Artificial intelligence as partner

Some notes on artificial intelligence, technology as partner and related user interface design challenges. Mostly notes to self, not sure I am adding much to the debate. Just summarising what I think is important to think about more. Warning: Dense with links.

Matt Jones writes about how artificial intelligence does not have to be a slave, but can also be partner.

I’m personally much more interested in machine intelligence as human augmentation rather than the oft-hyped AI assistant as a separate embodiment.

I would add a third possibility, which is AI as master. A common fear we humans have and one I think only growing as things like AlphaGo and new Boston Dynamics robots keep happening.

I have had a tweet pinned to my timeline for a while now, which is a quote from Play Matters.

“tech­no­logy is not a ser­vant or a mas­ter but a source of expres­sion, a way of being”

So this idea actually does not just apply to AI but to tech in general. Of course, as tech gets smarter and more independent from humans, the idea of a ‘third way’ only grows in importance.

More tweeting. A while back, shortly after AlphaGo’s victory, James tweeted:

On the one hand, we must insist, as Kasparov did, on Advanced Go, and then Advanced Everything Else https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Chess

Advanced Chess is a clear example of humans and AI partnering. And it is also an example of technology as a source of expression and a way of being.

Also, in a WIRED article on AlphaGo, someone who had played the AI repeatedly says his game has improved tremendously.

So that is the promise: Artificially intelligent systems which work together with humans for mutual benefit.

Now of course these AIs don’t just arrive into the world fully formed. They are created by humans with particular goals in mind. So there is a design component there. We can design them to be partners but we can also design them to be masters or slaves.

As an aside: Maybe AIs that make use of deep learning are particularly well suited to this partner model? I do not know enough about it to say for sure. But I was struck by this piece on why Google ditched Boston Dynamics. There apparently is a significant difference between holistic and reductionist approaches, deep learning being holistic. I imagine reductionist AI might be more dependent on humans. But this is just wild speculation. I don’t know if there is anything there.

This insistence of James on “advanced everything else” is a world view. A politics. To allow ourselves to be increasingly entangled with these systems, to not be afraid of them. Because if we are afraid, we either want to subjugate them or they will subjugate us. It is also about not obscuring the systems we are part of. This is a sentiment also expressed by James in the same series of tweets I quoted from earlier:

These emergences are also the best model we have ever built for describing the true state of the world as it always already exists.

And there is overlap here with ideas expressed by Kevin in ‘Design as Participation’:

[W]e are no longer just using computers. We are using computers to use the world. The obscured and complex code and engineering now engages with people, resources, civics, communities and ecosystems. Should designers continue to privilege users above all others in the system? What would it mean to design for participants instead? For all the participants?

AI partners might help us to better see the systems the world is made up of and engage with them more deeply. This hope is expressed by Matt Webb, too:

with the re-emergence of artificial intelligence (only this time with a buddy-style user interface that actually works), this question of “doing something for me” vs “allowing me to do even more” is going to get even more pronounced. Both are effective, but the first sucks… or at least, it sucks according to my own personal politics, because I regard individual alienation from society and complex systems as one of the huge threats in the 21st century.

I am reminded of the mixed-initiative systems being researched in the area of procedural content generation for games. I wrote about these a while back on the Hubbub blog. Such systems are partners of designers. They give something like super powers. Now imagine such powers applied to other problems. Quite exciting.

Actually, in the aforementioned article I distinguish between tools for making things and tools for inspecting possibility spaces. In the first case designers manipulate more abstract representations of the intended outcome and the system generates the actual output. In the second case the system visualises the range of possible outcomes given a particular configuration of the abstract representation. These two are best paired.

From a design perspective, a lot remains to be figured out. If I look at those mixed-initiative tools I am struck by how poorly they communicate what the AI is doing and what its capabilities are. There is a huge user interface design challenge there.

For stuff focused on getting information, a conversational UI seems to be the current local optimum for working with an AI. But for tools for creativity, to use the two-way split proposed by Victor, different UIs will be required.

What shape will they take? What visual language do we need to express the particular properties of artificial intelligence? What approaches can we take in addition to personifying AI as bots or characters? I don’t know and I can hardly think of any good examples that point towards promising approaches. Lots to be done.

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!

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!

Mashing up the real-time city and urban games

Yesterday evening I was at the Club of Amsterdam. They host events centred around preferred futures. I was invited to speak at an evening about the future of games.1 I thought I’d share what I talked about with you here.

I had ten minutes to get my point across. To be honest, I think I failed rather dismally. Some of the ideas I included were still quite fresh and unfinished, and I am afraid this did not work out well. I also relied too heavily on referencing other’s work, presuming people would be familiar with them. A miscalculation on my part.

In any case, thanks to Felix Bopp and Carla Hoekendijk for inviting me. I had a good time and enjoyed the other presenter’s talks. The discussion afterwards too was a lot of things, but dull certainly isn’t among them.

What follows is a write-up of what I more or less said during the presentation, plus references to the sources I used, which will hopefully make things clearer than they were during the evening itself.2

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(This is where I did the usual introduction of who I am and what I do. I won’t bore you with it here. In case you are wondering, the title of this talk is slightly tongue-in cheek. I had to come up with it for the abstract before writing the actual talk. Had I been able to choose a title afterwards, it would’ve been something like “Growth” or “A New Biology of Urban Play”…)

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This gentleman is Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He is said to be the first to formulate a coherent theory of evolution. His ideas centred around inheritance of acquired traits. So for instance, a blacksmiths who works hard his whole life will probably get really strong arms. In the Lamarckist view, his offspring will inherit these strong arms from him. Darwinism rules supreme in evolutionary biology, so it is no surprise that this theory is out of favour nowadays. What I find interesting is the fact that outside of the natural domain, Lamarckism is still applicable, most notably in culture. Cultural organisms can pass on traits they acquired in their lifetime to their offspring. Furthermore, there is a codependency between culture and humans. The two have co-evolved. You could say culture is a trick humans use to get around the limits of Darwinism (slow, trial-and-error based incremental improvements) in order to achieve Lamarckism.3

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You can think of cities as cultural meta-organisms. They’re a great example of natural-cultural co-evolution. We use cities as huge information storage and retrieval machines. What you see here is a map of the city of Hamburg circa 1800. In his book Emergence, Steven Berlin Johnson compares the shape of this map to that of the human brain, to illustrate this idea of the city being alive, in a sense. Cities are self-organizing cities that emerge from the bottom up. They grow, patterns are created from low-level interactions, things like neighbourhoods.4

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Games are this other thing nature has come up with to speed up evolution. I’m not going to go into why I think we play (you could do worse than have a look at The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith to get a sense of all the different viewpoints on the matter). Let’s just say I think one thing games are good at is conveying viewpoints of the world in a procedural way (a.k.a. ‘procedural rhetoric’ as described in Ian Bogost’s book Persuasive Games). They provide people with a way to explore a system from the inside out. They give rise to ‘systemic literacy’.5 The image is from Animal Crossing: Wild World, a game that, as Bogost argues, tries to point out certain issues that exist with consumerism and private home ownership.

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Moving on, I’d like to discuss two trends that I see happening right now. I’ll build on those to formulate my future vision.

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So trend number one: the real-time city. In cities around the globe, we are continuously pumping up the amount of sensors, actuators and processors. The behaviour of people is being sensed, processed and fed back to them in an ever tightening feedback loop. This will inevitably change the behaviour of humans as well as the city. So cities are headed to a phase transition, where they’ll move (if not in whole then at least in neighbourhood-sized chunks) to a new level of evolvability. Adam Greenfield calls it network weather. Dan Hill talks about how these new soft infrastructures can help us change the user experience of the city without needing to change the hard stuff. The problem is, though, that the majority of this stuff is next-to invisible, and therefore hard to “read”.6 The image, by the way, is from Stamen Design’s awesome project Cabspotting, which (amongst other things) consists of real-time tracking and visualization of the trajectories of taxis in the Bay Area.

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Trend number two. In the past decade or so, there’s a renewed interest in playing in public spaces. Urban games are being used to re-imagine and repurpose the city in new ways (such as the parkour player pictured here). Consciously or subconsciously, urban games designers are flirting with the notions of the Situationist International, most notably the idea of inner space shaping our experience of outer space (psycho-geography) and the use of playful acts to subvert those spaces. Parkour and free running can’t really be called games, but things like SFZero, The Soho Project and Cruel 2 B Kind all fit these ideas in some way.

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So I see an opportunity here: To alleviate some of the illegibility of the real-time city’s new soft infrastructures, we can deploy games that tap into them. Thus we employ the capacity of games to provide insight into complex systems. With urban games, this ‘grokking’ can happen in situ.

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Through playing these games, people will be better able to “read” the real-time city, and to move towards a more decentralized mindset. The image is from a project by Dan Hill, where the shape of public Wi-Fi in the State Library of Queensland was visualized and overlaid on the building’s floor-plan.

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Ultimately though, I would love to enable people to not only “read” but also “write” possible processes for the real-time city. I see many advantages here. Fore one this could lead to situated procedural arguments: people could be enabled to propose alternative ways of interacting with urban space. But even without this, just by making stuff, another way of learning is activated, known as ‘analysis by synthesis’. This was the aim of Mitchel Resnick when he made StarLogo (of which you see a screenshot here). And it works. StarLogo enables children to make sense of complex systems. A real-time urban game design toolkit could to the same, with the added benefit of the games being juxtaposed with the cities they are about.

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This juxtaposition might result in dynamics similar to what we find in nature. Processes from these new games might be spontaneously transferred over to the city, and vice versa. The image is of roots with outgrowths on them which are caused by a bacteria called Agrobacterium. This bacteria is well known for its ability to transfer DNA between itself and plants. An example of nature circumventing natural selection.7 A new symbiosis between urban games and the real-time city might lead to similar acceleration of their evolutions.

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(I finished a little over time and had time for one question. Adriaan Wormgoor of FourceLabs asked whether I thought games would sooner or later become self-evolving themselves. My answer was “absolutely”. to get to ever higher levels of complexity we’ll be forced to start growing or rearing our games more than assembling them from parts. Games want to be free, you could say, so they are inevitably heading towards ever higher levels of evolvability.)

  1. Iskander Smit has posted a report of the evening over at his blog. []
  2. If you’re interested, the slide deck as a whole is also available on SlideShare. []
  3. I first came across Lamarck, and the idea of nature and culture co-evolving in Kevin Kelly’s book Out of Control. The blacksmith example is his too. []
  4. All this flies in the face of large-scale top-down planning and zoning, as Jane Jacobs makes painfully clear in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. []
  5. Eric Zimmerman talked at length about the need for systemic literacy at Playful 2008. []
  6. For more on this have a look at another blog post by Adam Greenfield titled Reading, writing, texts, literacy, cities. []
  7. As Kevin Kelly writes in Out of Control, evolution with symbiosis included is less like a tree and more like a thicket. []

Looking back on a second This happened – Utrecht

Some more catching up with things that occurred recently; on Monday February 23 we1 had our second This happened. I am quite satisfied with how things went.

For one; we had some unplanned cohesion2 amongst talks.3 Three out of four talks discussed the use of field research (to use the term broadly). It was good to have some discussion of how this is put in practice, as I often find ethnographic techniques being presented as some kind of silver bullet, but without any clear demonstration of its application. It was also cool to see field research being applied effectively in such different contexts (primary school, the elderly, South Africa).

To my relief, a significantly larger percentage of the audience (compared to last time) was female.4 This was something we had worked consciously towards, since the first edition’s testosterone quotient was a bit too high. In my opinion, a more diverse audience is conducive to the kind of relaxed, open and honest atmosphere we are pursuing. The main way we tried to draw in a more balanced mix of people was by inviting more female speakers. Three out of four talks were by women. All of them were great. It seems to have worked.

I love that This happened seems to be a venue for the kind of unassuming and honest presentations we somehow stop giving once we leave design school (or at least I have). I can’t think of other events where I am treated to such wonderful war stories from the front-lines of interaction design.

The discussions after each session were good again as well. Lots of thoughtful questions, critical, but fair. Alper was kind enough to keep minutes, and has blogged the most salient parts over at his site (in Dutch).5

Our friends in London launched a new website that now contains videos and slides of all talks from past events. The Utrecht sessions are on there too, so go have a look. It already is an amazing collection of high-quality content. Some of my current favourites are Troika, Crispin Jones and Schulze & Webb.6

The next This happened – Utrecht (number three) is set for June 29. Hope to see you there.

  1. Alexander, Ianus and I []
  2. Iskander spotted it first, this is a blog post in Dutch discussing the parallels between the talks []
  3. Honestly, this was not something we had aimed for beforehand. []
  4. I realize in the tech scene this has once again become a hot topic, see for instance this discussion over at Chris Messina’s blog. []
  5. I’ve collected more posts on our second edition over at Delicious. []
  6. While you’re there, why not vote for This happened in the Brit Insurance Design of the Year 2009 awards at the Design Museum? []

On sketching

Catching up with this slightly neglected blog (it’s been 6 weeks since the last proper post). I’d like to start by telling you about a small thing I helped out with last week. Peter Boersma1 asked me to help out with one of his UX Cocktail Hours. He was inspired by a recent IxDA Studio event where, in stead of just chatting and drinking, designers actually made stuff. (Gasp!) Peter wanted to do a workshop where attendees collaborated on sketching a solution to a given design problem.

Part of my contribution to the evening was a short presentation on the theory and practice of sketching. On the theory side, I referenced Bill Buxton’s list of qualities that define what a sketch is2, and emphasized that this means a sketch can be done in any material, not necessarily pencil and paper. Furthermore I discussed why sketching works, using part of an article on embodied interaction3. The main point there, as far as I am concerned is that when sketching, as designers we have the benefit of ‘backtalk’ from our materials, which can provide us with new insights. I wrapped up the presentation with a case study of a project I did a while back with the Amsterdam-based agency Info.nl4 for a social web start-up aimed at independent professionals. In the project I went quite far in using sketches to not only develop the design, but also collaboratively construct it with the client, technologists and others.

The whole thing was recorded; you can find a video of the talk at Vimeo (thanks to Iskander and Alper). I also uploaded the slides to SlideShare (sans notes).

The second, and most interesting part of the evening was the workshop itself. This was set up as follows: Peter and I had prepared a fictional case, concerning peer-to-peer energy. We used the Dutch company Qurrent as an example, and asked the participants to conceptualise a way to encourage use of Qurrent’s product range. The aim was to have people be more energy efficient, and share surplus energy they had generated with the Qurrent community. The participants split up in teams of around ten people each, and went to work. We gave them around one hour to design a solution, using only pen and paper. Afterwards, they presented the outcome of their work to each other. For each team, we asked one participant to critique the work by mentioning one thing he or she liked, and one thing that could be improved. The team was then given a chance to reply. We also asked each team to briefly reflect on their working process. At the end of the evening everyone was given a chance to vote for their favourite design. The winner received a prize.5

Wrapping up, I think what I liked most about the workshop was seeing the many different ways the teams approached the problem (many of the participants did not know each other beforehand). Group dynamics varied hugely. I think it was valuable to have each team share their experiences on this front with each other. One thing that I think we could improve was the case itself; next time I would like to provide participants with a more focused, more richly detailed briefing for them to sink their teeth in. That might result in an assignment that is more about structure and behaviour (or even interface) and less about concepts and values. It would be good to see how sketching functions in such a context.

  1. the Netherlands’ tallest IA and one of several famous Peters who work in UX []
  2. taken from his wonderful book Sketching User Experiences []
  3. titled How Bodies Matter (PDF) by Klemer and Takayama []
  4. who were also the hosts of this event []
  5. I think it’s interesting to note that the winner had a remarkable concept, but in my opinion was not the best example of the power of sketching. Apparently the audience valued product over process. []

The 2nd Dutch ‘This happened’ is coming this way

We’re less than four weeks removed from the second edition of ‘This happened – Utrecht’. As you may know, this is an event I am organizing and curating together with Alexander and Ianus. We’re trying to offer an alternative to flashy product-focused (and fuzzy theory-based) sessions that are prevalent in the interaction design event landscape. ‘This happened’ presentations are short stories about how a project came to be, warts and all. Think of them as the DVD extras for interaction design.

This happened – Utrecht #1

On Monday February 23, we’ll return to Theater Kikker in Utrecht, the Netherlands for #2. Our first edition was a success, and I’m really looking forward to continuing the experiment. Here’s who we’ve invited this time to come and shed light on one of their projects:

  • Niels Keetels, a game design researcher at the HKU, will be talking about Softbody. A game that is interesting because of its lush expressive visuals, as well as the clever balancing of open-ended and goal-directed play. Oh, and how many games fo you know that had their mechanics inspired by honest-to-goodness field research?
  • Sanne Kistemaker of Muzus will present Piece of Family, which was developed in collaboration with Vodafone. It’s a communication device designed for the elderly, composed of a sketchpad and a scanner, which instantly posts whatever’s written to a blog. The design won a prestigious Dutch Design Award.
  • Irene van Peer, a celebrated product designer, will talk about the Mahlangu Hand-washer, which was featured in the New York Times 8th Annual Year in Ideas. It is both a product (developed as part of a sanitation project in Africa) that involves converting the cap of an empty bottle into a homemade tap, as well as a set of instructions that can be passed on from person to person.
  • Finally, we have Naomi Schiphorst and Mieke Vullings of MIMOA, who will show how their free and open online guide to modern architecture came into being. The site is aimed at a broad audience, not just architects, and aims to build a durable community.

Head over to the This happened – Utrecht website for expanded descriptions of the talks (in Dutch). The registration will open on Monday February 9. I hope to see you there!

A Playful Stance — my Game Design London 2008 talk

A while ago I was interviewed by Sam Warnaars. He’s researching people’s conference experiences; he asked me what my most favourite and least favourite conference of the past year was. I wish he’d asked me after my trip to Playful ’08, because it has been by far the best conference experience to date. Why? Because it was like Toby, Richard and the rest of the event’s producers had taken a peek inside my brain and came up with a program encompassing (almost) all my fascinations — games, interaction design, play, sociality, the web, products, physical interfaces, etc. Almost every speaker brought something interesting to the table. The audience was composed of people from many different backgrounds, and all seemed to, well, like each other. The venue was lovely and atmospheric (albeit a bit chilly). They had good tea. Drinks afterwards were tasty and fun, the tapas later on even more so. And the whiskey after that, well let’s just say I was glad to have a late flight the next day. Many thanks to my friends at Pixel-Lab for inviting me, and to Mr. Davies for the referral.

Below is a transcript plus slides of my contribution to the day. The slides are also on SlideShare. I have been told all talks have been recorded and will be published to the event’s Vimeo group.

Perhaps 1874 words is a bit too much for you? In that case, let me give you an executive summary of sorts:

  1. The role of design in rich forms of play, such as skateboarding, is facilitatory. Designers provide tools for people to play with.
  2. It is hard to predict what people will do exactly with your tools. This is OK. In fact it is best to leave room for unexpected uses.
  3. Underspecified, playful tools can be used for learning. People can use them to explore complex concepts on their own terms.

As always, I am interested in receiving constructive criticism, as well as good examples of the things I’ve discussed.

Continue reading A Playful Stance — my Game Design London 2008 talk

Collaboratively designing Things through sketching

So far, Ianus, Alexander and I have announced three of the four people who’ll be speaking at the first Dutch This happened. They are Fabian of Ronimo Games, Philine of Supernana and Dirk of IR labs The final addition to this wonderful line-up is Werner Jainek of Cultured Code, the developers of Things, a task management application for Mac OS X as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch.

When I first got in touch with the guys at Cultured Code, I asked who of the four principals was responsible for interaction design. I was surprised to hear that a large part of the interaction design is a collaborative effort. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom in design circles: You’re not supposed to design by committee. Yet no-one can deny Things’ interaction design is solid, focused and cohesive.

Things touch still life by Cultured Code

Werner and his associates collaborate through vigorous sketching. Sometimes they produce many mock-ups to iron out apparently simple bits of the application. A prime example being this recurring tasks dialog. Just look at all the alternatives they explored. Their attention to detail is admirable. Also, take a look at the photos they posted when they announced Things touch. I’m sure that, if you’re a designer, you can’t help but love carefully examining the details of such work in progress.

Werner tells me he’s been busy scanning lots of sketches to share at This happened – Utrecht #1. I can’t wait to hear his stories about how the design of both the desktop and mobile app have happened.

Werner completes our line-up. Which you can see in full at thishappened.nl. There, you’ll also be able to register for the event starting this Monday (20 October). I hope to see you on 3 November, it promises to be a lovely filled with the stories behind interaction design.