fun-to-use product, and gets our name out there. For a design agency, it’s the perfect promotional object.”

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You can pre-order the Brand Deck starting at $25 here.

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