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).

Reboot 10 slides and video

I am break­ing radio-silence for a bit to let you know the slides and video for my Reboot 10 pre­sen­ta­tion are now avail­able online, in case you’re inter­est­ed. I pre­sent­ed this talk before at The Web and Beyond, but this time I had a lot more time, and I pre­sent­ed in Eng­lish. I there­fore think this might still be of inter­est to some peo­ple.1 As always, I am very inter­est­ed in receiv­ing con­struc­tive crit­i­cism Just drop me a line in the com­ments.

Update: It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to briefly sum­ma­rize what this is about. This is a pre­sen­ta­tion in two parts. In the first, I the­o­rize about the emer­gence of games that have as their goal the con­vey­ing of an argu­ment. These games would use the real-time city as their plat­form. It is these games that I call urban pro­ce­dur­al rhetorics. In the sec­ond part I give a few exam­ples of what such games might look like, using a series of sketch­es.

The slides, posted to SlideShare, as usual:

The video, hosted on the Reboot website:

  1. I did post a tran­script in Eng­lish before, in case you pre­fer read­ing to lis­ten­ing. []

Design-related endnotes for MoMo AMS #7

Yes­ter­day I attend­ed my first Mobile Mon­day in Ams­ter­dam. The theme was “val­ue” and in my mind, I had already equat­ed the term with “user expe­ri­ence”. This was a mis­take. Con­trary to my expec­ta­tions, the event was well out­side of my com­fort zone. Dis­cus­sions were dom­i­nat­ed by busi­ness and tech­nol­o­gy per­spec­tives. I found the expe­ri­ence frus­trat­ing at times, but I guess this is good. Frus­tra­tion often leads to new insights. There­fore, although this may not sound as a rec­om­men­da­tion, I would say MoMo is an event worth vis­it­ing for any design­er inter­est­ed in mobil­i­ty. It will remind you that in this indus­try, many ideas you take for grant­ed are far from accept­ed.

I thought I’d share some thoughts con­cern­ing the salient points of the evening.

Context

Con­text was often equat­ed with loca­tion. To me, these two are far from the same. Loca­tion is, at best, a com­po­nent of con­text, which also involves what peo­ple are doing, who else is there, what objects are present, etc. But, more impor­tant­ly: Con­text aris­es from inter­ac­tions, it is rela­tion­al and there­fore can­not be objec­ti­fied. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Adam Green­field has post­ed some valu­able insights on this top­ic.

As an exam­ple, con­sid­er a per­son present in the White House, in the pos­ses­sion of a firearm, in clear sight of the pres­i­dent. The mean­ing of this sit­u­a­tion (i.e. the con­text) depends com­plete­ly on who this per­son is and what his moti­va­tions are. He might be work­ing (body­guard­ing the pres­i­dent), he might be at war (mak­ing an attempt at the president’s life) or he might be play­ing around (the gun isn’t real, he’s the president’s son).

Any­way — I sub­scribe to the view that we should not attempt to guess con­text, the above exam­ple has hope­ful­ly shown that this is an impos­si­ble task. (At least, as long as we can­not reli­ably read the minds of peo­ple.) In stead, we should ‘lim­it’ our­selves to giv­ing places, things, etc. a voice in the con­ver­sa­tion (mak­ing them self-describ­ing, and account­able) and hav­ing con­text arise those voic­es, as deter­mined by the peo­ple involved.

Open source

Ajit Jaokar posit­ed that open source mobile soft­ware (such as Android) will lead to new device man­u­fac­tur­ers enter­ing the are­na. The anal­o­gy was made to the PC indus­try with the emer­gence of white-label box­es. I won­der though, for this to tru­ly hap­pen, shouldn’t the hard­ware be open-sourced too, not (just) the soft­ware?

In any case, I think hav­ing more hand­set man­u­fac­tur­ers is won­der­ful. Not in the least for the fact that it will open the door for a more diverse offer­ing, one poten­tial­ly tai­lored to regions so far under-served by device man­u­fac­tur­ers. Which brings me to my next point.

Local, global, diversity, relevance…

Sev­er­al speak­ers allud­ed to the fact that mobile is a glob­al mar­ket, and that busi­ness­es shouldn’t be shy about launch­ing world-wide. I see sev­er­al issues with this. First of all, with­out want­i­ng to sound too anti-glob­al­is­tic, do we real­ly want to con­tin­ue on mak­ing stuff that is the same no mat­ter where you go? I find diver­si­ty a vital stim­u­lus in my life and would hate to see soft­ware expe­ri­ences become more and more the same the world over.

Let’s in stead con­sid­er the fol­low­ing: A ser­vice that might make per­fect sense in one locale very like­ly does not offer any dis­tinc­tive val­ue in anoth­er. I think the exam­ple of the now defunct Skoeps1, which was dis­cussed at the event, illus­trates this per­fect­ly. It did not work in the Dutch mar­ket, but offers real val­ue in ‘devel­op­ing’ coun­tries, where the amount of video crews on the ground is lim­it­ed and images cap­tured by locals using mobile phones are there­fore a wel­come addi­tion to the ‘offi­cial’ cov­er­age.

Context redux

Which brings me back to the ques­tion of con­text, but in this case, the role it plays not as a com­po­nent of a ser­vice, but in the design and devel­op­ment process itself. I was sad to see the most impor­tant point of Rachel Hin­man’s video mes­sage go unno­ticed (at least, judg­ing from the fact that it was not dis­cussed at all). She said that start­ing point for any new ser­vice should be to go out “into the wild” and observe what peo­ple are doing, what they want, what they need, what they enjoy and so on.2 From this real and deep under­stand­ing of people’s con­texts, you can start mak­ing mean­ing­ful choic­es that will help you cre­ate some­thing that offers true val­ue.

It was this notion of start­ing from people’s con­text that I found most lack­ing at MoMo AMS. Besides Hin­man, I was sur­prised to find only Yme Bosma of Hyves3 allud­ing to it. Who’d have thought?

  1. Skoeps — pro­nounced “scoops” — was a social video site focused on cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism. It went out of busi­ness because not enough “users” were “gen­er­at­ing con­tent”. Ugh. []
  2. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Hin­man works at Adap­tive Path. Athough I very much agree with her presentation’s premise, I felt her exam­ple was a bit disin­gen­u­ous. I find it hard to believe Apple designed iTunes to fit the mix­tape usage sce­nario. This, I think, is more of a hap­py coin­ci­dence than any­thing else. []
  3. Hyves is the biggest social net­work­ing site of the Nether­lands. []

Playing with emergence is like gardening

It’s been a while since I fin­ished read­ing Steven Berlin John­son’s Emer­gence. I picked up the book because ever since I start­ed think­ing about what IxDs can learn from game design, the con­cept of emer­gence kept pop­ping up.

Johnson’s book is a pleas­ant read, an easy-going intro­duc­tion to the sub­ject. I start­ed and fin­ished it over the course of a week­end. There were a few pas­sages I marked as I went a long, and I’d like to quote them here and com­ment on them. In order, they are about:

  1. Prin­ci­ples that are required for emer­gence to hap­pen
  2. How learn­ing can be uncon­scious
  3. Unique skills of game play­ers
  4. Gar­den­ing as a metaphor for using (and mak­ing) emer­gent sys­tems

A cheat sheet

Let’s start with the prin­ci­ples.1

If you’re build­ing a sys­tem designed to learn from the ground lev­el, a sys­tem where macroin­tel­li­gence and adapt­abil­i­ty derive from local knowl­edge, there are five fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples you need to fol­low.”

These prin­ci­ples togeth­er form a use­ful crib sheet for design­ers work­ing on social soft­ware, MMOGs, etc. I’ll sum­marise each of Johnson’s prin­ci­ples here.

More is dif­fer­ent.”

You need to have a size­able amount of low-lev­el ele­ments inter­act­ing to get pat­terns emerg­ing. Also, there is a dif­fer­ence between the behav­iour you will observe on the microlev­el, and on the macrolev­el. You need to be aware of both.

Igno­rance is use­ful.”

The sim­ple ele­ments don’t have to be aware of the high­er-lev­el order. In fact, it’s best if they aren’t. Oth­er­wise nasty feed­back-loops might come into being.

Encour­age ran­dom encoun­ters.”

You need chance hap­pen­ings for the sys­tem to be able to learn and adapt.2

Look for pat­terns in the signs.”

Sim­ply put, the basic ele­ments can have a sim­ple vocab­u­lary, but should be able to recog­nise pat­terns. So although you might be work­ing with only one sig­nal, things such as fre­quen­cy and inten­si­ty should be used to make a range of mean­ings.

Pay atten­tion to your neigh­bours.”

There must be as much inter­ac­tion between the com­po­nents as pos­si­ble. They should be made con­stant­ly aware of each oth­er.

Now with these prin­ci­ples in mind look at sys­tems that suc­cess­ful­ly lever­age col­lec­tive intel­li­gence. Look at Flickr for instance. They are all present.

Chicken pox

I liked the fol­low­ing pas­sage because it seems to offer a nice metaphor for what I think is the unique kind of learn­ing that hap­pens while play­ing. In a way, games and toys are like chick­en pox.3

[…] learn­ing is not always con­tin­gent on con­scious­ness. […] Most of us have devel­oped immu­ni­ty to the vari­cel­la-zoster virus—also known as chick­en pox—based on our expo­sure to it ear­ly in child­hood. The immu­ni­ty is a learn­ing process: the anti­bod­ies of our immune sys­tem learn to neu­tral­ize the anti­gens of the virus, and they remem­ber those neu­tral­iza­tion strate­gies for the rest of our lives. […] Those anti­bod­ies func­tion as a “recog­ni­tion sys­tem,” in Ger­ald Edelman’s phrase, suc­cess­ful­ly attack­ing the virus and stor­ing the infor­ma­tion about it, then recall­ing that infor­ma­tion the next time the virus comes across the radar. […] the recog­ni­tion unfolds pure­ly on a cel­lu­lar lev­el: we are not aware of the vari­cel­la-zoster virus in any sense of the word, […] The body learns with­out con­scious­ness, and so do cities, because learn­ing is not just about being aware of infor­ma­tion; it’s also about stor­ing infor­ma­tion and know­ing where to find it. […] It’s about alter­ing a system’s behav­iour in response to those pat­terns in ways that make the sys­tem more suc­cess­ful at what­ev­er goal it’s pur­su­ing. The sys­tem need not be con­scious to be capa­ble of that kind of learn­ing.

Empha­sis on the last sen­tence mine, by the way.

Patience

John­son writes about his impres­sion of chil­dren play­ing video games:4

[…] they are more tol­er­ant of being out of con­trol, more tol­er­ant of that explorato­ry phase where the rules don’t all make sense, and where few goals have been clear­ly defined.”

This atti­tude is very valu­able in today’s increas­ing­ly com­plex world. It should be fos­tered and lever­aged in areas besides gam­ing too, IMHO. This point was at the core of my Play­ing With Com­plex­i­ty talk.

Gardening

Inter­act­ing with emer­gent soft­ware is already more like grow­ing a gar­den than dri­ving a car or read­ing a book.”5

Yet, we still tend to approach the design of sys­tems like this from a tra­di­tion of mak­ing tools (cars) or media (books). I not only believe that the use of sys­tems like this is like gar­den­ing, but also their cre­ation. Per­haps they lie in each other’s exten­sion, are part of one nev­er-end­ing cycle? In any case, when design­ing com­plex sys­tems, you need to work with it “live”. Plant some seeds, observe, prune, weed, plant some more, etc.

I am going to keep a gar­den (on my bal­cony). I’m pret­ty sure that will teach me more about inter­ac­tion design than build­ing cars or writ­ing books.

  1. The fol­low­ing quotes are tak­en from pages 77–79. []
  2. This reminds me of Nas­sim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, where­in he writes about max­imis­ing your chance of hav­ing serendip­i­tous encoun­ters. []
  3. Tak­en from pages 103–104. []
  4. Page 177. []
  5. Page 207. []

A day of playing around with multi-touch and RoomWare

Last Sat­ur­day I attend­ed a RoomWare work­shop. The peo­ple of Can­Touch were there too, and brought one of their pro­to­type mul­ti-touch tables. The aim for the day was to come up with appli­ca­tions of RoomWare (open source soft­ware that can sense pres­ence of peo­ple in spaces) and mul­ti-touch. I attend­ed pri­mar­i­ly because it was a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend a day mess­ing around with a table.

Atten­dance was mul­ti­fac­eted, so while pro­gram­mers were putting togeth­er a proof-of-con­cept, design­ers (such as Alexan­der Zeh, James Burke and I) came up with con­cepts for new inter­ac­tions. The proof-of-con­cept was up and run­ning at the end of then day: The table could sense who was in the room and dis­play his or her Flickr pho­tos, which you could then move around, scale, rotate, etc. in the typ­i­cal mul­ti-touch fash­ion.

The con­cepts design­ers came up with main­ly focused on pulling in Last.fm data (again using RoomWare’s sens­ing capa­bil­i­ties) and dis­play­ing it for group-based explo­ration. Here’s a sto­ry­board I quick­ly whipped up of one such appli­ca­tion:

RoomWare + CanTouch + Last.fm

The sto­ry­board shows how you can add your­self from a list of peo­ple present in the room. Your top artists flock around you. When more peo­ple are added, lines are drawn between you. The thick­ness of the line rep­re­sents how sim­i­lar your tastes are, accord­ing to Last.fm’s taste-o-meter. Also, shared top artists flock in such a way as to be clos­est to all relat­ed peo­ple. Final­ly, artists can be act­ed on to lis­ten to music.

When I was sketch­ing this, it became appar­ent that ori­en­ta­tion of ele­ments should fol­low very dif­fer­ent rules from reg­u­lar screens. I chose to sketch things so that they all point out­wards, with the mid­dle of the table as the ori­en­ta­tion point.

By spend­ing a day immersed in mul­ti-touch stuff, some inter­est­ing design chal­lenges became appar­ent:

  • With table­top sur­faces, stuff is clos­er or fur­ther away phys­i­cal­ly. Prox­im­i­ty of ele­ments can be unin­ten­tion­al­ly inter­pret­ed as say­ing some­thing about aspects such as impor­tance, rel­e­vance, etc. Design­ers need to be even more aware of place­ment than before, plus con­ven­tions from ver­ti­cal­ly ori­ent­ed screens no longer apply. Top-of-screen becomes fur­thest away and there­fore least promi­nent in stead of most impor­tant.
  • With group-based inter­ac­tions, it becomes tricky to deter­mine who to address and where to address him or her. Some­times the sys­tem should address the group as a whole. When 5 peo­ple are stand­ing around a table, text-based inter­faces become prob­lem­at­ic since what is leg­i­ble from one end of the table is unin­tel­li­gi­ble from the oth­er. New con­ven­tions need to be devel­oped for this as well. Alexan­der and I phi­los­o­phized about plac­ing text along cir­cles and ani­mat­ing them so that they cir­cu­late around the table, for instance.
  • Besides these, many oth­er inter­face chal­lenges present them­selves. One cru­cial piece of infor­ma­tion for solv­ing many of these is know­ing where peo­ple are locat­ed around the table. This issue can be approached from dif­fer­ent angles. By incor­po­rat­ing sen­sors in the table, detec­tion may be auto­mat­ed and inter­faces could me made to adapt auto­mat­i­cal­ly. This is the tech­no-cen­tric angle. I am not con­vinced this is the way to go, because it dimin­ish­es people’s con­trol over the expe­ri­ence. I would pre­fer to make the inter­face itself adjustable in nat­ur­al ways, so that peo­ple can mold the rep­re­sen­ta­tion to suit their con­text. With sit­u­at­ed tech­nolo­gies like this, auto-mag­i­cal adap­ta­tion is an “AI-hard” prob­lem, and the price of fail­ure is a severe­ly degrad­ed user expe­ri­ence from which peo­ple can­not recov­er because the sys­tem won’t let them.

All in all the work­shop was a won­der­ful day of tin­ker­ing with like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als from rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds. As a design­er, I think this is one of the best way be involved with open source projects. On a day like this, tech­nol­o­gists can be exposed to new inter­ac­tion con­cepts while they are hack­ing away. At the same time design­ers get that rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to play around with tech­nol­o­gy as it is shaped. Quick-and-dirty sketch­es like the ones Alexan­der and I came up with are def­i­nite­ly the way to com­mu­ni­cate ideas. The goal is to sug­gest, not to describe, after all. Tech­nol­o­gists should feel free to elab­o­rate and build on what design­ers come up with and vice-ver­sa. I am curi­ous to see which parts of what we came up with will find their way into future RoomWare projects.

Embodied interaction and improvised information displays

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:

Tracing of a photo of an improvised information display in a hospital neonatology ward consisting of a whiteboard, magnets, stickers and writing

(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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. Page 169 []
  2. Page 170 []

Playing With Complexity — slides and notes for my NLGD Festival of Games talk

When the NLGD Foun­da­tion invit­ed me to speak at their anu­al Fes­ti­val of Games I asked them what they would like me to dis­cuss. “Any­thing you like,” was what they said, essen­tial­ly. I decid­ed to sub­mit an abstract deal­ing with data visu­al­iza­tion. I had been pay­ing more and more atten­tion to this field, but was unsuc­cess­ful in relat­ing it the oth­er themes run­ning through my work, most notably play. So I thought I’d force myself to tack­le this issue by promis­ing to speak about it. Often a good strat­e­gy, I’ve found. If it worked out this time I leave for you to judge.

In brief, in the pre­sen­ta­tion I argue two things: one — that the more sophis­ti­cat­ed appli­ca­tions of inter­ac­tive data visu­al­iza­tion resem­ble games and toys in many ways, and two — that game design can con­tribute to the solu­tions to sev­er­al design issues I have detect­ed in the field of data visu­al­iza­tion.

Below are the notes for the talk, slight­ly edit­ed, and with ref­er­ences includ­ed. The full deck of slides, which includes cred­its for all the images used, is up on SlideShare.

Hel­lo every­one, my name is Kars Alfrink. I am a Dutch inter­ac­tion design­er and I work free­lance. At the moment I work in Copen­hagen, but pret­ty soon I will be back here in Utrecht, my love­ly home­town.

In my work I focus on three areas: mobil­i­ty, social inter­ac­tions, and play. Here is an exam­ple of my work: These are sto­ry­boards that explore pos­si­ble appli­ca­tions of mul­ti­touch tech­nol­o­gy in a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. Using these tech­nolo­gies I tried to com­pen­sate for the neg­a­tive effects a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty has on the build-up of social cap­i­tal. I also tried to bal­ance ‘being-in-the-screen’ with ‘being-in-the-world’ — mul­ti­touch tech­nolo­gies tend to be very atten­tion-absorb­ing, but in built envi­ron­ments this is often not desir­able.1

I am not going to talk about mul­ti­touch though. Today’s top­ic is data visu­al­iza­tion and what oppor­tu­ni­ties there are for game design­ers in that field. My talk is rough­ly divid­ed in three parts. First, I will briefly describe what I think data visu­al­iza­tion is. Next, I will look at some appli­ca­tions beyond the very obvi­ous. Third and last, I will dis­cuss some design issues involved with data visu­al­iza­tion. For each of these issues, I will show how game design can con­tribute.

Right, let’s get start­ed.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Play­ing With Com­plex­i­ty — slides and notes for my NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games talk

  1. For more back­ground on this project please see this old­er blog post. More exam­ples of my recent work can be found in my port­fo­lio. []

Slides and summary for ‘More Than Useful’

Update: The video and slides are now avail­able on the con­fer­ence site.

The con­fer­ence From Busi­ness to But­tons 2008 aimed to bring togeth­er the worlds of busi­ness and inter­ac­tion design. I was there to share my thoughts on the applic­a­bil­i­ty of game design con­cepts to inter­ac­tion design. You’ll find my slides and a sum­ma­ry of my argu­ment below.

I real­ly enjoyed attend­ing this con­fer­ence. I met a bunch of new and inter­est­ing peo­ple and got to hang out with some ‘old’ friends. Many thanks to InUse for invit­ing me.

Diagram summarizing my FBTB 2008 talk

The top­ic is pret­ty broad so I decid­ed to nar­row things down to a class of prod­uct that is oth­er-than-every­day — mean­ing both wide and deep in scope. Using Norman’s The Design of Every­day Things as a start­ing point, I want­ed to show that these prod­ucts require a high lev­el of explorabil­i­ty that is remark­ably sim­i­lar to play. After briefly exam­in­ing the phe­nom­e­non of play itself I moved on to show appli­ca­tions of this under­stand­ing to two types of prod­uct: cus­tomiz­able & per­son­al­iz­able ones, and adap­tive ones.

For the for­mer, I dis­cussed how game design frame­works such as MDA can help with sculpt­ing the para­me­ter space, using ‘expe­ri­ence’ as the start­ing point. I also looked at how games sup­port play­ers in shar­ing sto­ries and spec­u­lat­ed about ways this can be trans­lat­ed to both dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal prod­ucts.

For the lat­ter — adap­tive prod­ucts — I focussed on the ways in which they induce flow and how they can rec­om­mend stuff to peo­ple. With adap­ta­tion, design­ers need to for­mu­late rules. This can be done using tech­niques from game design, such as Daniel Cook’s skill chains. Suc­cess­ful rules-based design can only hap­pen in an iter­a­tive envi­ron­ment using lots of sketch­ing.

The pre­sen­ta­tion was framed by a slight­ly philo­soph­i­cal look at how cer­tain games sub­lim­i­nal­ly acti­vate cog­ni­tive process­es and could thus be used to allow for new insights. I used Break­out and Por­tal as exam­ples of this. I am con­vinced there is an emerg­ing field of play­ful prod­ucts that inter­ac­tion design­ers should get involved with.

Sources ref­er­enced in this pre­sen­ta­tion:1

As usu­al, many thanks to all the Flickr pho­tog­ra­phers who’ve shared their images under a CC license. I’ve linked to the orig­i­nals from the slides. Any image not linked to is prob­a­bly mine.

  1. Most of these are offline books or papers, those that aren’t have been hyper­linked to their source. []

Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a tran­script of my pre­sen­ta­tion at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty in Ams­ter­dam on 22 May. Since the major­i­ty of pay­ing atten­dees were local I pre­sent­ed in Dutch. How­ev­er, Eng­lish appears to be the lin­gua fran­ca of the inter­net, so here I offer a trans­la­tion. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video record­ing of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the pre­sen­ta­tion to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for record­ing this.

In 1966 a num­ber of mem­bers of Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam car­ry­ing blank ban­ners. Pro­vo was a non­vi­o­lent anar­chist move­ment. They pri­mar­i­ly occu­pied them­selves with pro­vok­ing the author­i­ties in a “ludic” man­ner. Noth­ing was writ­ten on their ban­ners because the may­or of Ams­ter­dam had banned the slo­gans “free­dom of speech”, “democ­ra­cy” and “right to demon­strate”. Regard­less, the mem­bers were arrest­ed by police, show­ing that the author­i­ties did not respect their right to demon­strate.1

Good after­noon every­one, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. Today I’d like to talk about play in pub­lic space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing in the city new forms of play will be made pos­si­ble. The tech­nolo­gies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gib­son writes in Burn­ing Chrome:

…the street finds its own uses for things”

For exam­ple: Skate­board­ing as we now know it — with its empha­sis on aer­i­al acro­bat­ics — start­ed in emp­ty pools like this one. That was done with­out per­mis­sion, of course…

Only lat­er half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘ver­ti­cal’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skate­board­ing is tol­er­at­ed. Skate­board­ing would not be what it is today with­out those first few emp­ty pools.2

Con­tin­ue read­ing Urban pro­ce­dur­al rhetorics — tran­script of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The web­site of Gram­schap con­tains a chronol­o­gy of the Pro­vo move­ment in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emer­gence of the ver­ti­cal style of skate­board­ing see the doc­u­men­tary film Dog­town and Z-Boys. []