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. []