How Cards Can Play a Key Role in the Spread of Information

Recreational and Educational

When we think about how we share technical communication information with others, we usually think about documents and websites. In Dr. Edward A. Malone’s article “The Use of Playing Cards to Communicate Technical and Scientific Information”, we are shown the world of educational playing cards and how they have been used from the Medieval dinner table to the war zones of World War II and the Iraq War. Smaller and more durable than a booklet, educational trading cards made carrying information easier and gave the option of isolating specific information needed from the deck. If you only needed to know how to serve a chicken, then you only needed the chicken card from the butcher’s deck. By acknowledging how effective this form of communication is, technical communicators can then explore the world on nontraditional media and how we can spread information beyond websites and plain documents.

There is one prominent question that comes to mind when understanding the purpose of educational playing cards: what is the difference between educational playing cards and traditional flashcards? The answer is simple: the content printed on the cards. Flashcards are a set of cards that require literacy for the most effective use. Playing cards do not. They rely on the player being able to learn the symbols printed, the order of their value, and how to match them. This can easily be taught and copied within a few rounds of a game. But you need to be literate to read the facts also printed on the cards I hear you scream. Yes, to learn the facts from the card someone needs to have decent literacy, even basic literacy and a good memorization can work. But that someone doesn’t have to be the owner of the cards. It can be a poker buddy or one of the many people in line to be picked for migrant work. Literacy is not required by all players to learn from the cards.

A benefit that also poses a challenge when designing these cards is the organizational pattern. Every deck of cards has 52 cards that are split into two colors, four suits, and three categories (court, numeral, and pip for the Ace). This organization is what keeps the medium universal. The challenge comes with having to categorize the information into this organizational layout. This can be done with different levels of organization. For example, one could follow World War II spotter cards that organized the information with allies and axis powers being a certain color and listing the vehicles the civilians were most likely to spot to least likely. They made the most likely to be seen the king and the least likely to be seen the ace. If your information is a bit more vague or focuses on facts and trivia rather than recognizing people or objects, you could simply list the information in small blurbs on the card. A great example of this would be the decks of cards that China gives out to its more impoverished populations. The topics of the cards range from sex education to their rights as laborers. Putting this information in a deck of cards not only makes it more accessible to these populations, but also gives them a way to approach topics that may be taboo or embarrassing to discuss with others, like sexual transimitted diseases. 

By understanding the usefulness of nontraditional media, we as technical communicators can reach audiences we weren’t able to before and make information more accessible to all of our audiences, new and old. A deck of cards is not only easier to carry around with you and has its own sorting system, but is more durable than the pages of a printed document and does not require electricity or internet access like a website. While the idea may seem a little silly, I think that adding information to playing cards is a fun way to spread information. This choice of knowledge is similar to reading the trivia on the cap of a Snapple bottle or reading the flavor text in video games; it gives you the option of learning while having a nice drink or playing your favorite game. By giving people accessibility and the choice to learn new information while having fun, I think we could help spread information that could impact more lives than we think. 


The Use of Playing Cards to Communicate Technical and Scientific Information, by Edward A. Malone

Viewpoint Written by Mariah Clem, Texas State University

Edited by Kimberly N Uzzel, Texas State University

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