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.


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.

Week 168

So, I got back from a one-week holiday on Terschelling last weekend (which was lovely, by the way) and immediately dove into work again. So much to do at the moment, it’s a challenge not to get swamped. Anyway. And it is one of those weeks where I need to look back on my calendar just to remember what has been going on…

Most notably, two interns have started at Hubbub. They are working on games for the second installment of the Learning Lab, an experimental educational program created by River Institute, which will be running at the University of Amsterdam the coming months. Their first assignment is to design a game that will be played by Learning Lab participants (who are called “pioneers”) today and tomorrow at the Natural Networking Festival. It is nice to have these guys on board. This week I regularly sat down with them to review their plans but aside from this they are incredibly self-steering. They’ll be blogging about their exploits on the Hubbub blog soon.

Also, I had a full day of work on Maguro yesterday. We spent the whole day at the client’s office (a large governmental organization which I can’t name at the moment). The morning was taken up by short presentations from the side of us, the design team. We also had the chance to talk to a selection of people from our target audience and get a tour of their work environment. In the afternoon we sat down to brainstorm concepts, and came up with some interesting ones. I enjoyed getting a chance to see this organization from the inside, which due to to the sensitive nature of their work is a little secretive. We decided to use part of the workshop’s program to try out some mechanics that we might be using in the game, without the audience being aware of it. That lead to some interesting results.

This week is bookended by meetings for project Ika. This project is run from the still very new Design for Playful Impact research group at the HKU. On monday I spent some time with the people leading the other projects to get a general sense of the program. Today I’ll be meeting up with the client for the first time.

And in between I’ve been doing more work on PLAY Pilots. I dropped by Zesbaans to check out an early version of their installation for the Netherlands Film Festival, which is called The Stereoscope and is this kind of toy-like VJ-ing tool loaded with fragments from Dutch films from the past 30 years. Awesome, awesome, stuff. It’s already fun to play with, even though the custom-built console is yet to be finished and the game mechanics haven’t been implemented yet.

And finally, in other news: we announced the next This happened – Utrecht, and I uploaded a selection of photos from the Bocce Drift game Hubbub ran a few weeks ago.

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 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 at 12:00 hours. Hope to see you there!

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!

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? []

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!

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 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.

How a student game became a Wii and DS title

It’s time to start revealing the speakers for This happened – Utrecht #1. First up is Fabian Akker, co-founder of the independent studio Ronimo Games. The studio was funded with money Fabian and his colleagues earned by selling the concept behind one of their games to THQ.1 The game is called De Blob, and the new version is now available on the Nintendo Wii and DS.2 As part of a 3rd year assignment at the Utrecht School of the Arts’ Game Design and Development course, De Blob was created for the municipality of Utrecht. The aim was to allow people to explore the city’s future station area, which is under heavy reconstruction. You could therefore call De Blob a serious game – a game that is not only fun but also useful. It is not often that a serious game makes the transition to a title aimed purely at entertainment. It is more often the case that an entertainment concept gets injected with some ‘serious’ content, with usually disappointing results. At This happened – Utrecht #1 Fabian, who was the original game’s lead designer, will share the story of how it came to be.

Screenshot of De Blob, created by Ronimo Games, published by THQ

I announced This happened – Utrecht #1 last week. The event takes place on Monday 3 October at 20:30. Registration will open next Monday (20 October) — space is limited so mark your calendars!

Curious about the rest of the line-up? Tomorrow, Ianus will announce our second speaker. Update: go read what Ianus has to say about Philine of Supernana.

  1. THQ is a large publisher of games, such as Saints Row and Age of Empires. []
  2. The game was redeveloped by an outside studio. []

Announcing This happened – Utrecht

I’m happy to announce This happened – Utrecht; a series of events for interaction designers that I have been working on together with Ianus Keller and Alexander Zeh. On Monday 3 November we’ll have our first edition at Theater Kikker. I’m keeping the line-up to myself for now, but I can assure you it is awesome.

At This happened, you’ll get four to five short lectures by interaction designers about the process behind one of their projects. Each lecture is followed by ample time for discussion. We invite speakers from many different domains, such as products, web, software, games, architecture and art. This way, we hope to show that although the outcomes are different, there is a lot to learn from fellow designers working in areas other than your own.

This happened has been going on in London for some time now, with great success. I can’t remember when exactly I first came across the concept, but I do know that from the start I wanted to introduce it in the Netherlands. Imagine my excitement when I received an enthusiastic response to my proposal from the guys in London.

I believe This happened really adds something to the design event landscape. It isn’t often you get to go somewhere to hear about the hard work that went into finished projects. Usually, you either get a demo of what has been achieved, or you hear someone talk about what it is he would like to work on, not what he’s actually done. Neither is very informative for practising designers. At This happened, the focus is firmly on process, not on outcome, and on making & doing, not (only) on thinking.

Registration is free and will open around two weeks before the event starts. Watch this space, or keep an eye on the official This happened – Utrecht website (in Dutch).