Status update

This is not exact­ly a now page, but I thought I would write up what I am doing at the moment since last report­ing on my sta­tus in my end-of-year report.

The major­i­ty of my work­days are spent doing free­lance design con­sult­ing. My pri­ma­ry gig has been through Eend at the Dutch Vic­tim Sup­port Foun­da­tion, where until very recent­ly I was part of a team build­ing online ser­vices. I helped out with prod­uct strat­e­gy, set­ting up a lean UX design process, and get­ting an inte­grat­ed agile design and devel­op­ment team up and run­ning. The first ser­vices are now ship­ping so it is time for me to move on, after 10 months of very grat­i­fy­ing work. I real­ly enjoy work­ing in the pub­lic sec­tor and I hope to be doing more of it in future.

So yes, this means I am avail­able and you can hire me to do strat­e­gy and design for soft­ware prod­ucts and ser­vices. Just send me an email.

Short­ly before the Dutch nation­al elec­tions of this year, Iskan­der and I gath­ered a group of fel­low tech work­ers under the ban­ner of “Tech Sol­i­dar­i­ty NL to dis­cuss the con­cern­ing lurch to the right in nation­al pol­i­tics and what our field can do about it. This has devel­oped into a small but active com­mu­ni­ty who gath­er month­ly to edu­cate our­selves and devel­op plans for col­lec­tive action. I am get­ting a huge boost out of this. Fig­ur­ing out how to be a left­ist in this day and age is not easy. The only way to do it is to prac­tice and for that reflec­tion with peers is invalu­able. Build­ing and facil­i­tat­ing a group like this is huge­ly edu­ca­tion­al too. I have learned a lot about how a com­mu­ni­ty is boot-strapped and nur­tured.

If you are in the Nether­lands, your pol­i­tics are left of cen­ter, and you work in tech­nol­o­gy, con­sid­er your­self invit­ed to join.

And final­ly, the last major thing on my plate is a con­tin­u­ing effort to secure a PhD posi­tion for myself. I am get­ting great sup­port from peo­ple at Delft Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy, in par­tic­u­lar Gerd Kortuem. I am focus­ing on inter­net of things prod­ucts that have fea­tures dri­ven by machine learn­ing. My ulti­mate aim is to devel­op pro­to­typ­ing tools for design and devel­op­ment teams that will help them cre­ate more inno­v­a­tive and more eth­i­cal solu­tions. The first step for this will be to con­duct field research inside com­pa­nies who are cre­at­ing such prod­ucts right now. So I am reach­ing out to peo­ple to see if I can secure a rea­son­able amount of poten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors for this, which will go a long way in prov­ing the fea­si­bil­i­ty of my whole plan.

If you know of any com­pa­nies that devel­op con­sumer-fac­ing prod­ucts that have a con­nect­ed hard­ware com­po­nent and make use of machine learn­ing to dri­ve fea­tures, do let me know.

That’s about it. Free­lance UX con­sult­ing, left­ist tech-work­er organ­is­ing and design-for-machine-learn­ing research. Quite hap­py with that mix, real­ly.

High-skill robots, low-skill workers

Some notes on what I think I under­stand about tech­nol­o­gy and inequal­i­ty.

Let’s start with an obvi­ous big ques­tion: is tech­nol­o­gy destroy­ing jobs faster than they can be replaced? On the long term the evi­dence isn’t strong. Humans always appear to invent new things to do. There is no rea­son this time around should be any dif­fer­ent.

But in the short term tech­nol­o­gy has con­tributed to an evap­o­ra­tion of mid-skilled jobs. Parts of these jobs are auto­mat­ed entire­ly, parts can be done by few­er peo­ple because of high­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gained from tech.

While pro­duc­tiv­i­ty con­tin­ues to grow, jobs are lag­ging behind. The year 2000 appears to have been a turn­ing point. “Some­thing” hap­pened around that time. But no-one knows exact­ly what.

My hunch is that we’ve seen an emer­gence of a new class of pseu­do-monop­o­lies. Oli­gop­o­lies. And this is com­pound­ed by a ‘win­ner takes all’ dynam­ic that tech­nol­o­gy seems to pro­duce.

Oth­ers have point­ed to glob­al­i­sa­tion but although this might be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor, the evi­dence does not sup­port the idea that it is the major cause.

So what are we left with?

His­tor­i­cal­ly, look­ing at pre­vi­ous tech­no­log­i­cal upsets, it appears edu­ca­tion makes a big dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed by tech­no­log­i­cal progress should have access to good edu­ca­tion so that they have options. In the US the access to high qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion is not equal­ly divid­ed.

Appar­ent­ly fam­i­ly income is asso­ci­at­ed with edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment. So if your fam­i­ly is rich, you are more like­ly to become a high skilled indi­vid­ual. And high skilled indi­vid­u­als are priv­i­leged by the tech econ­o­my.

And if Piketty’s is right, we are approach­ing a real­i­ty in which mon­ey made from wealth ris­es faster than wages. So there is a feed­back loop in place which only exac­er­bates the sit­u­a­tion.

One more bul­let: If you think trick­le-down eco­nom­ics, increas­ing the size of the pie will help, you might be mis­tak­en. It appears social mobil­i­ty is helped more by decreas­ing inequal­i­ty in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of income growth.

So some pre­lim­i­nary con­clu­sions: a pro­gres­sive tax on wealth won’t solve the issue. The edu­ca­tion sys­tem will require reform, too.

I think this is the cen­tral irony of the whole sit­u­a­tion: we are work­ing hard to teach machines how to learn. But we are neglect­ing to improve how peo­ple learn.


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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Sin­ga­pore


Time for a sta­tus update on my stay in Sin­ga­pore. I have already entered the final three months of my time here. Time flies when you’re hav­ing fun eat­ing every­thing in sight, it turns out.

On the work front I have indeed found the time to do some think­ing about what my next big thing will be. Noth­ing has firmed up to the point where I feel like shar­ing it here but I am enjoy­ing the con­ver­sa­tions I am hav­ing with var­i­ous peo­ple about it.

In the mean­time, I have been keep­ing busy work­ing with a local start­up called ARTO. I have tak­en on the role of prod­uct design­er and I am also respon­si­ble for prod­uct man­age­ment of the user-fac­ing parts of the thing we are build­ing.

That “thing” is about art. There are many peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in art but don’t know where to start when it comes to find­ing, enjoy­ing and acquir­ing it. We’re build­ing a mobile and TV app that should make that a whole lot more easy and fun.

When I say art I mean com­mer­cial, pop­u­lar and con­tem­po­rary art of the 2D vari­ety. So paint­ing, illus­tra­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy, etc. Things you might buy orig­i­nals or prints of and put on your liv­ing room wall. Oth­ers are doing a fine job on the high end of the art mar­ket. We think there are parts remain­ing that have been under­served to date.

There are many mov­ing parts to this prod­uct, rang­ing from a rec­om­men­da­tion engine, con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem, mobile app, TV app and more so I am nev­er bored. There is always some­thing to fig­ure out in terms of what to build and how it should work and look. For the past cou­ple of years I was always too busy man­ag­ing the stu­dio to real­ly get into the details of design but now I can total­ly focus on that and it real­ly is a plea­sure.

On the peo­ple side we have a small but grow­ing team of bril­liant indi­vid­u­als hal­ing from var­i­ous parts of the region includ­ing Viet­nam, Myan­mar and India. This lends an addi­tion­al lay­er of fun chal­lenge to the goings on as we con­stant­ly nego­ti­ate our dif­fer­ences but also dis­cov­er the many com­mon­al­i­ties afford­ed by the glob­alised tech indus­try. I also get to trav­el to Ho Chi Minh City reg­u­lar­ly which is a nice change from the extreme order that is Sin­ga­pore.

It is ear­ly days so I not only get to help shape the prod­uct from the very start but also the com­pa­ny itself. This includes fig­ur­ing out and main­tain­ing design and devel­op­ment process­es. For this I find my Boy­di­an explo­rations quite use­ful, paired with what is now more than 13 years of indus­try expe­ri­ence (how did that hap­pen?) I have also con­duct­ed more hir­ing inter­views in the past few months than I did in the ten years before.

In a month or two a first ver­sion of the prod­uct should be in the mar­ket. When we’ve got­ten to that point I will do anoth­er of these updates. In the mean­time just know I am up to my armpits in think­ing-through-mak­ing about art dis­cov­ery and enjoy­ment on screens small and large. If you have any­thing relat­ed to share, or would like to be one of the first to test-dri­ve the thing when it arrives, let me know.

My plans for 2016

Long sto­ry short: my plan is to make plans.

Hub­bub has gone into hiber­na­tion. After more than six years of lead­ing a bou­tique play­ful design agency I am return­ing to free­lance life. At least for the short term.

I will use the flex­i­bil­i­ty afford­ed by this free­ing up of time to take stock of where I have come from and where I am head­ed. ‘Ori­en­ta­tion is the Schw­er­punkt,’ as Boyd says. I have def­i­nite­ly cycled back through my meta-OODA-loop and am firm­ly back in the sec­ond O.

To make things more inter­est­ing I have exchanged the Nether­lands for Sin­ga­pore. I will be here until August. It is going to be fun to explore the things this city has to offer. I am curi­ous what the tech­nol­o­gy and design scene is like when seen up close. So I hope to do some work local­ly.

I will take on short com­mit­ments. Let’s say no longer than two to three months. Any­thing goes real­ly, but I am par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in work relat­ed to cre­ativ­i­ty and learn­ing. I am also keen on get­ting back into teach­ing.

So if you are in Sin­ga­pore, work in tech­nol­o­gy or design and want to have a cup of cof­fee. Drop me a line.

Hap­py 2016!

What I’ve been up to lately

You might be won­der­ing what’s been going on at the Leapfrog stu­dio late­ly, since I haven’t real­ly post­ed any­thing sub­stan­tial here in a while. Quite some stuff has hap­pened — and I’ll hope­ful­ly get back into post­ing longer arti­cles soon — but for now, here’s a list of more or less inter­est­ing things I have been doing:

This hap­pened – Utrecht

We had our first This hap­pened – Utrecht on Novem­ber 3. I think we suc­ceed­ed in cre­at­ing an event that real­ly looks at the craft of inter­ac­tion design. I’m hap­py to say we’re plan­ning to do three events next year — all at The­ater Kikker in Utrecht — and we’ve got lots of cool speak­ers in mind. If you want to make sure you won’t miss them, sub­scribe to our newslet­ter (in Dutch).1


My stu­dents are near­ing the end of their project. They’ve been hard at work cre­at­ing con­cepts for mobile social games with a musi­cal com­po­nent; they came up with 20 in total. Now they’re pro­to­typ­ing two of them, and I must say it’s look­ing good. They’ll have to present the games to the project’s com­mis­sion­er — a major mobile phone man­u­fac­tur­er — some­where the begin­ning of Jan­u­ary 2009. I hope to be able to share some of the results here after­wards.

Office space

Since Decem­ber 1 I am a res­i­dent of the Dutch Game Gar­den’s Busi­ness Club. That means I now have a nice office smack in the cen­tre of Utrecht. The building’s home to lots of won­der­ful games com­pa­nies, some, like me, oper­at­ing on the fringes — like Fource­Labs and Monoban­da. If you’re curi­ous and would like to drop by for a tour, a cof­fee and some con­ver­sa­tion, let me know.


I was invit­ed do help com­pose one of the cas­es for the ‘Grote Ams­ter­damse Water­brain­wave’. A one-day brain­storm in which 45 stu­dents from var­i­ous insti­tu­tions were asked to come up with water-relat­ed inno­va­tions that would make the Nether­lands a sig­nif­i­cant glob­al play­er once again. It was organ­ised by the Port of Ams­ter­dam, Water­net and Verleden van Ned­er­land2. I also attend­ed the day itself as an out­side expert on games and the cre­ative indus­try in gen­er­al. Read a report of the event at (in Dutch).


Dan Saf­fer’s book Design­ing Ges­tur­al Inter­faces has been pub­lished by O’Reilly and is now avail­able. Turn to page 109 and you’ll find a sto­ry­board by yours tru­ly used for illus­tra­tion pur­pos­es. That’s the first time any work of mine is fea­tured in print, so nat­u­ral­ly I’m quite proud. I have yet to receive my copy, but got a sneak peek this week­end and I must say it looks promis­ing. If you’re a design­er need­ing to get up to speed with mul­ti-touch, phys­i­cal com­put­ing and such, this should be a good place to start.

That’s about it for now. There’s a lot of excit­ing stuff in the works, the out­comes of which I will hope­ful­ly be able to share with you in 2009.

  1. The cre­ators of This hap­pened in Lon­don have been nom­i­nat­ed for a best of the year award by the Design Muse­um, by the way. Well-deserved, I would say! []
  2. A cross-media cam­paign aimed at increas­ing aware­ness of Dutch nation­al his­to­ry. []

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. []

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.


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.)


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.


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.

Work with me in Copenhagen (or where-ever)

Panorama of Copenhagen harbour

Now that I’m over three months into my stay in Copen­hagen I thought it would be good to post a short update. Here are the facts, bul­let-wise (with apolo­gies to Mr. Tufte):

  • I have been in Copen­hagen, Den­mark since July 1st 2007
  • Until now I have most­ly been work­ing on Playy­oo, doing inter­ac­tion and game design
  • I also pre­sent­ed on Play­ful IAs at the Euro IA Sum­mit in Barcelona
  • No lat­er than July 1st 2008, I will return to Utrecht, the Nether­lands
  • Yes, I intend to con­tin­ue free­lanc­ing when I get back (I offi­cial­ly left on Octo­ber 1st 2007)
  • I am avail­able for free­lance inter­ac­tion design gigs that involve social media, mobile tech­nol­o­gy and/or gam­ing
  • You can also invite me to speak at your event or com­pa­ny, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the top­ic of apply­ing game design prin­ci­ples to the user expe­ri­ence of prod­ucts and ser­vices

Oh and of course, if you hap­pen to be in Copen­hagen, don’t hes­i­tate to drop me a line when you feel like going out for some drinks!