I am back in the Netherlands for over seven weeks now but I am still busy running around the country reconnecting to people and telling them about my experiences in Singapore.
It was great.
I really did manage to reconsider a lot of things and got reoriented, about which more later.
Learned a lot about myself and others by meeting and working with lots of new people from different backgrounds.
And I do miss the city already. The iron-clad guarantee of sun and warmth. Many places to explore offering lots of surprising experiences. And on every street corner, amazing affordable food.
I will miss Singapore, and I am thankful for all it has done for me in the brief period I got to call it my home.
Below are some photos. More are over at Flickr. Happy scrolling and maybe don’t look at these if you’re hungry.
Last year was thankfully much lower on travel than previous ones. We’re almost a week into 2010, I know, but I still thought it would be worth posting these.1
One or more nights were spent in each place. All of these were lovely in their own way, but KL’s my favorite of the bunch. Best city for food anywhere on the planet. In case you’re interested, I keep track of these on Dopplr.
And that was it. After exactly one year in Copenhagen I am back in Utrecht. I enjoyed my time in Denmark tremendously, it has proven to be a great place to start my new life as a freelance designer. Now I will continue my practice over here. Different city, same international outlook.
There is not much time to catch my breath, however. I have client projects happening throughout July and of course there is also plenty of unpacking and merging of the old and new life to be done. I hope to publish the NLGD and Reboot stuff shortly, but it might take me a while.
Now that I am back in the Netherlands, I can also move forward with some small plans I’ve had for some time: one being a local design event and the other a ‘different’ kind of office space. I am also still looking for a creative technologist to partner up with on potential future projects. If any of this piques your interest, do drop me a line.
Having successfully finished the last of my client work by the end of the week, it is now time to start packing. I’ll be vacationing in Asia for the next three weeks and will be back on April 7.
Those that follow me on Dopplr will already have an idea of my itinerary: Hong Kong, Java (Jakarta and Surabaya), Bali and probably Flores and Komodo. Kalimantan has sadly proven to be a bit too hard to get to on a budget.
This’ll be my third visit to Indonesia and as always I’m looking forward to it—what’s not to love about a country filled with friendly people, rich culture and awesome food?
If you’d like to keep in touch, your best bets are my Twitter and Jaiku streams (and possibly Flickr for the occasional mobile snapshot).
Normal blogging service will resume when I return. See you on the other side!
This Saturday I’ll be jumping on a plane to San Francisco. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be attending the Game Developers Conference. I have a session at the GDC Mobile sub-conference elegantly titled “Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C”. Read more about my session on the conference site. It’ll basically be 1/3 crash course on the social web, 1/3 rant on mobile gaming and 1/3 talk about enabling creative expression through games. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll be in SF the full week (flying back the next weekend) so if you happen to be around, and feel like hanging out, do drop me a line. (Your best bet is an email to “kars” at this domain or d-ing me on Twitter.)
Finally, if that isn’t enough self-promotion for one post, (I’m risking a mass unsubscribe here) I was interviewed a second time for the Playyoo blog. Head over there for some talk about the Game Creator—a tool I designed for them that allows people to customise classic games and publish them to mobile:
“And then there are the games that are entirely personal. They make no sense to you or me, only to the person who created it and their friends. For example, I saw one variation of Lunar Lander where you need to land a crab on someone’s, let’s say Debbie’s, head. Now, I have no idea who Debbie is, but I can imagine Debbie is a friend or sister of the game’s creator. And it must have been a lot of fun for them to include the picture, and then have an easy way to distribute it to their friends.”
I didn’t announce it on this blog, but if you’re following me on Twitter or Jaiku, took a look at the Upcoming event page or share trips with me on Dopplr you’re probably aware that I attended dConstruct 2007 in Brighton.
By way of a short conference report I’d like to list some of the references to games and play that jumped out at me during the day. It might be that I’m slowly but surely going a little crazy or that have really discovered the secret order of the universe, but either way I was pleasantly surprised that most talks suggested that successful experience design benefits from an understanding of the dynamics of play. Here goes:
Game design is a second order design problem, meaning you cannot directly design the experience of play but only the ‘stuff’ that facilitates it. Jared Spool pointed out that successful experience design is invisible, it’s only when it’s done wrong that we notice it. This makes good experience design hard to sell, and I would say the same goes for great game design.
The practice of game design is very much a multidisciplinary one, with a lot of specialties on board. Similarly, there is no way you’ll be able to do good experience design when you use a relay-race-like proces. You need to have people from a lot of different backgrounds solving problems collaboratively (or a few people who can do a lot of different stuff really well.) Jared Spool briefly pointed this out, Leisa Reichelt gave a lot of good suggestions on how to facilitate this with washing-machine methodologies and Tom Coates finished his talk encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration too.
Because good experience design (like game design) is a second order design problem, and it can only be done multidisciplinary, you can only do it in an iterative and incremental way. Good games get play-tested to death to ensure they’re fun, good experiences (on the web or wherever) need the same treatment. Leisa Reichelt had some interesting ideas on how to actually pull this off: Introducing UX to Agile, by having design and development teams both working in the same rhythm, but handling different stuff in their own iterations, with a lot of hand-over and communication back and forth. Well worth trying out I think.
More thoughts on the invisible nature of experience was provided by Peter Merholz, who used a quote from Tim O’Reilly: “Designing from the outside in”. Start with the UI and then figure out the data and logic. I wouldn’t equate user experience with user interface (because — again — the experience cannot be directly designed) but I think it’s a good quote nonetheless. I liked Merholz’s emphasis on the importance of an experience vision most of all.
I was great to hear Denise Wilton and George Oates talk about B3ta and Flickr. A lot of people are probably aware of the gamey origins of Flickr but it was enlightening to finally see some of it on the big screen. It came as no surprise to hear that Ludicorp’s process in making Flickr was very much washing-machine style (although they did 0 user testing for a long time!)
Matt Webb was perhaps the speaker who most explicitly drew parallels between game design and experience design. (He mentioned Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun, for instance.) He also pointed out that customisation is vital to any experience, that a product should be able to recombine with others in its ecosystem, as well as allow for personalisation. Both customisation and personalisation encourage play. Tom Coates later mentioned something very similar — that your product (which as he was eager to point out is more than just your website) should be re-combinable and extendable with and by others.
One of the major themes in interaction and game design for me is behaviour, the way products encourage behaviour in their users and the kinds of behaviours they have embedded in themselves. Matt Webb also mentioned that people love to tell stories about the experiences they’ve had. This is very true of gaming, which is all about verbs, actions, doing stuff. Game design is not storytelling, the storytelling happens after the game.
I had completely forgotten about Disco, the CD burning app with simulated smoke effects that serve no purpose besides play. So thanks to Matt Webb I now have an example to complement the Wii Help Cat! (Come to think of it, the discussions surrounding Stamen Design’s Twitter Blocks might be another good one.)
In conclusion, I think it’s great that Clearleft used this year’s edition to introduce the web development community to the wonderful world of experience design. I was also very happy to see a few people on stage I had not seen present before, but knew had a lot of good stuff to say. The pre- and after-party were both a lot of fun (thanks to Media Temple, Yahoo! Developer Network and the BBC for sponsoring those with free drink and food.) And if you’re curious, I understand there will be podcasts of all the sessions online soon, so keep an eye on the site.
With the attention given to travel lately (Dopplr springs to mind, as well as my own increased flight frequency this year) I thought I’d finally write up my experiences with a jet lag prevention technique called Jet Lag Passport.
I was planning my trip to Las Vegas earlier this year when I was approached by Daimon Sweeney. He invited me to check out this small booklet he’d written (sold on his website for 10.25 GBP) that described a pressure points and meditation routine aimed at syncing your biological clock to local time. Being a Fortean and martial artist, I saw no reason not to try it. I printed out the PDF he’d sent me for free (in exchange for a blog post if I liked it) and stashed in my carry-on bag. While taking off I took a look at it for the first time. The routine was easy to remember and takes up very little time. You repeat it for every two hours of flight.
Although it’s always hard to objectively say whether this stuff actually works (and to be honest I feel that’s beside the point) it worked for me. I had a short stay in Vegas (I arrived on Friday evening and left on Monday evening) and a long flight in comparison. I got into the rhythm of things on arrival effortlessly and had none of the weird sudden attacks of fatigue so typical of jet lag. This stuff may not be for everyone, perhaps an open mind and some experience with meditation (however small) is a prerequisite, but I’ll be sure to give it a try the next time I take one of these long flights.
Check out the booklet at Daimon’s website and who knows, if you promise to blog it, he’ll let you try it for free…
So here’s a short wrap up of the first day. I must say I’m not disappointed so far. The overall level of the talks is quite high again. Here’s what I attended:
Opening keynote — Nice and conceptual/theoretical. Not sure I agree with all the claims made but it was a good way to kick off the day on a gee whizz way.
Jeremy Keith — Good talk, nice slides, didn’t really deliver on the promise of his proposal though. I would’ve really liked to see him go into the whole idea of life streams further. The hack day challenge sounded cool though.
Stephanie Booth — Very topical for me, being a bilingual blogger and designer often confronted with localisation/multilingual issues.
My own talk — Went reasonably well. I guess half of the room enjoyed and the other half wondered what the f*** I was talking about. Oh well, I had fun.
Ross Mayfield — Could have been much better if it hadn’t been for technical screw-ups and perhaps some tighter pacing by Ross. Still the work he’s doing with social software is great.
Matt Jones — Very pretty presentation, nice topic and Dopplr looks cool. I’m not a frequent flyer bt I can see the value in it. Still not quite sure it will improve the consequences of air-travel though.
Nicolas Nova — Came across as the high concept, theoretical twin to my talk. Lots of cool pervasive game examples. Nicolas always boggles my mind.
Jyri Engeström — Cool to see how he’s developed his talks throughout the past Reboots. I guess he delivered on his promise and stayed on the right side of the ‘I’m pushing my product’ line.
The evening program — No micro-presentations (which to be honest was fine by me, being quite exhausted). Good food, nice conversations and plenty of weird generative art, live cinema etc. All good.
Just firing off a quick post while packing for the IA Summit. Tomorrow morning I’m taking off on my flight to Vegas. For anyone curious about my doings while in the states, your best bet is Jaiku1. SMS-ing the occasional update should be affordable and won’t take too much time. No live blogging I’m afraid, I will be taking plenty of notes2 and promise to do a proper write-up when back.
1. Although all the crazy Americans are hooked on Twitter like an addict on crack, so to keep up with what’s going on there I’ll need to switch between two presence apps. Grumble.
2. A fresh squared Moleskine pocket notebook is ready for action.
Well, I’m off to Barcelona for a long weekend. It’s been quiet around here for a while (apart from the automated bookmark posts). Perhaps when I get back I’ll be able to get back into the habit of posting more frequently. Back in 4.