Playful street tiles, artful games and radioscapes at the next This happened – Utrecht

After a bit of a long sum­mer break Alexan­der, Ianus and I are back with anoth­er edi­tion of This hap­pened – Utrecht. Read about the pro­gram of the sev­enth edi­tion below. We’ll add a fourth speak­er to the ros­ter soon. The event is sched­uled for Mon­day 4 Octo­ber at The­ater Kikker in Utrecht. Doors open at 7:30PM. The reg­is­tra­tion opens next week on Mon­day 20 Sep­tem­ber at 12:00PM.

The Patchingzone

Anne Nigten is direc­tor of The Patch­ing­zone, a trans­dis­ci­pli­nary lab­o­ra­to­ry for inno­va­tion where Mas­ter, doc­tor, post-doc stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als from dif­fer­ent back­grounds cre­ate mean­ing­ful con­tent. Ear­li­er, Anne Nigten was man­ag­er of V2_lab and com­plet­ed a PhD on a method for cre­ative research and devel­op­ment. Go-for-IT! is a city game cre­at­ed togeth­er with cit­i­zens of South Rot­ter­dam and launched in Decem­ber 2009. On four play­grounds in the area street tiles were equipped with LEDs. Locals could play games with their feet, sim­i­lar to con­sole game dance mats.

Ibb and Obb

Richard Boeser is an inde­pen­dent design­er based in Rot­ter­dam. His stu­dio Sparp­weed is cur­rent­ly work­ing on the game Ibb and Obb, sched­uled to launch for Playsta­tion Net­work and PC in August 2011. Ibb and Obb is a coop­er­a­tive game for two play­ers who togeth­er must find a way through a world where grav­i­ty is flipped across the hori­zon. Play­ers move between both sides of the world through por­tals. They can surf on grav­i­ty, soul­hop ene­mies and col­lect dia­monds. The game is part­ly financed by the Game Fund, an arrange­ment that seeks to stim­u­late the devel­op­ment of artis­tic games in the Nether­lands.


Edwin van der Hei­de stud­ied sonol­o­gy at the Roy­al Con­ser­va­to­ry in The Hague. He now works as an artist in the field of sound, space and inter­ac­tion. Radioscape trans­forms urban space into an acoustic labyrinth. Based on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of radio each par­tic­i­pant is equipped with a receiv­er, head­phones and an anten­na. Fif­teen trans­mit­ters each broad­cast their own com­po­si­tion. Inspired by short wave sounds, they over­lap to form a meta­com­po­si­tion. By chang­ing posi­tion, the inter­pre­ta­tion of sound is changed as well.

A big thank you to our spon­sors, Microsoft and Fier for mak­ing this one hap­pen.

Week 168

So, I got back from a one-week hol­i­day on Ter­schelling last week­end (which was love­ly, by the way) and imme­di­ate­ly dove into work again. So much to do at the moment, it’s a chal­lenge not to get swamped. Any­way. And it is one of those weeks where I need to look back on my cal­en­dar just to remem­ber what has been going on…

Most notably, two interns have start­ed at Hub­bub. They are work­ing on games for the sec­ond install­ment of the Learn­ing Lab, an exper­i­men­tal edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram cre­at­ed by Riv­er Insti­tute, which will be run­ning at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ams­ter­dam the com­ing months. Their first assign­ment is to design a game that will be played by Learn­ing Lab par­tic­i­pants (who are called “pio­neers”) today and tomor­row at the Nat­ur­al Net­work­ing Fes­ti­val. It is nice to have these guys on board. This week I reg­u­lar­ly sat down with them to review their plans but aside from this they are incred­i­bly self-steer­ing. They’ll be blog­ging about their exploits on the Hub­bub blog soon.

Also, I had a full day of work on Maguro yes­ter­day. We spent the whole day at the client’s office (a large gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion which I can’t name at the moment). The morn­ing was tak­en up by short pre­sen­ta­tions from the side of us, the design team. We also had the chance to talk to a selec­tion of peo­ple from our tar­get audi­ence and get a tour of their work envi­ron­ment. In the after­noon we sat down to brain­storm con­cepts, and came up with some inter­est­ing ones. I enjoyed get­ting a chance to see this orga­ni­za­tion from the inside, which due to to the sen­si­tive nature of their work is a lit­tle secre­tive. We decid­ed to use part of the workshop’s pro­gram to try out some mechan­ics that we might be using in the game, with­out the audi­ence being aware of it. That lead to some inter­est­ing results.

This week is book­end­ed by meet­ings for project Ika. This project is run from the still very new Design for Play­ful Impact research group at the HKU. On mon­day I spent some time with the peo­ple lead­ing the oth­er projects to get a gen­er­al sense of the pro­gram. Today I’ll be meet­ing up with the client for the first time.

And in between I’ve been doing more work on PLAY Pilots. I dropped by Zes­baans to check out an ear­ly ver­sion of their instal­la­tion for the Nether­lands Film Fes­ti­val, which is called The Stere­o­scope and is this kind of toy-like VJ-ing tool loaded with frag­ments from Dutch films from the past 30 years. Awe­some, awe­some, stuff. It’s already fun to play with, even though the cus­tom-built con­sole is yet to be fin­ished and the game mechan­ics haven’t been imple­ment­ed yet.

And final­ly, in oth­er news: we announced the next This hap­pened — Utrecht, and I uploaded a selec­tion of pho­tos from the Boc­ce Drift game Hub­bub ran a few weeks ago.

Janneke Sluijs completes THUTC #4 line-up

We’ve added one more speak­er to the line-up of This hap­pened – Utrecht #4:

Jan­neke Slui­js will talk about Noot, a small tool meant to sup­port cre­ative ses­sions. Noots can be phys­i­cal­ly attached to paper arte­facts that stim­u­late the cre­ative process. This way, audio frag­ments are tagged, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to retrieve the orig­i­nal audio con­text at a lat­er time, for rec­ol­lec­tion or inspi­ra­tion. Her sto­ry will focus on the ori­gins and devel­op­ment of the prod­uct.

Have a look at the oth­er three speak­ers in my pre­vi­ous post. Reg­is­tra­tion opens in a week on Octo­ber 12 at 12:00 hours at The event takes place in The­ater Kikker in Utrecht, on Octo­ber 26.

Announcing This happened – Utrecht #4

Four weeks from now we’re run­ning the fourth edi­tion of This hap­pened – Utrecht (the last one for this year). It’ll take place in The­ater Kikker again, on 26 Octo­ber and we’ll start at the usu­al time: 20:00 hours (doors op 19:30 hours). Ianus, Alexan­der and I have been debat­ing this edition’s line-up fer­vent­ly, and have come up with the fol­low­ing three great speak­ers for you:

Elmo Diederiks will talk about the Ambi­light fea­ture in Philips flat pan­el tele­vi­sions. In 2002 Elmo worked as design­er and researcher at Philips Research and lead the research on how dynam­ic light­ing in the back­ground of the TV image enhances the view­ing expe­ri­ence. The research result­ed direct­ly in the most dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fea­ture of Philips’ flat pan­el tele­vi­sions that remains a unique sell­ing point today.

Sue Doek­sen, mem­ber of the new media art col­lec­tive Zes­baans, will present De Metronoom. Six con­nect­ed instal­la­tions point six laser beams into the room. Vis­i­tors play the lasers like instru­ments and com­pose a sound­track, arrang­ing sam­ples from clas­si­cal instru­ments, street artists, beats and the machine room of a print­ing press. De Metronoom was present at the Mood Ele­va­tor par­ty at Trouw Ams­ter­dam and Stekkertest at Fes­ti­val aan de Werf in Utrecht. Sue gives us a look behind the scenes of De Metronoom’s devel­op­ment — which Zes­baans is hop­ing to con­tin­ue in the com­ing peri­od — and shares their ideas on tech­nol­o­gy, per­for­mance and inter­face.

Emi­ly Gob­eille and Theo Wat­son will present the process behind Funky For­est, an inter­ac­tive ecosys­tem where chil­dren cre­ate trees with their body and then divert the water flow­ing from the water­fall to the trees to keep them alive. The health of the trees con­tributes to the over­all health of the for­est and the types of crea­tures that inhab­it it. The Moom­ah Edi­tion of ‘Funky For­est’ expands on the orig­i­nal by intro­duc­ing four sea­sons, each with a unique envi­ron­ment and crea­tures to match. Each sea­son also fea­tures an inter­ac­tive par­ti­cle sys­tem. The Moom­ah edi­tion is per­ma­nent­ly installed at the Moom­ah Children’s Cafe in New York City.

This edi­tion is made pos­si­ble by the sup­port from the Utrecht School of the Arts and Utrecht based web agency Rhi­nofly. Many thanks to them for their gen­eros­i­ty.

Reg­is­tra­tion opens Octo­ber 12 at at 12:00 hours. Hope to see you there!

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 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).