Design × AI coffee meetup

If you work in the field of design or artificial intelligence and are interested in exploring the opportunities at their intersection, consider yourself invited to an informal coffee meetup on February 15, 10am at Brix in Amsterdam.

Erik van der Pluijm and myself have for a while now been carrying on a conversation about AI and design and we felt it was time to expand the circle a bit. We are very curious who else out there shares our excitement.

Questions we are mulling over include: How does the design process change when creating intelligent products? And: How can teams collaborate with intelligent design tools to solve problems in new and interesting ways?

Anyway, lots to chew on.

No need to sign up or anything, just show up and we’ll see what happens.

This happened – Utrecht #8, coming up

I have to say, number seven is still fresh in my mind. Even so, we’ve announced number eight. You’ll find the lineup below. I hope to see you in four weeks, on November 22 at the HKU Akademietheater.

Theseus

Rainer Kohlberger is an independent visual artist based in Berlin. The concept and installation design for the THESEUS Innovation Center Internet of Things was done in collaboration with Thomas Schrott and is the basis for the visual identity of the technology platform. The installation connects and visually creates hierarchy between knowledge, products and services with a combination of physical polygon objects and virtually projected information layers. This atmospheric piece transfer knowledge and guidance to the visitor but also leaves room for interpretation.

De Klessebessers

Helma van Rijn is an Industrial Design Engineering PhD candidate at the TU Delft ID-StudioLab, specialized in 'difficult to reach' user groups. De Klessebessers is an activity for people with dementia to actively recall memories together. The design won the first prize in design competition Vergeethenniet and was on show during the Dutch Design Week 2007. De Klessebessers is currently in use at De Landrijt in Eindhoven.

Wip 'n' Kip

FourceLabs talk about Wip 'n' Kip, a playful installation for Stekker Fest, an annual electronic music festival based in Utrecht. Players of Wip 'n' Kip use adult-sized spring riders to control a chicken on a large screen. They race each other to the finish while at the same time trying to stay ahead of a horde of pursuing monsters. Wip 'n' Kip is a strange but effective mashup of video game, carnival ride and performance. It is part of the PLAY Pilots project, commissioned by the city and province of Utrecht, which explore the applications of play in the cultural industry.

Smarthistory

Lotte Meijer talks about Smarthistory, an online art history resource. It aims to be an addition to, or even replacement of, traditional text books through the use of different media to discuss hundreds of Western art pieces from antiquity to the current day. Different browsing styles are supported by a number of navigation systems. Art works are contextualized using maps and timelines. The site's community is engaged using a number of social media. Smarthistory won a Webby Award in 2009 in the education category. Lotte has gone on to work as an independent designer on many interesting and innovative projects in the art world.

Week 169

Fiona Raby once told me that the majority of her work with students at the RCA was about psychology. After a week like this, I can see where she’s coming from. Without going into too much detail, I had my work cut out for me with a new group of students who I will be working with on a design research project at the HKU. After a first meeting with the team and a kick-off with the client the next day, it became clear I was dealing with a group with some serious motivational issues. The trick was to figure out where it all was coming from. To do this it was vital to try and see things as they really are in stead of as they were presented to me by the group. After several additional sessions (messing with my schedule but that comes with the territory) I had it figured out more or less and have formulated a plan to deal with it. Psychology.

In between all that craziness my week consisted of:

  • Working with my two new interns at Hubbub. We reflected on their experiences at the Natural Networking Festival and presented a post-mortem of the first game to Thieu after attending one of the Learning Lab meetups.
  • Sketching out additions to the PLAY Pilots website necessary to support the Zesbaans installation for the Netherlands Film Festival. These will launch next week in time for the installation’s unveiling on Thursday.
  • Presenting my preliminary list of interactive works suitable for next year’s Tweetakt festival. This is my first time curating an event other than This happened. I am keen to mash up playful interaction design with the fringes of game design and it seems Tweetakt are up for it too. Happy days.
  • Another full day of work on Maguro. Best part of which was a few quiet hours to bang out a first playable paper prototype of the game. Convergence is a bitch but always rewarding when it happens.
  • Today, I hung out at BUROPONY and took care of a few odds and ends for their website. In return work has started on a last bit of Hubbub corporate identity: a design for the box to hold our business-slash-collectible playing cards.

And with that I am signing off. A train is taking me from Rotterdam to Utrecht, perhaps I will be in time to catch the tail end of friday drinks at the Dutch Game Garden. Never a dull moment there.

Playful street tiles, artful games and radioscapes at the next This happened – Utrecht

After a bit of a long summer break Alexander, Ianus and I are back with another edition of This happened – Utrecht. Read about the program of the seventh edition below. We’ll add a fourth speaker to the roster soon. The event is scheduled for Monday 4 October at Theater Kikker in Utrecht. Doors open at 7:30PM. The registration opens next week on Monday 20 September at 12:00PM.

The Patchingzone

Anne Nigten is director of The Patchingzone, a transdisciplinary laboratory for innovation where Master, doctor, post-doc students and professionals from different backgrounds create meaningful content. Earlier, Anne Nigten was manager of V2_lab and completed a PhD on a method for creative research and development. Go-for-IT! is a city game created together with citizens of South Rotterdam and launched in December 2009. On four playgrounds in the area street tiles were equipped with LEDs. Locals could play games with their feet, similar to console game dance mats.

Ibb and Obb

Richard Boeser is an independent designer based in Rotterdam. His studio Sparpweed is currently working on the game Ibb and Obb, scheduled to launch for Playstation Network and PC in August 2011. Ibb and Obb is a cooperative game for two players who together must find a way through a world where gravity is flipped across the horizon. Players move between both sides of the world through portals. They can surf on gravity, soulhop enemies and collect diamonds. The game is partly financed by the Game Fund, an arrangement that seeks to stimulate the development of artistic games in the Netherlands.

Radioscape

Edwin van der Heide studied sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. He now works as an artist in the field of sound, space and interaction. Radioscape transforms urban space into an acoustic labyrinth. Based on the fundamental principles of radio each participant is equipped with a receiver, headphones and an antenna. Fifteen transmitters each broadcast their own composition. Inspired by short wave sounds, they overlap to form a metacomposition. By changing position, the interpretation of sound is changed as well.

A big thank you to our sponsors, Microsoft and Fier for making this one happen.

Announcing This happened – Utrecht #6

Last week we announced the sixth edition of This happened – Utrecht. The program was up on our Dutch site already, here’s the program in English (soon available on our international .org site, too). As always I am very excited about the line-up. Can’t wait to hear what stories these people have to share about their work. Doors open on Monday 10 May at 7:30PM. The registration starts on Monday 26 April at 12:00PM. See you there!

Keez Duyves is one of the cofounders of PIPS:lab, based in Amsterdam, NL. Archie and the Bees, their newest theatrical concept, links the primary colors red, green and blue to the primary elements of rhythm: kick, snare and hi-hat. In this hybrid of multimedia performance and installation, PIPS:lab demonstrate their revolutionary Radarfunk machine – allowing them to generate sound from color. A light painting or the colors in the audience serve as musical basis over which PIPS:lab improvise and amaze with their other self-developed instruments: the Bashblender, the Grinder and the LCDC video guitar.

Matt Cottam is the founder of Tellart. Wooden Logic represents the first phase in a hands-on sketching process aimed at exploring how natural materials and craft traditions can be brought to the center of interactive digital design to give modern products greater longevity and meaning. It is only in the past decade or so that the community and tools have evolved to the point that designers can sketch with hardware and software; which before that was the sole domain of engineers and computer scientists. This project seeks to combine seemingly dissonant elements, natural, material and virtual, and explore how they can be crafted to feel as if they were born together as parts of a unified object anatomy that is both singular and precious.

Sanneke Prins and Berend Weij are co-founders of Mijn naam is Haas, a company that produces a range of educational products aimed at primary education. These products are all situated in the world of the main character Haas. The range consists of illustrated children’s books, CD-ROMs and an online learning environment, in which the vocabulary of toddlers is increased through game principles. Children create the world of haas by drawing. All drawing actions directly influence the unfolding story, so each play session is unique which makes the game continuously engaging. In this creative process language elements are presented in a playful manner. The first version of the game was created by the founders during their attendance of the EMMA program at the HKU.

Sebastiaan de With is an interface and icon designer working under the name Cocoia. He designs, teaches and runs a popular blog on interfaces and icons. Sebastiaan is easily recognized in Drachten wearing his Exploded Settings Icon or Bricky shirt and toting an iPad. Classics is one of the first popular e-readers on the iPhone, offering public domain books in a well-designed experience. The project was initiated by the Phill Ryu, (in)famous for MacHeist and his support of the Delicious Generation. Clearly the Classics app is a feat of design driven development, complete with an inspired wooden bookshelf, curling page turns (both now also available on the iPad), marvelous icons and a collection of lovingly designed book covers.

We wouldn’t be able to pull off this edition with the support of the Utrecht School of the Arts and Microsoft Design Toolbox. Thank you!

Janneke Sluijs completes THUTC #4 line-up

We’ve added one more speaker to the line-up of This happened – Utrecht #4:

Janneke Sluijs will talk about Noot, a small tool meant to support creative sessions. Noots can be physically attached to paper artefacts that stimulate the creative process. This way, audio fragments are tagged, making it possible to retrieve the original audio context at a later time, for recollection or inspiration. Her story will focus on the origins and development of the product.

Have a look at the other three speakers in my previous post. Registration opens in a week on October 12 at 12:00 hours at thishappened.nl. The event takes place in Theater Kikker in Utrecht, on October 26.

Announcing This happened – Utrecht #4

Four weeks from now we’re running the fourth edition of This happened – Utrecht (the last one for this year). It’ll take place in Theater Kikker again, on 26 October and we’ll start at the usual time: 20:00 hours (doors op 19:30 hours). Ianus, Alexander and I have been debating this edition’s line-up fervently, and have come up with the following three great speakers for you:

Elmo Diederiks will talk about the Ambilight feature in Philips flat panel televisions. In 2002 Elmo worked as designer and researcher at Philips Research and lead the research on how dynamic lighting in the background of the TV image enhances the viewing experience. The research resulted directly in the most differentiating feature of Philips’ flat panel televisions that remains a unique selling point today.

Sue Doeksen, member of the new media art collective Zesbaans, will present De Metronoom. Six connected installations point six laser beams into the room. Visitors play the lasers like instruments and compose a soundtrack, arranging samples from classical instruments, street artists, beats and the machine room of a printing press. De Metronoom was present at the Mood Elevator party at Trouw Amsterdam and Stekkertest at Festival aan de Werf in Utrecht. Sue gives us a look behind the scenes of De Metronoom’s development – which Zesbaans is hoping to continue in the coming period – and shares their ideas on technology, performance and interface.

Emily Gobeille and Theo Watson will present the process behind Funky Forest, an interactive ecosystem where children create trees with their body and then divert the water flowing from the waterfall to the trees to keep them alive. The health of the trees contributes to the overall health of the forest and the types of creatures that inhabit it. The Moomah Edition of ‘Funky Forest’ expands on the original by introducing four seasons, each with a unique environment and creatures to match. Each season also features an interactive particle system. The Moomah edition is permanently installed at the Moomah Children’s Cafe in New York City.

This edition is made possible by the support from the Utrecht School of the Arts and Utrecht based web agency Rhinofly. Many thanks to them for their generosity.

Registration opens October 12 at thishappened.nl at 12:00 hours. Hope to see you there!

Work now so you can play later

There’s a lot going on at the Leapfrog studio, which explains at least in part why things have gone quiet around here. However, I wanted to take the time to alert you to some upcoming events that might be of interest.

An urban game in the Rotterdam city center

On Sunday September 27 around 50 young people will play an urban game I designed for Your World — Rotterdam European Youth Capital 2009.1 It is part of a two-day event called Change Your World, which enables groups of youth to set up a new ‘movement’ with financial support and advice from professionals. You might want to hang around the Rotterdam city center during the day, to witness what is sure to be an interesting spectacle. More info should show up soon enough at the Your World website.

A pervasive game in the Hoograven neighborhood of Utrecht

Around the same time, from September 18 to October 11, you’ll be able to play Koppelkiek in the Hoograven area of Utrecht. This is a game I’ve created for the Dutch Design Double program.2 To play, you take photos of yourself with others in a range of situations and upload them to the game’s website. It’s designed to subtly permeate your daily life. With the help of our players we’re hoping to create a collection of photos that provide a unique look into life in the neighborhood. Do join in if you’re in the area. Also, we’ll have a playtest on September 16. If you’re interested in playing a round or two, drop me a line.3

Data visualizations of silence

I’m wrapping up some data visualization work I’ve done for the artist Sarah van Sonsbeeck.4 Sarah’s work revolves (amongst other things) around the concept of silence. Alper and I took a dataset she generated during a few of her ‘silence walks’ using a GPS tracker and a sound level meter and created a number of static visualizations in Processing. Some of the output can be seen at the exhibition Een Dijk van een Kust. More will probably be on display at another occasion. Also, I’ve learnt some new tricks that I intend to share here soon.

What else, what else…

  • I’m still meaning to write something up about the work that went into Mega Monster Battle Arena™ but it will have to wait. I attended two of the three shows and enjoyed both throughly. There’s some photos up at the opera’s website.
  • We’re in the process of finishing up the This happened – Utrecht #3 videos. Once they’re all done we’ll add them to the event’s page on the .org site along with the slides. Planning for our fourth event has already started. Mark your calendar for October 26 and subscribe to our newsletter so you won’t miss the registration’s opening.
  • And finally, I’m slowly but surely giving shape to a new venture which will focus on the use of play in public space to effect social change. Its name is Hubbub. The crazy designers at BUROPONY are developing a sweet brand identity and a first placeholder site is up. Stay tuned for more news on that.

That’s about it for now, thanks for your attention. I promise to provide content with more meat and less self-promotion in upcoming posts.

  1. Karel Millenaar, game designer extraordinaire at FourceLabs and a fellow resident of the Dutch Game Garden, has helped me out on this one. []
  2. I’ve asked Tijmen Schep of PineppleJazz, NetNiet.org and the new Utrecht medialab to be my partner on this one. []
  3. Around the same time a lot of other interesting stuff related to design and society will be going on, such as the third edition of Utrecht Manifest, the biennial for social design. []
  4. I was turned on to this gig by the ubiquitous Alper Çuğun. []

Buildings and Brains at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP)

It’s been a few weeks since I presented at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP), but I thought it would still be useful to post a summary of what I talked about here.

Update: it took me a while, but the slides that accompanied this talk are now up at SlideShare.

A little context: The NOP run frequent events for designers in the region. These designers mostly work in more traditional domains such as graphic, fashion and industrial design. NOP asked Jeroen van Mastrigt — a friend and occasional colleague of mine — to talk about games at one of their events. Jeroen in turn asked me to play Robin to his Batman, I would follow up his epic romp through game design theory with a brief look at pervasive games. This of course was an offer I could not refuse. The event was held at a lovely location (the huge art-house cinema LUX) and was attended by a healthy-sized crowd. Kudos to the NOP for organizing it and many thanks to them (and Jeroen) for inviting me.

So, what I tried to do in the talk was to first give a sense of what pervasive games are, what characterizes them. I drew from the Hide & Seek website for the list of characteristics and used The Soho Project as a running example throughout this part. I also tied the characteristics to some theory I found interesting:

  • Mixing digital technology with real world play — I emphasized that ultimately, technology is but a means to an end. At Interaction ‘09 Robert Fabricant said the medium of interaction design is human behavior. I think the same holds true for the design of pervasive games.
  • Social interactionRaph Koster once said single player games are a historical aberration. It is clear much of the fun in pervasive games is social. In a way I think they bridge the gap between the “old” board games and contemporary video games.
  • Using the city as a playground — Here I could not resist bringing in Jane Jacob’s notions of the city as an entity that is organised from the bottom up and Kevin Lynch’s work on the mental maps we create of cities as we move through them. Cities play a vital role in facilitating the play of pervasive games. At best they are the main protagonist of them.
  • Transforming public spaces into theatrical stagesets — This is related to the previous one, but here I made a sidestep into the embodied nature of player interactions in pervasive games and how embodiment facilitates reading at a distance of such actions. In a sense, the social fun of embodied play is due to its performative quality.

After this, I tried to show why designers outside the domain of games should care about pervasive games. This I did by talking about ways they can be used for purposes other than ‘mere’ entertainment. These were:

  • Enlarging perceived reality; you can create games that play with the way we customarily perceive reality. This was inspired by the talk Kevin Slavin of Area/Code delivered at MIND08. Examples I used were Crossroads and The Comfort of Strangers.
  • Changing human behavior for the better; think of the Toyota Prius dashboard’s effect on people’s driving behavior. Examples of games that use feedback loops to steer us towards desirable goals are CryptoZoo and FourSquare.
  • Crowdsourcing solutions; games can simulate possible futures and challenge players to respond to their problems. Here I used Jane McGonigal’s ideas around collective intelligence gaming. The example game I talked about was World Without Oil.
  • Conveying arguments procedurally; Ian Bogost‘s concept of procedural rhetoric isn’t specific to pervasive games, but I think the way they get mixed up with everyday life make them particularly effective channels for communicating ideas. I used The Go Game, Cruel 2B Kind and Join the Line1 as examples.

By talking about these things I hoped to provide a link to the audience’s own design practice. They may not deal with games, but they surely deal with communicating ideas and changing people’s behavior. Come to think of it though, I was doing a very old media style presentation in attempt to achieve the same… Oh well.

  1. Join the Line is a game students conceptualized during a workshop I ran. []

A third This happened – Utrecht coming this way

Around this time, an email to the ever-growing This happened – Utrecht mailing list will be sent to announce our third edition, which will take place on Monday 29 June at Theater Kikker in Utrecht.

This happened – Utrecht #3 collage

Clockwise: Trompe L’Oeil, FluxFloor, Swarm and Hyper Human.

As always, I am super excited about hearing the stories our wonderful speakers will tell about the things they’ve made. Here’s who’ll be there this time around:

  • Aldo Hoeben of fieldOfView will discuss his work on Trompe L’Oeil; a panoramic projection in the alcove of one of Utrecht’s oldest churches.
  • David Kousemaker and Tim Olden of Blendid will give us an inside look at the work behind their latest interactive light installation called Swarm.
  • Lucy McRae will go into the details of her Hyper Human project, which consists of explorations of fashion that is grown on the human body.
  • Anouk Randag of 31Volts, finally, will talk about FluxFloor, the sustainable dance floor she designed while graduating at TU Delft.

We’re going to open up registration in two weeks time on Monday 15 June at 12:00. I expect space to fill up real quick again as usual. So mark your calendars and set an alarm!