What the hubbub is

There’s some move­ment over at the web­site for my new ven­ture. I men­tioned Hub­bub before: it is a design stu­dio I am set­ting up for phys­i­cal, social games that are played in pub­lic places. We hope to address social issues and the like using these games.

Recent­ly…

Today's harvest

Also, we’ll be doing some­thing play­ful and run­ning a work­shop at the upcom­ing Game in the City con­fer­ence in Amers­foort.

To stay post­ed on Hub­bub devel­op­ments, fol­low us on Twit­ter or sign up for our newslet­ter. There’s good old RSS as well, of course.

Buildings and Brains at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP)

It’s been a few weeks since I pre­sent­ed at the Nijmegen Design Plat­form (NOP), but I thought it would still be use­ful to post a sum­ma­ry of what I talked about here.

Update: it took me a while, but the slides that accom­pa­nied this talk are now up at SlideShare.

A lit­tle con­text: The NOP run fre­quent events for design­ers in the region. These design­ers most­ly work in more tra­di­tion­al domains such as graph­ic, fash­ion and indus­tri­al design. NOP asked Jeroen van Mas­trigt — a friend and occa­sion­al col­league of mine — to talk about games at one of their events. Jeroen in turn asked me to play Robin to his Bat­man, I would fol­low up his epic romp through game design the­o­ry with a brief look at per­va­sive games. This of course was an offer I could not refuse. The event was held at a love­ly loca­tion (the huge art-house cin­e­ma LUX) and was attend­ed by a healthy-sized crowd. Kudos to the NOP for orga­niz­ing it and many thanks to them (and Jeroen) for invit­ing me.

So, what I tried to do in the talk was to first give a sense of what per­va­sive games are, what char­ac­ter­izes them. I drew from the Hide & Seek web­site for the list of char­ac­ter­is­tics and used The Soho Project as a run­ning exam­ple through­out this part. I also tied the char­ac­ter­is­tics to some the­o­ry I found inter­est­ing:

  • Mix­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy with real world play — I empha­sized that ulti­mate­ly, tech­nol­o­gy is but a means to an end. At Inter­ac­tion ‘09 Robert Fab­ri­cant said the medi­um of inter­ac­tion design is human behav­ior. I think the same holds true for the design of per­va­sive games.
  • Social inter­ac­tionRaph Koster once said sin­gle play­er games are a his­tor­i­cal aber­ra­tion. It is clear much of the fun in per­va­sive games is social. In a way I think they bridge the gap between the “old” board games and con­tem­po­rary video games.
  • Using the city as a play­ground — Here I could not resist bring­ing in Jane Jacob’s notions of the city as an enti­ty that is organ­ised from the bot­tom up and Kevin Lynch’s work on the men­tal maps we cre­ate of cities as we move through them. Cities play a vital role in facil­i­tat­ing the play of per­va­sive games. At best they are the main pro­tag­o­nist of them.
  • Trans­form­ing pub­lic spaces into the­atri­cal stage­sets — This is relat­ed to the pre­vi­ous one, but here I made a side­step into the embod­ied nature of play­er inter­ac­tions in per­va­sive games and how embod­i­ment facil­i­tates read­ing at a dis­tance of such actions. In a sense, the social fun of embod­ied play is due to its per­for­ma­tive qual­i­ty.

After this, I tried to show why design­ers out­side the domain of games should care about per­va­sive games. This I did by talk­ing about ways they can be used for pur­pos­es oth­er than ‘mere’ enter­tain­ment. These were:

  • Enlarg­ing per­ceived real­i­ty; you can cre­ate games that play with the way we cus­tom­ar­i­ly per­ceive real­i­ty. This was inspired by the talk Kevin Slavin of Area/Code deliv­ered at MIND08. Exam­ples I used were Cross­roads and The Com­fort of Strangers.
  • Chang­ing human behav­ior for the bet­ter; think of the Toy­ota Prius dashboard’s effect on people’s dri­ving behav­ior. Exam­ples of games that use feed­back loops to steer us towards desir­able goals are Cryp­to­Zoo and FourSquare.
  • Crowd­sourc­ing solu­tions; games can sim­u­late pos­si­ble futures and chal­lenge play­ers to respond to their prob­lems. Here I used Jane McGo­ni­gal’s ideas around col­lec­tive intel­li­gence gam­ing. The exam­ple game I talked about was World With­out Oil.
  • Con­vey­ing argu­ments pro­ce­du­ral­ly; Ian Bogost’s con­cept of pro­ce­dur­al rhetoric isn’t spe­cif­ic to per­va­sive games, but I think the way they get mixed up with every­day life make them par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive chan­nels for com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas. I used The Go Game, Cru­el 2B Kind and Join the Line1 as exam­ples.

By talk­ing about these things I hoped to pro­vide a link to the audience’s own design prac­tice. They may not deal with games, but they sure­ly deal with com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas and chang­ing people’s behav­ior. Come to think of it though, I was doing a very old media style pre­sen­ta­tion in attempt to achieve the same… Oh well.

  1. Join the Line is a game stu­dents con­cep­tu­al­ized dur­ing a work­shop I ran. []

This pervasive games workshop I ran at this conference

A few things I got peo­ple to do at this year’s NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games:

Paper sword fight

Fight each oth­er with paper swords…

Hunting for a frisbee with lunch-boxes on their heads

…and run around with lunch-box­es on their heads.1

This was all part of a work­shop I ran, titled ‘Play­ful Tin­ker­ing’. The mys­te­ri­ous Mink ette — who amongst many things is a design­er at Six to Start — and I got peo­ple to rapid­ly pro­to­type per­va­sive games that were be played at the con­fer­ence venue the day after. The best game won a mag­nif­i­cent tro­phy shaped like a spring rid­er.

Some exer­cis­es we did dur­ing the work­shop:

  • Play a name game Mink ette had made up short­ly before the work­shop in no time at all. This is good for sev­er­al things: phys­i­cal warm-up, break­ing the ice, demon­strate the kinds of games the ses­sion is about.
  • Walk around the room and write down imag­i­nary game titles as well as names of games you used to play as a child. Good for emp­ty­ing heads and warm­ing up men­tal­ly.
  • Walk around again, pick a post-it that intrigues you. Then guess what the game is about, and have oth­ers to fill in the blanks where need. Then play the game. This is most­ly just for fun. (Noth­ing wrong with that.)
  • Analyse the games, break them up into their basic parts. Change one of those parts and play the game again. See what effect the change has. This is to get a sense of what games design is about, and how chang­ing a rule impacts the play­er expe­ri­ence.

Participants brainstorming game ideas

Par­tic­i­pants brain­storm­ing game ideas

Peo­ple then formed groups and worked on an orig­i­nal game. We pushed them to rapid­ly gen­er­ate a first rule­set that could be playtest­ed with the oth­er groups. After this they did anoth­er design sprint, and playtest­ed again out­side the room, “in the wild”. All of this in less than four hours. Whew!

The games that were made:

  • A game that involved hunt­ing for peo­ple that matched the descrip­tions on post-its that were hid­den around the venue. You first need­ed to find a post-it, then find the per­son that matched the descrip­tion on it and final­ly take a pho­to of them for points. This game was so quick to play it already ran at the par­ty, hours after the work­shop fin­ished.
  • Crowd Con­trol’ — com­pete with oth­er play­ers to get the largest per­cent­age of a group of peo­ple to do what you are doing (like nod­ding your head). This game won the tro­phy, in part because of the fero­cious play­er recruit­ment style the run­ners employed dur­ing the playtest.
  • A sail­ing game, where you tried to maneu­ver an imag­i­nary boat from one end of a space to the oth­er. Your move­ment was con­strained by the “wind”, which was a func­tion of the amount of peo­ple on either side of your boat. It fea­tured an ingen­u­ous mea­sur­ing mechan­ic which used an impro­vised rope made from a torn up con­fer­ence tote bag.
  • The lunch­box thing was impro­vised dur­ing the lunch before the playtest. A stu­dent also brought in a game he was work­ing on for his grad­u­a­tion to playtest.

We set up the playtest itself as fol­lows:

The room was open to any­one pass­ing by. Each game got their own sta­tion where they could recruit play­ers, explain the rules, keep score, etc. Mink ette and I hand­ed each play­er a red, blue and yel­low tid­dly­wink. They could use this to vote on their favorite game in three sep­a­rate cat­e­gories, by hand­ing the run­ners a tid­dly­wink. Peo­ple could play more than once, and vote as often as they liked. We also kept track of how much play­ers each game got. We hand­ed out prizes to win­ners in the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories (a lucky dip box loaded with piña­ta fillers). The most played game got the grand prize — the spring rid­er tro­phy I cre­at­ed with help from my sis­ter and fab­ri­cat­ed at the local fablab.2

The spring rider trophy and tiddlywinks all set for the playtest

Spring rid­er tro­phy and tid­dly­winks ready for some playtest­ing action

It was a plea­sure to have the elu­sive Mink ette over for the ride. I loved the way she explained what per­va­sive games were all about — being able to play any­time, any­where with any­thing. I was also impressed with the way she man­aged to get peo­ple to do strange things with­out think­ing twice.

We had a very ded­i­cat­ed group of par­tic­i­pants, most of whom stuck around for the whole ses­sion and returned again for the playtest the next day. I’m very grate­ful for their enthu­si­asm. The whole expe­ri­ence was very reward­ing, I’m keen on doing this more often at events and apply­ing what I learnt to the work­shops I run as part of my own games design prac­tice.

Happy, happy winners!

Hap­py win­ners of the spring rid­er tro­phy flanked by Mink ette and yours tru­ly

  1. May­hem ini­ti­at­ed by Evert and Marin­ka. []
  2. I still need to write up the process of the trophy’s cre­ation. []

Storyboarding multi-touch interactions

I think it was around half a year ago that I wrote “UX design­ers should get into every­ware”. Back then I did not expect to be part of a ubi­comp project any­time soon. But here I am now, writ­ing about work I did in the area of mul­ti-touch inter­faces.

Background

The peo­ple at InUse (Sweden’s pre­mier inter­ac­tion design con­sul­tan­cy firm) asked me to assist them with visu­al­is­ing poten­tial uses of mul­ti-touch tech­nol­o­gy in the con­text of a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. That’s right—an actu­al real-world phys­i­cal real-estate devel­op­ment project. How cool is that?

InUse storyboard 1

This res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ty is aimed at well-to-do seniors. As with most gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties, it offers them con­ve­nience, secu­ri­ty and pres­tige. You might shud­der at the thought of liv­ing in one of these places (I know I have my reser­va­tions) but there’s not much use in judg­ing peo­ple want­i­ng to do so. Planned ameni­ties include sports facil­i­ties, fine din­ing, onsite med­ical care, a cin­e­ma and on and on…

Social capital

One of the known issues with these ‘com­mu­ni­ties’ is that there’s not much evi­dence of social cap­i­tal being high­er there than in any reg­u­lar neigh­bour­hood. In fact some have argued that the glob­al trend of gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties is detri­men­tal to the build-up of social cap­i­tal in their sur­round­ings. They throw up phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers that pre­vent free inter­ac­tion of peo­ple. These are some of the things I tried to address: To see if we could sup­port the emer­gence of com­mu­ni­ty inside the res­i­den­cy using social tools while at the same coun­ter­act­ing phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers to the out­side world with “vir­tu­al inroads” that allow for free inter­ac­tion between res­i­dents and peo­ple in the periph­ery.

Being in the world

Anoth­er con­cern I tried to address is the dif­fer­ent ways mul­ti-touch inter­faces can play a role in the lives of peo­ple. Recent­ly Matt Jones addressed this in a post on the iPhone and Nokia’s upcom­ing mul­ti-touch phones. In a com­mu­ni­ty like the one I was design­ing for, the worst thing I could do is make every instance of mul­ti-touch tech­nol­o­gy an atten­tion-grab­bing pres­ence demand­ing full immer­sion from its user. In many cas­es ‘my’ users would be bet­ter served with them behav­ing in an unob­tru­sive way, allow­ing almost uncon­scious use. In oth­er words: I tried to bal­ance being in the world with being in the screen—apply­ing each par­a­digm based on how appro­pri­ate it was giv­en the user’s con­text. (After all, some­times peo­ple want or even need to be immersed.)

Process

InUse had already pre­pared sev­er­al per­sonas rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the future res­i­dents of the com­mu­ni­ty. We went through those togeth­er and exam­ined each for sce­nar­ios that would make good can­di­dates for sto­ry­board­ing. We want­ed to come up with a range of sce­nar­ios that not only showed how these per­sonas could be sup­port­ed with mul­ti-touch inter­faces, but also illus­trate the dif­fer­ent spaces the inter­ac­tions could take place in (pri­vate, semi­pri­vate and pub­lic) and the scales at which the tech­nol­o­gy can oper­ate (from small key-like tokens to full wall-screens).

InUse storyboard 2

I draft­ed each sce­nario as a tex­tu­al out­line and sketched the poten­tial sto­ry­boards on thumb­nail size. We went over those in a sec­ond work­shop and refined them—making adjust­ments to bet­ter cov­er the con­cerns out­lined above as well as improv­ing clar­i­ty. We want­ed to end up with a set of sto­ry­boards that could be used in a pre­sen­ta­tion for the client (the real-estate devel­op­ment firm) so we need­ed to bal­ance user goals with busi­ness objec­tives. To that end we thought about and includ­ed exam­ples of API-like inte­gra­tion of the plat­form with ser­vice providers in the periph­ery of the com­mu­ni­ty. We also tried to cre­ate self-ser­vice expe­ri­ences that would feel like being wait­ed on by a per­son­al but­ler.

Outcome

I end­ed up draw­ing three sce­nar­ios of around 9 pan­els each, digi­tis­ing and clean­ing them up on my Mac. Each sce­nario intro­duces a per­sona, the phys­i­cal con­text of the inter­ac­tion and the persona’s moti­va­tion that dri­ves him to engage with the tech­nol­o­gy. The inter­ac­tions visu­alised are a mix of ges­tures and engage­ments with mul­ti-touch screens of dif­fer­ent sizes. Usu­al­ly the per­sona is sup­port­ed in some way by a social dimension—fostering serendip­i­ty and emer­gence of real rela­tions.

InUse storyboard 3

All in all I have to say I am pret­ty pleased with the result of this short but sweet engage­ment. Col­lab­o­ra­tion with the peo­ple of InUse was smooth (as was expect­ed, since we are very much the same kind of ani­mal) and there will be fol­low-up work­shops with the client. It remains to be seen how much of this mul­ti-touch stuff will find its way into the final gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. That as always will depend on what makes busi­ness sense.

In any case it was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for me to immerse myself ful­ly in the inter­re­lat­ed top­ics of mul­ti-touch, ges­ture, urban­ism and social­i­ty. And final­ly, it gave me the per­fect excuse to sit down and do lots and lots of draw­ings.

Tangible — first of five IA Summit 2007 themes

I’ll be post­ing a top 5 of the themes I noticed dur­ing the past 2007 IA Sum­mit in Las Vegas. It’s a lit­tle late maybe, but hope­ful­ly still offers some val­ue. Here are the 5 themes. My thoughts on the first one (tan­gi­ble) are below the list:

  1. Tan­gi­ble (this post)
  2. Social
  3. Web of data
  4. Strat­e­gy
  5. Inter­face design

1. Tangible

The IA com­mu­ni­ty is mak­ing a strange dance around the top­ic of design for phys­i­cal spaces and objects. On the one hand IAs seem reluc­tant to move away from the web, on the oth­er hand they seem very curi­ous about what val­ue they can bring to the table when design­ing build­ings, appli­ances, etc.

The open­ing keynote was deliv­ered by Joshua Prince-Ramus, of REX (notes by Rob Fay and Jen­nifer Keach). He made some inter­est­ing points about how ‘real’ archi­tects are strug­gling with includ­ing infor­ma­tion­al con­cerns in their prac­tice. Michele Tep­per, a design­er at Frog talked us through the cre­ation of a spe­cial­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tions device for day traders where indus­tri­al design, inter­ac­tion design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture went hand in hand.

More to come!

Albert Heijn RFID epiphany

I was stand­ing in line at the local Albert Hei­jn1 the oth­er day and had a futurist’s ‘epiphany’. I had three items in my bas­ket. The cou­ple in front of me had a shop­ping cart full of stuff. I had an emp­ty stom­ach and was tired from a long day’s work. They were tak­ing their time plac­ing their items on the short con­vey­or belt. The cashier took her time scan­ning each indi­vid­ual item. The cou­ple had a lot of stuff and only a few bags to put their stuff in. Did I men­tion this was tak­ing a looong time?

I wasn’t being impa­tient though, I used the time to let my thoughts wan­der. For some rea­son my asso­cia­tive brain became occu­pied with RFID. Many of the items in the Albert Hei­jn shelves have RFID tags in them already. They use those to track inven­to­ry. Soon, all of the items will be tagged with these chips. That’ll make it easy to restock stuff. But it occurred to me that it might make the sit­u­a­tion I was in at that moment (stand­ing there wait­ing for a large amount of items to be moved from a cart, scanned and packed in bags to be placed back in the cart again) his­to­ry.

Imag­ine dri­ving your over­flow­ing shop­ping cart through a stall and hav­ing all the items read simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. If you’d want­ed to get rid of the friend­ly cashier you could put auto­mat­ic gates on the cash reg­is­ter and have them open once all items were paid for (by old-fash­ioned deb­it or cred­it card or new­fan­gled RFID enabled pay­ment token). Walk up to the gate, swipe your token past a read­er and have the gate open, no mat­ter how many items you have with you.

No more check­ing the receipt for items that were mis­tak­en­ly scanned twice (or not scanned at all, if you’re that hon­est). No more wait­ing for peo­ple with too many stuff in their cart that they don’t real­ly need. And no more under­paid pubes­cent cashiers to ruin your day with their bad man­ners!

Actu­al­ly, would that ever hap­pen? It would take a large amount of trust from every­one involved. There is a lot of trust implic­it­ly involved in the whole exchange. Hand­ing your stuff one after the oth­er to an actu­al human being and hav­ing that per­son scan them is a very phys­i­cal, tan­gi­ble way to get a sense of what you’re pay­ing for, and that you’re get­ting your money’s worth. With com­plete­ly auto­mat­ed RFID-enabled shop­ping, that would be lost.

It’s a banal, pedes­tri­an and sim­ple exam­ple of how this stuff could change your every­day life, I know, but some­thing to think about, nonethe­less.

1. Albert Hei­jn is the largest super mar­ket chain in the Nether­lands.