Week 141

It’s been a while since I spent time at my own desk in the Dutch Game Garden. It was nice to do this again yesterday, having the city right outside my door and kindred spirits such as FourceLabs upstairs. I wasn’t inside the whole time though, in the morning I had another chat at EKKO about Tako. And in the afternoon I headed to Leidsche Rijn accompanied by Julius to attend a workshop concerning Utrecht’s bid to become European capital of culture.

I kicked off the week with two days of work at Layar (now on my way to Amsterdam in a diverted train for my third and last day of the week there). I’ve been collaborating closely with some of the engineers to shape some upcoming new… stuff. Things are developing at such a high pace that it’s a real challenge to keep up. It feels like being on top of a rodeo bull sometimes, but in a good way. This means I need to be pragmatic and fast with developing and documenting designs.

In between, I’ve posted a long overdue project description to the Hubbub site for Mega Monster Battle Arena. It’s this quirky project – a cross between a game and an opera – that I was involved with last year. It feels good to finally have it out there for me and others to point to.

Other in-between stuff includes a final review of several graduation project proposals. I need to provide feedback by the start of next week, and then I’ll switch to coaching a handful of students.

The week will be topped off with what is sure to be a fun friday at the BUROPONY studio. I’ll do some work on their site, and in return have them do some additional work on the Hubbub brand. Scratching each other’s backs, that’s how small creative enterprises flourish.

Week 138

Last evening I was on top of the Neudeflat, to review a draft of a presentation I’ve prepared as part of project Tako.1 Earlier that day and monday I talked to the last two participants: Culturele Zondagen (a producer of frequent city-wide cultural events that always take place on sundays) and Habek (a producer of local hip-hop events and projects). Most of the presentation is in place – lots of rough concepts for playful cultural projects – it just requires some last additions and tightening up to be ready for the city lab session with all participants next week.

On tuesday morning I found myself in a room filled with students, who gave short presentations on the results from the initial field research they performed over the previous week. Some had interesting insights to share, ranging from the experience of story in single player versus multiplayer RPGs to the effects of a playful UI on the perceived effectiveness of information appliances. Others were really struggling with the development of a brief for their own work. Next up for them is to write up a proposal for their graduation project. We’ll review a first draft of those next week.

As I’m writing this, I am on my way to Layar again – who had some exciting news to announce this week and won a few awards in Barcelona too. Most of my time this week will be spent on a design sprint outlining a new product offering. We’ll do a review of that somewhere this week, and take it from there. Iterate’s the word. Thinking through making.

In the time that’s left, I’m chipping away at the talk for Hamburg this sunday. The rough silhouette is there, now it’s just a matter of building a deck. Should be doable, right? Right.

  1. The promotion department of the city of Utrecht has its offices here, with stunning views. []

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 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.

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).

Goodbye DK, Hello NL

A photo of the Oude Gracht in Utrecht, the Netherlands taken by Josef F. Stuefer

And that was it. After exactly one year in Copenhagen I am back in Utrecht. I enjoyed my time in Denmark tremendously, it has proven to be a great place to start my new life as a freelance designer. Now I will continue my practice over here. Different city, same international outlook.

The final period in Copenhagen consisted mainly of me speaking at a lot of conferences. First there was The Web and Beyond, then came From Business to Buttons, NLGD Festival of Games and finally Reboot — I could not have wished for a better going-away party.

There is not much time to catch my breath, however. I have client projects happening throughout July and of course there is also plenty of unpacking and merging of the old and new life to be done. I hope to publish the NLGD and Reboot stuff shortly, but it might take me a while.

Now that I am back in the Netherlands, I can also move forward with some small plans I’ve had for some time: one being a local design event and the other a ‘different’ kind of office space. I am also still looking for a creative technologist to partner up with on potential future projects. If any of this piques your interest, do drop me a line.

Photo credits: Josef F. Stuefer.

Moving, speaking

It’s final days for me. In Copenhagen, that is. July 1 I will exchange this lovely city for my home town of Utrecht, the Netherlands. The plan is to continue work as a freelance interaction designer. So if you’re interested, but physical distance has been putting you off so far, get in touch.

Between now and then, most of my time will be spent at conferences. Here’s the rundown:

  • First up is From Business to Buttons, June 12-13 in Malmö, Sweden. My talk is titled More Than Useful. I will attempt to show that for a certain class of products, playfulness is a vital characteristic. The idea is to introduce the IxD crowd to some game design concepts.
  • The week after that I will be at the Festival of Games, June 18-20 in Utrecht, Netherlands. My presentation is titled Playing With Complexity. I will introduce the game design audience to some interaction design thinking and suggest data visualization might be an interesting area to team up on.
  • Last but not least is good old Reboot, 26-27 June in Copenhagen. I have submitted a proposal titled Playful Activism in the Real-Time City, which I hope will be selected to be on the program.1

If you will be at any of these conferences, do drop me a line or say hello at the event itself.

  1. If you’d like to see it too, don’t hesitate to vote it up. []