A year of two crashes

A year ago today I was in Bali.

We spent the better part of December 2015 there. It wasn’t really a holiday, but we weren’t really working either. I was wrapping up a few final Hubbub things back then. But for the most part life was quiet. Very quiet. We would get up really early. We would buy some vegetables and things from a lady who would drive into town every morning with a load from the market.

I’d swim, exercise, meditate, have breakfast and do some work. Writing and reading mostly. By the end of the morning we would cook lunch. The major meal of the day. In the afternoon we wouldn’t do much of anything because of the heat. December is rainy season in Bali and it gets incredibly hot and humid. Towards dusk we would often take a walk. We would have an early light dinner and entertain ourselves with the antics of tokay geckos. We would turn in early.

Now I am writing this back in our home in Utrecht. In many ways my life has returned to the way it was before that month in Bali. But in other ways it has changed. I used to run a small agency and would be in the studio almost every day. Now I am freelancing and I split my time between working on site at clients, working from home and meeting up with people in town. I enjoy the variety.

I used to be in the business of designing games and playthings for learning and other purposes. Now I am back to my old vocation of interaction design and in theory I can and work on anything.

Towards the end of Hubbub’s run I felt boxed in. Now I feel like I can pursue whatever interests me.

Right now, under the banner of Eend I am helping the Dutch victim support foundation develop new digital services. I spend about three days a week working on site as part of cross-disciplinary agile team made up of a mix of internal and external people. It’s good, important work and I can contribute a lot.

The time that remains I divide between the usual freelancer things like admin, networking and so on, and developing a plan for a PhD.

I’ve been blogging on and off about intelligent design tools this year and that is no coincidence. I am considering going into research fulltime to work in that space. It is still early days but I am having fun reading up on the subject, writing, making plans, and talking to people in academia about it.

In between this ‘new normal’ and those quiet days in Bali was a year of two crashes. I basically started from scratch in many ways twice this year and I feel like it has helped me get reoriented.

Crash one.

In January we moved to Singapore. We would end up spending seven months there. In that time I joined a startup called ARTO. I helped build a team, develop a design and development process and acted as product manager and product designer. We launched a first version of the product in that period and we pushed out a couple of new features as well. The last thing I did was find a replacement for myself.

In between working on ARTO I taught a two-part engagement design workshop with Michael and helped Edo and his team build ArtHit. I got into running and ate my way through the abundance of amazing food Singapore has to offer.

Of all the things I enjoyed about Singapore, its cosmopolitanism has to be the absolute highlight. I worked with people from Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and India. I made friends with people from many more places. Discovering the things we have in common and the things that set us apart was a continuous source of enjoyment.

And like that, just when we were getting settled and had gotten into a routine of sorts and started to feel at home it was time to go back to the Netherlands. (But not before spending a couple of weeks exploring Vietnam and Cambodia. More great food and gorgeous sights.)

Crash two.

It is weird to have culture shock in a town you’ve spent most of your life in but that was what it felt like for about the first month back in Utrecht. September felt very similar to January. I had no work and was networking like a madman and just playing the numbers game. Hoping I would bump into something. And of course, as it always does eventually, things worked out.

I consider myself blessed to be able to take these risks and more or less trust things will turn out okay. I know that if they don’t there are always people around me who will support me if worse comes to worse.

2017 looks to be a year of more stability although one can never be sure. World events as well as occurrences in my personal circles this year have shown me once again there are no guarantees in life.

But I plan to build on what I’ve started these past few months and see where it takes me. It is time to shift from orienting to deciding and acting. And for the foreseeable future I plan to keep the current ‘system’ running.

So no more crashes for the time being. Although I am sure there will come a time when the need for it arises again.

Week 132

I’m taking up the challenge Matt Webb posted in his last weeknote of the year 2009 and will be posting weeknotes of my own here for the foreseeable future. You can expect stuff about design work I do at Hubbub, teaching at the Utrecht School of the Arts and perhaps bits about This happened and other side endeavors.

So this is week 132 of my freelance career. I started on July 1st 2007, which coincided with a move to Copenhagen (I’ve moved back to Utrecht since).

Most of this week is taken up by a workshop – titled Move It – I’m running together with Evert Hoogendoorn and Marinka Copier at the Utrecht School of the Arts. All first year students of the games and interaction courses are participating, around 130 in all. That’s a crazy number, it’s really taxing, but also a lot of fun. Lots of good vibes when we’re all in the same room. The assignment we’ve given them is to design a new sports experience. It should take place in the centre of Utrecht, and they should not only design the play of the sport, but also the experience of the audience, the referee, bookmaker, etc. We kicked off on monday,1 today was open Q&A, tomorrow will be a mid-way review and on friday they’ll present the final game in the form of a three-minute video. There’ll be 24 videos in total, all posted to this Vimeo group. I’m really looking forward to the end results.

Other than that I’m hoping to get started properly with a consulting project I’ve codenamed Tako.2 It’s about exploring opportunities for playful additions to the programs of some of Utrecht’s major cultural events. The project’s commissioned by the city of Utrecht. I’ll talk more about it once the work is underway.

What else… This being the new year, there’s plenty of receptions. Today I attended one at the Utrecht School of the Arts. Tomorrow I’ll be at the monthly lunch organised by the Dutch Game Garden3 which’ll probably involve some new year shenanigans.

I was also doing the obligatory financial admin that comes with the start of a new month, a new quarter and a new year (thank god there’s nothing special related to this being a new decade). Invoicing, that sort of thing.

Also, I sent out a message to some of my old friends in Copenhagen, since I’m planning a six-week stay there in spring. I’m hoping to do some work there. Have heard back from a few already, so that’s encouraging.

There’s also more than the usual amount of meetings to talk about potential new projects. All quite interesting and exciting, who knows what’ll come of those.

So that’s the first weeknote out of the way. It’s interesting how doing this increases my awareness of all the stuff that’s going on. It’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed. I hope it’s of some interest to you though.

Onwards!

  1. I ran a brief ideation session using a design game developed by Jussi Holopainen et al. at the Nokia Research Center. []
  2. I’ve gotten into the habit of naming new projects after Japanese seafood. []
  3. Which is where I have my studio. []