Oh dear. Peggle is coming to the DS. Via Niels.
“An archive of colour gradients”.
Tom Carden talks about his work on the MySociety travel-time maps, which I really like.
Recently a good friend of mine became a dad. It made me feel really old, but it also lead to an encounter with an improvised information display, which I’d like to tell you about, because it illustrates some of the things I have learnt from reading Paul Dourish’s Where the Action Is.
My friend’s son was born a bit too early, so we went to see him (the son) at the neonatology ward of the local hospital. It was there that I saw this whiteboard with stickers, writing and the familiar magnets on it:
(I decided to trace the photo I took of it and replace the names with fictional ones.)
Now, at first I only noticed parts of what was there. I saw the patient names on the left-hand side, and recognised the name of my friend’s son. I also noticed that on the right-hand side, the names of all the nurses on duty were there. I did not think much more of it.
Before leaving, my friend walked up to the whiteboard and said something along the lines of “yes, this is correct,” and touched one of the green magnets that was in the middle of the board as if to confirm this. It was then that my curiosity was piqued, and I asked my friend to explain what the board meant.
It turns out it was a wonderful thing, something I’ll call an improvised information display, for lack of a better word. What I had not seen the first time around, but were pointed out by my friend:
- There is a time axis along the top of the board. By placing a green magnet at the height of a child’s name somewhere along this axis, parents can let the staff know when they intend to visit. This is important for many reasons. One being that it helps the nurses time the moment a child will be fed so that the parents can be present. So in the example, the parents of ‘Faramond’ will be visiting around 21:00 hours.
- There are different colour magnets behind the children’s names, and behind the nurses’ names. This shows which nurse is responsible for which child. For instance, ‘Charlotte’ is in charge of ‘Once’s’ care.
Dourish’s book has influenced the way I look at things like this. It has made me more aware of their unique value. Whereas before I would think that something like this could be done better by a proper designer, with digital means, I now think the grasp-able aspect of such a display is vital. I also now believe that the prominent role of users in shaping the display is vital. Dourish writes:1
“What embodied interaction adds to existing representational practice is the understanding that representations are also themselves artefacts. Not only do they allow users to “reach through” and act upon the entity being represented, but they can also themselves be acted upon—picked up, examined, manipulated and rearranged.”
Parents and nurses reach through the display I saw in the neonatology ward to act upon the information about visiting times and responsibility of care. But they also act on the components of the display itself to manipulate the meaning they have.
In fact, this is how the display was constructed in the first place! The role of the designer in this display was limited to the components themselves. Designers were responsible for the affordances of the whiteboard, the magnets, the erasable markers and stickers, which enabled users to produce the information display they needed. In the words of Dourish:2
“Principle: Users, not designers, create and communicate meaning.”
“Principle: Users, not designers, manage coupling.”
It is the nurses and the parents and the social practice they together constitute that gives rise to the meaning of the display. What the board means is obvious to them, because they have ‘work’ that needs to be done together. It was not obvious to me, because I am not part of that group. It was not a designer that decided what the meaning of the different colours of the magnets were. It was a group of users who coupled meaning to the components they had available to them.
It might be a radical example, but I think this does demonstrate what people can do if the right components are made available to them, and they are allowed to make their own meaning with them. I think it is important for designers to realise this, and allow for this kind of manipulation of the products and services they shape. Clearly, Dourish’s notion of embodied interaction is a key to designing for adaptation and hacking. When it comes to this, today’s whiteboards, magnets and markers seem to do a better job than many of our current digital technologies.
A wonderful presentation from 2004 by Ludicorp, outlining their vision of facilitating play using platforms, or contexts for relationship-based computing. Chock-full of good stuff still very relevant today.
Jones on embodied interactions in science fiction.
Entry in a series of interviews Matt did during Reboot 10, asking people about what design means to them This one with Julian is probably my favorite so far.
People illicitly cultivating neglected plots of land in the city.
“This page contains information about resources related to pattern languages for interaction design (of which user interface design is a subset), and a few links to more general papers that may be of use to interaction designers.”
Not a pattern library, because it lacks abstracted descriptions of the solutions presented. but an interesting collection of interface snapshots nonetheless.
“One of the ways in which we explore possible design directions is by building simple, playable prototypes that we can play around with to get a sense for a particular system.” Two prototypes from this design approach by the Spore team have been released.
Nicolas discusses privacy issues with Bluetooth scanning. I maintain that radical transparency is the only way to solve this. People need to be made aware of scanners, and have the choice of opting out. It’s a question of freedom versus control.
“One of the things about all of these is that they almost force a game grammar approach to things, in a way.” Having designed a more humble entrant in the game maker ‘market’ I can only confirm this.
I have a considerable amount of books with dog-eared pages lying around the office. One such book is The Game Design Reader, which contains a large and varied collection of essays on (yes) game design. This book probably has the largest number of dog-ears. Partly because it is quite thick, but also because it is filled to the brim with good stuff.
One essay is written by Chris Crawford. He is without a doubt one of the best known game designers out there, a real veteran of the industry. He is also a controversial character, often voicing unpopular opinions. I guess you could call him an iconoclast.
This iconoclasm shines through in his essay for TGDR. Crawford shares the story behind the design of Eastern Front (1941) his “first big hit”. Towards the end, he devotes some attention to game tuning, and has this to say about how you as a designer should approach suggestions from others:1
“Your job is to build a great design, not gratify your co-workers.”
According to him, a good designer has thought the system through so thoroughly, that the vast majority of suggestions have already passed through his mind. Therefore, these can all be rejected without much thought. If you are swamped with suggestions you have not thought of before, this is an indication you have not properly done your job.
I can only agree, but I think the real challenge is in rejecting these ideas in a persuasive manner. It is hard to make apparent the fact that you have thought all these things through.
One strategy I am pursuing is to be radically transparent in my process. I try to document every single consideration using quick and dirty sketches, and share all of these. This way, I hope to make apparent the thinking that has gone into the design.
What Chris Crawford makes clear is that design isn’t a popularity contest:2
“This isn’t noble; it’s stupid. Seriously considering every idea that drifts by isn’t a sign of open mindedness; it’s an indicator of indecisiveness. […] Be courteous, but concentrate on doing your job.”
Some time ago, Crawford more or less turned his back on the games industry and focussed his attention on the thorny problem of interactive storytelling. The outcomes of this are finally seeing the light of day in the shape of Storytron; a company that offers a free authoring tool as well as ready-to-play ‘storyworlds’.
I wasn’t too impressed with the interaction design of the authoring tool, but the concept remains intriguing. We’ll see where it goes.
If this has piqued your curiosity; Chris Crawford will be speaking at IDEA 2008 in Chicago, 7–8 October. Reason enough to attend, in my humble opinion.
The Endless Forest piqued my interest a while back — here’s an interview with its creators. Good bits on indie games, art and games and narrative environments.
“That’s still the mission plan.” Hear, hear!
Kevin Cheng is writing a book! On drawing comics! To communicate design! Happy days.