Week 326

The big thing this week was us fin­ish­ing the gold mas­ter release for Free Birds and review­ing it with our cli­ent, the Dutch Museums Association. Barring a few final small fixes we are ready to sub­mit to Apple after which it’s fin­gers crossed.

For pro­ject HENDO I headed over to Amsterdam for the first work­shop with the State of Flux team in which we col­lect­ively orri­en­ted towards a prom­ising design dir­ec­tion. Subsequently I atten­ded their final cocre­ation ses­sion for tem­por­ary spa­tial improve­ments to the Buikslotermeerplein area.

In between all this I vis­ited Tinker Imagineers twice to help them fig­ure out the design concept for a cor­por­ate onboard­ing game app.

Meanwhile Alper took care of some house­keep­ing. The pro­jects we opened up on GitHub now have proper readmes and licenses attached. And we are pre­par­ing the long-overdue move of this web­site to hubbub.eu.

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Week 324–325

Rolling two weeks into one for these notes, ‘because reasons.’

We com­pleted what is offi­cially the last sprint on Free Birds, get­ting everything in ship shape. We now have a ‘gold mas­ter’ sit­ting ready for release, which will hap­pen at the client’s earli­est convenience.

On pro­ject HENDO, we mapped State of Flux’s cur­rent pro­cess so that we have a com­mon point of ref­er­ence. Once we get this wrapped up we can move on to the next step, which is trans­lat­ing this pro­cess map into game mechanics.

A new small con­sultancy gig (code­named NAMI) took off as well. I am help­ing out Tinker Imagineers with design con­cepts for an onboard­ing game app they are mak­ing for a com­pany in the semi­con­ductor industry. It’s mostly me drop­ping by their stu­dio a few times a week to go over their pro­gress and offer insights from my exper­i­ence mak­ing sim­ilar things.

I pub­lished my write-up of a short lec­ture on how to shift the con­ver­sa­tion from gami­fic­a­tion to play­ful design.

And finally, Alper received good news with regards to his Interaction 16 pro­posal. He’ll be in Helsinki in the new year to share his exper­i­ences pro­to­typ­ing and build­ing con­ver­sa­tional user interfaces.

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Shifting from Gamification to Playful Design

This is a lightly edited tran­script of a short lec­ture I delivered some time ago at an off-site gath­er­ing organ­ized by one of NL’s largest construction-services busi­nesses. The event explored the poten­tial of games, game design and gami­fic­a­tion for prop­erty devel­op­ment and con­struc­tion. This talk cre­ates a com­mon frame of under­stand­ing about gami­fic­a­tion and why ‘play­ful design’ is a more pro­duct­ive approach.

Feedback Systems

Let’s start with a defin­i­tion of gami­fic­a­tion. The Gamification Research Network offers the fol­low­ing: “using game design ele­ments in non-game contexts.”

Foursquare remains the blue­print for most ‘naive’ imple­ment­a­tions of this idea. Take a product or ser­vice and add fea­tures such as points, badges, lead­er­boards, etc.

However, such fea­tures are feed­back sys­tems and these are not unique to games.

Now, the assump­tion is that adding such feed­back sys­tems leads to higher engage­ment and motiv­a­tion from users.

But from a prac­tical stand­point we quickly run into a prob­lem. In which case should we use which par­tic­u­lar sys­tem? This grab bag of feed­back sys­tems lacks an instruc­tion manual.

If we want to be able to answer this ques­tion we need to stop focus­ing on feed­back sys­tems, and instead look at the people we are design­ing for and the con­text in which they use our product or service.


Like I said, feed­back sys­tems are not unique to games. A bet­ter start­ing point is the actual source of what makes them fun: learn­able challenges.

Put dif­fer­ently, what we should do is shift from game ele­ments, to a gam­ing state of mind. This gam­ing state of mind is also known as gamefulness.

So let’s unpack this gam­ing state of mind. Learning is a huge source of pleas­ure in games. We enjoy the exper­i­ence of competence.

But next to this mas­tery of sys­tems, explor­ing game sys­tems and express­ing ourselves through them is another huge source of pleas­ure. We enjoy this exper­i­ence of free­dom. If game­ful­ness is char­ac­ter­ised by the need for com­pet­ence. Playfulness is char­ac­ter­ised by a need for autonomy.

And in both the case of com­pet­ence and autonomy, we derive pleas­ure from play­ing along­side oth­ers. We enjoy relatedness.

So these are three sources of pleas­ure in games and play. In fact, they are innate psy­cho­lo­gical needs.

Engagement Loops

These con­cepts give us a start­ing point for apply­ing game design to products and ser­vices. They can be the start of our instruc­tion manual.

The first step is to under­stand what motiv­ates our par­tic­u­lar audi­ence. From these motiv­a­tions, we can reason back to what feed­back sys­tems will provide people with the desired need fulfilment.

The next step is to return to the concept of a learn­able chal­lenge. For there to be a chal­lenge there must be goals. These goals are informed by what we want people to do, and what people them­selves want to achieve.

If we know what goals users will be pur­su­ing, we can start think­ing about what tools and resources we need to give them in order for them to be able to do so.

These tools con­nect with the afore­men­tioned feed­back sys­tems. The feed­back sys­tems have already been con­nec­ted to user motiv­a­tions and from these motiv­a­tions we can loop back to the goals we have identified.

The model I have just out­lined is what we call the engage­ment loop, and it is at the heart of how we think about and design for motiv­a­tion and engage­ment. It is a much more soph­ist­ic­ated approach than gamification.

Playful Design

So we shift from gami­fic­a­tion to play­ful design. The key idea is that we can make things that are use­ful, that people use to achieve cer­tain things, but that at the same time allow for a play­ful atti­tude.

By focus­ing on play­ful­ness we remind ourselves that motiv­a­tion is as much about mas­tery or com­pet­ence as it is about cre­ativ­ity. We can design things to allow for both a sense of achieve­ment and a sense of free­dom. We can make our designs adapt­able to a range of social situ­ations. And so ulti­mately we can make them more humane.

I can’t emphas­ise enough how our intent is to add degrees of free­dom, not to be more con­trolling. More con­trol lim­its play­ful­ness, instead of enabling it.

So in sum­mary (1) instead of feed­back sys­tems think learn­able chal­lenges, (2) under­stand that motiv­a­tion comes from the sat­is­fac­tion of the needs to feel com­pet­ent, autonom­ous and related and (3) use this under­stand­ing of motiv­a­tion to con­nect goals with tools and tools feed­back and (4) play­ful sys­tems are humane sys­tems. If you care about people-friendly tech­no­logy, you should care about play.

Further Reading

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Week 323

This was an import­ant week for Free Birds. We reviewed the latest sprint with the cli­ent and sub­sequently released the release can­did­ate (I know!). Only one more sprint to go before we can “go gold”. We also planned this next and final sprint and received a green light soon after.

Meanwhile we made a care­ful start with the concept for pro­ject HENDO, mostly by review­ing my notes from the first three co-creation sessions.

I blogged a lec­ture about play­ful design for act­iv­ism from the start of this year.

Alper has star­ted open-sourcing some of our older pro­jects over on GitHub.

I ended the week by attend­ing a Hacking Habitat lec­ture by Evgeny Morozov on Thursday even­ing and par­ti­cip­at­ing in the work­shop con­nec­ted to it on Friday, delving into the nature of con­tem­por­ary bur­eau­cracy and how indi­vidu­als might curb it to their advantage.

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Playful Design for Activism’ at E-Motive Day 2015

At the start of this year I was invited to demo Standing and to speak at E-Motive Day, a join­ing of innov­at­ive civil soci­ety organ­isa­tions inter­ested in (as they put it) North-South exchanges.

In my lec­ture I talked about how Standing works and why it is inter­est­ing for civil soci­ety organ­isa­tions (or NGOs). I also talked about why I think NGOs should stop think­ing in terms of cam­paigns and start think­ing in terms of products.

Below is an adapt­a­tion of what I said that day and some of the slides I used. I will skip the first part in which I gave the usual intro­duc­tion of Hubbub and also plugged Bycatch, which was still in pre-release back then, and will dive right into my intro­duc­tion of Standing.


Standing is an app for play­ful act­iv­ism. You can down­load the app on the Apple app store, and check the web­site on getstanding.com.

How to use Standing

How to use Standing

How to use Standing

Here is how it works. You start by enter­ing a cause you would like to stand for. Then you press and hold a but­ton. A counter starts run­ning. You need to keep hold­ing the but­ton, and not move, or the app will end the ses­sion. Once you are done stand­ing, you can share your stand­ing ses­sion with the world.

Stand­ing wo/man protests in Istanbul

Why did we make Standing? We star­ted in the sum­mer of 2013. (Sounds like a long time ago!) We had been inter­ested for some time in the use of social media for act­iv­ism. People appro­pri­at­ing tech­no­logy for their own ends. Then the Arab Spring happened. And the stand­ing wo/man protests happened in Istanbul. It star­ted as a joke: can we make an app for stand­ing still? But then we decided to take the joke ser­i­ously, and actu­ally make it.

Some­where between sign­ing an online peti­tion and walk­ing in a demon­stra­tion

What is inter­est­ing about Standing? It is a con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion around clickt­iv­ism. It sits some­where between sign­ing an online peti­tion, and walk­ing in a demon­stra­tion. It requires more effort than the former, but less than the lat­ter. It is also a digital/physical hybrid. So it plays with the cat­egor­ies of act­iv­ism we are inclined to think inside of.

Salvador Breed playing a set of music to stand to

It is also play­ful because it is not instru­mental. The act of stand­ing, if you try it, you will find it is pleas­ur­able in and of itself. I am not say­ing it is neces­sar­ily fun but it cer­tainly is an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence, without neces­sar­ily requir­ing instru­mental out­comes. This is why when we launched the app at Mediamatic we decided to do a stand-in last­ing half an hour and invited a Salvador Breed to play a set of music to stand to.

'Africa? There's an app for that' at Wired.co.uk

We are also ‘play­ing with’ the fact that apps are used by com­pan­ies and gov­ern­ments as tools for per­sua­sion and con­trol. We are appro­pri­at­ing the concept of the app, and also pok­ing fun at the fal­lacy that all world prob­lems can be solved with apps.

Standing for peace

And Standing is open-ended. It invites people to play­fully express them­selves. We see this in the vari­ety of causes people stand for. They range from the per­sonal to the global and the serious…

Standing for kabeltruien (cable sweaters)

… to the frivolous.

So Standing is an app for play­ful act­iv­ism. It offers a play­ful altern­at­ive to old and new cat­egor­ies of civic action. It play­fully offers a pleas­ur­able exper­i­ence. It play­fully gives rise to per­form­ances. It play­fully pokes fun at ‘there is an app for that’. And it lets people play­fully express them­selves. We star­ted it ourselves because we wanted to have an example of this kind of product, and as an experiment.

Digital Transformation, Playful Design, and Activism

Why should you care? Because we at Hubbub think that NGOs will need to start shift­ing from think­ing in terms of cam­paigns, to think­ing in products. Let me explain.

Digital’ is trans­form­ing all aspects of soci­ety, and also organ­isa­tions. Organisations will either become digital, or be replaced with ones that are.

Power within digital organ­isa­tions will nat­ur­ally shift from mar­ket­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions to ser­vices and products.

Why is this? Because digital enables dir­ect inter­ac­tion with your audi­ence or users or the pub­lic. It is digital products and ser­vices that this inter­ac­tion is medi­ated by. Also, the digital products people use every­day con­di­tion their expect­a­tion of inter­act­ing with your organisation.


So in the case of NGOs we think it makes a lot of sense to invent products that enable people to work with you towards com­mon goals.

And we think at least some of these products should be play­ful, like Standing.

'Stapler in the Jelly', The Office

Because to play is to be human, engaged with the world. It is the way in which people explore the free move­ment within more rigid sys­tems. As with pranks in the office, it is a way to appro­pri­ate a con­text and in the pro­cess bring free­dom to it. To make it personal.

Provos carrying blank banner

Playful act­iv­ism has always done this. To play­fully sub­vert the rules of society.

Sit-in organized at a Nashville lunch counter in 1960

And in some cases, it has been a power­ful force for change.

But even in the cases in which it has not brought sweep­ing change, each and every act of play has always had mean­ing on a per­sonal level. And for me, that is already a lot.

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Week 322

Another simple week in terms of stuff going on.

We devoted the vast major­ity of our time to Free Birds, put­ting the fin­ish­ing touches on the release can­did­ate. We’re get­ting really close to the fin­ish line now and its a pleas­ure to be able to tune and tweak things to make them just right.

I also demoed the game to a couple of inter­ested museums on Wednesday and got nice responses from them.

Jumping back a bit, on Tuesday I headed over to Amsterdam again to attend the third State of Flux co-creation workshop.

Finally, Alper played around with Ethereum at a work­shop on Thursday.

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Week 321

This week we had our heads down and kept mak­ing good pro­gress in the Free Birds release can­did­ate. Alper wrote code more or less the whole week and I split my time between sketch­ing user inter­faces and map­ping out what parts of the app need to be loc­al­ised for each museum which decides to adopt our little game.

Not much else of note happened, to be hon­est. It was one of those rare simple weeks. So I’ll leave it at that.

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Week 320

This week was a change of pace from the few quiet ones pre­ced­ing it: plenty of meet­ings, work ses­sions and events with pro­ject work pick­ing up again as well.

On Tuesday, I headed to Nijmegen to close off pro­ject KOKORO with the cli­ent. KOKORO is a digital coach for adoles­cent men­tal health. We reviewed the final ver­sion of the pro­to­type we cre­ated and made note of ideas it sparked for futu­ture product devel­op­ment. We also dis­cussed what good next steps might be for the cli­ent, who are keen to take our dir­ec­tion and push it further.

Later that day I headed to the Buikslotermeer area of Amsterdam Noord to be present as an observer at the second State of Flux co-creation ses­sion. As usual it was a pleas­ure to be sur­roun­ded by a hugely diverse group of people all intent on improv­ing their own neigh­bour­hood. And once again we were served amaz­ing food cooked by loc­als (Surinamese-Javanese in this case).

Second State of Flux co-creation session in Buikslotermeer, Amsterdam Noord

Meanwhile Alper atten­ded Talk & Play to meet Luke Crane of Burning Wheel fame and to play his game Mouse Guard: Swords & Strongholds. Luke is also head of games at Kickstarter and has self­lessly cham­pioned Bycatch in the US tab­letop gam­ing scene, so it was a real pleas­ure to see him.

This week we also kicked off the first sprint of the third and final phase of Free Birds’ devel­op­ment. Free Birds is a museum game about civil rights. This sprint is mainly focused on get­ting a release can­did­ate in shape, which includes mak­ing adjust­ments to the app so that it can be used in mul­tiple museums simultaneously.

Thursday was another busy day. I par­ti­cip­ated in a work­shop at FreedomLab aimed at devel­op­ing a concept for a ser­i­ous game about cor­por­ate social respons­ib­il­ity. That same even­ing, I headed to Pakhuis de Zwijger to deliver a talk at the event ‘New Planning Methods’, which I sub­sequently wrote up.

Placard 'WHO OWNS THE CITY?' at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam

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New Planning Methods

This is a writeup of my talk at the event ‘Nieuwe Planningsmethoden’ (‘New Planning Methods’) in Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam on October 8, 2015.

Hello. My name is Kars Alfrink. I am a designer and part­ner at Hubbub, a small play­ful design agency, based in Utrecht and Berlin.

Hubbub helps organ­isa­tions do things with games, play and play­ful­ness. We make play­able things with which you can improve your­self and the world around you.

Since the begin­ning of Hubbub we have been invest­ig­at­ing what game design can con­trib­ute to life in cities.

This is also the sub­ject of a chapter I con­trib­uted to the book ‘The Gameful World’ which was pub­lished earlier this year by MIT Press.

Parkour, Pieces of Berlin, Cruel 2 B Kind and L.A.S.E.R. Tag

In my chapter ‘The Gameful City’ I talk about five dif­fer­ent ways in which people can use play­ful tools to improve their liv­ing con­di­tions. I call them appro­pri­ation, de-familiarisation, social­isa­tion, sub­ver­sion and form­a­tion. This last one, form­a­tion, is what I will go into a little bit more now because it is most rel­ev­ant to our subject.

Creations by James Rojas workshop participants

Formation is about people using play­ful tools to act­ively shape their liv­ing con­di­tions. There are great examples of new plan­ning meth­ods that try to achieve this. When I was writ­ing my chapter I was mainly look­ing at meth­ods that enable people to express their ideas about space.

Open Source City, Rezone, State of Flux and Play the City

Other meth­ods try to achieve things like: visu­al­ising and mak­ing access­ible what can be meas­ured about space, edu­cat­ing people about bet­ter ways of spa­tial plan­ning, and fos­ter­ing col­lab­or­a­tion between those inhab­it­ing a space and those plan­ning it.

All of these approaches increase the diversity of par­ti­cipants in the plan­ning pro­cess. This is good because it offers a coun­ter­bal­ance to the tend­en­cies of insti­tu­tions to impose order from above on what they per­ceive as messy real­ity on the ground. More diversity leads to more resi­li­ence and live­ab­il­ity. I am very much in favour of this. Who wouldn’t be?

I have a big con­cern though. It applies to most meth­ods I just men­tioned but in my chapter I spe­cific­ally talk about the play­ful plan­ning tools for col­lab­or­at­ively express­ing ideas about new and exist­ing spaces.

The con­cern is this: When the par­ti­cipants are done play­ing and the plan needs to be turned into real­ity, how do we pre­vent people from going back to busi­ness as usual? It is likely that old power struc­tures will reas­sert them­selves. The danger is that our new plan­ning meth­ods are simply used to get buy-in from people after which they are no longer a full part­ner in the proceedings.

So I am inter­ested in mak­ing our new plan­ning meth­ods a little bit more dan­ger­ous to the status quo. Giving them real teeth. All in the interest of effect­ing wide­spread and sus­tained change.

For this to hap­pen, design­ers of new plan­ning meth­ods must con­sider policy as a mater­ial to work with. I’m think­ing of tools that pro­duce new ways of organ­ising plan­ning, in stead tools that pro­duce new plans.1

One source if inspir­a­tion would be Nomic, a game in which chan­ging the rules is a move. It was cre­ated to illus­trate the reflex­iv­ity of law. Imagine a new plan­ning method that mod­els cur­rent plan­ning policy and asks par­ti­cipants to then make changes to it. The out­comes can then be used as a start­ing point for imple­ment­ing actual policy changes.

An example of design­ers dar­ing to grapple with policy is Playful Commons. This is a pro­ject to cre­ate new per­missive licenses for pub­lic space. Think Creative Commons but for space. Here are urban design­ers and game design­ers who con­sider policy, law, rules as a material.

So that’s one way to give our meth­ods more teeth. But I think we should also look bey­ond any single method. We’ve got all these great new ways of plan­ning. It’s really excit­ing and there seems to be real momentum in this area in the Netherlands. Now I think it is time to start con­nect­ing the dots.

Conceived, perceived and lived space

We should try to close the loop between meth­ods that focus on con­ceived and per­ceived space, and meth­ods that focus on lived space.2

3D Print Canal House, Straatlokaal, Godsbanen and The Harbor Laboratory

To be more spe­cific, I am think­ing of all the things that are hap­pen­ing in digital fab­ric­a­tion, tem­por­ary pro­gram­ming, tem­por­ary build­ing, and new spaces for cre­at­ive work. I am won­der­ing what might hap­pen if we take these things and con­nect them with the new plan­ning meth­ods I’ve been talk­ing about so far.

What excites me is to think about cre­at­ing per­man­ent spaces in our cit­ies where experts and non-experts alike can come together to plan, pro­to­type and eval­u­ate new ideas for improv­ing our sur­round­ings at a 1:1 scale. For lack of a bet­ter word let’s call them ‘SpaceLabs’. Permanent places for the con­vivial pro­duc­tion of space.

New embodied and social planning methods

Such SpaceLabs con­nect work­ing with con­ceived space and per­ceived space with lived space. They con­nect plans we make for new spaces and obser­va­tions we make about exist­ing spaces with the sub­ject­ive exper­i­ence of spaces. Now all of a sud­den our new plan­ning meth­ods become embod­ied and social.

We have all these new plan­ning meth­ods now. And they are great. Now, I invite us all to take them and to start build­ing a new plan­ning practice.

Thank you!

Links to Projects Referenced in Slides

  1. Hill, Dan. Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary. []
  2. Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Expanding the Geographical Imagination. []
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Week 319

Not much to report this week.

For Free Birds we made plans for the next sprint, writ­ing user stor­ies and groom­ing our back­log. We hope to start the work on this soon.

For TEDASUKE I had a final meet­ing with our cli­ent SodaProducties and talked through their next steps with them, in par­tic­u­lar what to look out for when hir­ing an agency.

I finally got around to writ­ing up the work we did on Camparc. It was fun going through the archives and see­ing all the effort put in by the team. It was hard to boil it down to 1000 words, but I managed.

On the social front, I went over the the annual Dutch indie games exhib­i­tion ‘Indigo’ to catch up with friends from that scene and to get a feel for the state of the art. In my opin­ion Chalo Chalo, Metrico+ and Unfated lead the pack.

In Utrecht, the week was closed off drinks at the monthly Vechtclub XL ‘bierklub’, soak­ing up the final rays of sun on what was prob­ably one of the last lovely even­ings of the pro­longed indian sum­mer we’ve been having.

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