Week 141

It’s been a while since I spent time at my own desk in the Dutch Game Gar­den. It was nice to do this again yes­ter­day, hav­ing the city right out­side my door and kin­dred spir­its such as Fource­Labs upstairs. I wasn’t inside the whole time though, in the morn­ing I had anoth­er chat at EKKO about Tako. And in the after­noon I head­ed to Lei­d­sche Rijn accom­pa­nied by Julius to attend a work­shop con­cern­ing Utrecht’s bid to become Euro­pean cap­i­tal of cul­ture.

I kicked off the week with two days of work at Layar (now on my way to Ams­ter­dam in a divert­ed train for my third and last day of the week there). I’ve been col­lab­o­rat­ing close­ly with some of the engi­neers to shape some upcom­ing new… stuff. Things are devel­op­ing at such a high pace that it’s a real chal­lenge to keep up. It feels like being on top of a rodeo bull some­times, but in a good way. This means I need to be prag­mat­ic and fast with devel­op­ing and doc­u­ment­ing designs.

In between, I’ve post­ed a long over­due project descrip­tion to the Hub­bub site for Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na. It’s this quirky project — a cross between a game and an opera — that I was involved with last year. It feels good to final­ly have it out there for me and oth­ers to point to.

Oth­er in-between stuff includes a final review of sev­er­al grad­u­a­tion project pro­pos­als. I need to pro­vide feed­back by the start of next week, and then I’ll switch to coach­ing a hand­ful of stu­dents.

The week will be topped off with what is sure to be a fun fri­day at the BUROPONY stu­dio. I’ll do some work on their site, and in return have them do some addi­tion­al work on the Hub­bub brand. Scratch­ing each other’s backs, that’s how small cre­ative enter­pris­es flour­ish.

Week 138

Last evening I was on top of the Neude­flat, to review a draft of a pre­sen­ta­tion I’ve pre­pared as part of project Tako.1 Ear­li­er that day and mon­day I talked to the last two par­tic­i­pants: Cul­turele Zonda­gen (a pro­duc­er of fre­quent city-wide cul­tur­al events that always take place on sun­days) and Habek (a pro­duc­er of local hip-hop events and projects). Most of the pre­sen­ta­tion is in place — lots of rough con­cepts for play­ful cul­tur­al projects — it just requires some last addi­tions and tight­en­ing up to be ready for the city lab ses­sion with all par­tic­i­pants next week.

On tues­day morn­ing I found myself in a room filled with stu­dents, who gave short pre­sen­ta­tions on the results from the ini­tial field research they per­formed over the pre­vi­ous week. Some had inter­est­ing insights to share, rang­ing from the expe­ri­ence of sto­ry in sin­gle play­er ver­sus mul­ti­play­er RPGs to the effects of a play­ful UI on the per­ceived effec­tive­ness of infor­ma­tion appli­ances. Oth­ers were real­ly strug­gling with the devel­op­ment of a brief for their own work. Next up for them is to write up a pro­pos­al for their grad­u­a­tion project. We’ll review a first draft of those next week.

As I’m writ­ing this, I am on my way to Layar again — who had some excit­ing news to announce this week and won a few awards in Barcelona too. Most of my time this week will be spent on a design sprint out­lin­ing a new prod­uct offer­ing. We’ll do a review of that some­where this week, and take it from there. Iterate’s the word. Think­ing through mak­ing.

In the time that’s left, I’m chip­ping away at the talk for Ham­burg this sun­day. The rough sil­hou­ette is there, now it’s just a mat­ter of build­ing a deck. Should be doable, right? Right.

  1. The pro­mo­tion depart­ment of the city of Utrecht has its offices here, with stun­ning views. []

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 thishappened.nl. 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).

Goodbye DK, Hello NL

A photo of the Oude Gracht in Utrecht, the Netherlands taken by Josef F. Stuefer

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.

The final peri­od in Copen­hagen con­sist­ed main­ly of me speak­ing at a lot of con­fer­ences. First there was The Web and Beyond, then came From Busi­ness to But­tons, NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games and final­ly Reboot — I could not have wished for a bet­ter going-away par­ty.

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.

Pho­to cred­its: Josef F. Stue­fer.

Moving, speaking

It’s final days for me. In Copen­hagen, that is. July 1 I will exchange this love­ly city for my home town of Utrecht, the Nether­lands. The plan is to con­tin­ue work as a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. So if you’re inter­est­ed, but phys­i­cal dis­tance has been putting you off so far, get in touch.

Between now and then, most of my time will be spent at con­fer­ences. Here’s the run­down:

  • First up is From Busi­ness to But­tons, June 12–13 in Malmö, Swe­den. My talk is titled More Than Use­ful. I will attempt to show that for a cer­tain class of prod­ucts, play­ful­ness is a vital char­ac­ter­is­tic. The idea is to intro­duce the IxD crowd to some game design con­cepts.
  • The week after that I will be at the Fes­ti­val of Games, June 18–20 in Utrecht, Nether­lands. My pre­sen­ta­tion is titled Play­ing With Com­plex­i­ty. I will intro­duce the game design audi­ence to some inter­ac­tion design think­ing and sug­gest data visu­al­iza­tion might be an inter­est­ing area to team up on.
  • Last but not least is good old Reboot, 26–27 June in Copen­hagen. I have sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al titled Play­ful Activism in the Real-Time City, which I hope will be select­ed to be on the pro­gram.1

If you will be at any of these con­fer­ences, do drop me a line or say hel­lo at the event itself.

  1. If you’d like to see it too, don’t hes­i­tate to vote it up. []