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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Making Camparc

This is a writeup of how we went about mak­ing Camparc, a pan­or­amic cam­era ball.

The story starts in July 2014 when STRP asks us to make a pub­lic space game for a ‘scene’ — one of the events lead­ing up to their 2015 bien­nial. They were look­ing for some­thing eye-catching, access­ible to a broad audi­ence, fun for both par­ti­cipants and spec­tat­ors, and of course it would need to be about tech in some way. The game would be played in the Strijp-S area of Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

We cycled through a num­ber of con­cepts together. An early idea was focused on doing things with large balls and maybe track­ing them with cam­eras. A later concept was titled ‘Selfietopia’ and pro­posed a play­ground filled with cam­era toys for mak­ing selfies with.


Camparc sketch

Ingredients from those earlier con­cepts came together in Camparc: cam­era toys such as Panono and Bubl. New ways of see­ing such as goal-line tech­no­logy. The pleas­ure of play­ing with a huge ball in both Katamari Damacy and the earth ball games of the New Games movement.

Camparc moodboard

It was our hope Camparc would let people play­fully explore new ways of tech­no­lo­gic­ally aug­men­ted see­ing, and that it would give people a tool with which to explore the Strijp-S area in new ways.

Many dif­fer­ent things had to come together in the final exper­i­ence. For example, get­ting a video stream from the balls to show up on an LED trailer turned out to be non-trivial. But here I will talk about the design of the hard­ware and I will also go into how we cre­ated ana­morphic puzzles for people to play with.

The Gilliam-Dyson Direction

So the start­ing point was to do some­thing with big balls. We went on a hunt for a good base and even­tu­ally settled on water balls. They are large, trans­par­ent and afford open­ing and clos­ing. Perfect for our purposes.

The notion of trans­par­ency and see­ing the tech inside of the ball lead to a dir­ec­tion for the visual lan­guage which was equal parts Terry Gilliam sci-fi prop and James Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Terry Gilliam × James Dyson

We worked with Aldo Hoeben on this pro­ject. He was respons­ible for the design and devel­op­ment of the balls as well as the soft­ware behind them. The cool thing about work­ing with Aldo was that he has a back­ground in indus­trial design, has an artistic prac­tice focused on pro­jec­tion map­ping and pan­or­amic pho­to­graphy and is a 3D print­ing enthu­si­ast to boot. In other words, his unique set of skills was a per­fect match for the chal­lenges of this project.

It was Aldo who start­ing from my Gilliam-Dyson dir­ec­tion cre­ated the brightly col­oured cus­tom 3D-printed parts which give Camparc its con­struct­iv­ist look. It is an aspect of the pro­ject I am still very proud of. More than once dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a player about ‘how it works’ was I able to simply point to every single com­pon­ent and talk them through it.

Detail of Camparc's 3D-printed components

Another neat aspect of the balls is that all the hard­ware is sus­pen­ded in a ‘poor man’s gyro­scope’. The weight of all the com­pon­ents keeps the cam­era more or less upright all the time. The wob­bli­ness of the cam­era gives the images some wel­come dynam­ism, emphas­ising that you are indeed look­ing at foot­age from a rolling ball.

Anamorphic Puzzles

Throughout the pro­ject and actu­ally still now, there is a ten­sion between free and dir­ec­ted play. We were inter­ested in giv­ing people a shared bit of ludic pub­lic fur­niture. But we were also curi­ous what kind of games could be played with this new plaything. In addi­tion, we were very inter­ested in tak­ing over the area we would be play­ing in with some kind of visual markings.

One obvi­ous start­ing point for a more struc­tured play­ful activ­ity to offer play­ers was ana­morphosis: “a dis­tor­ted pro­jec­tion or per­spect­ive requir­ing the viewer to use spe­cial devices or occupy a spe­cific vant­age point to recon­sti­t­ute the image.”

Geometric perspective-localized painting by Felice Varini

The Camparc balls would be stream­ing a donut-shaped video to an LED trailer in the middle of the play area. We thought it would be cool to cre­ate geo­met­ric draw­ings that would appear to float in the cam­era image.

As is often the case in our pro­jects, we then needed to invent a pro­cess that would enable us to do this. In the end we man­aged to pull it off with an inter­est­ing assemblage of off-the-shelf soft­ware and hard­ware and lots of mask­ing tape and patience.

We used an iPhone on a tri­pod with the same pan­or­amic lens attached to it as we would be using inside of the balls. We made sure the lens was more or less at the same height as it would be in the ball. Using air­play we then streamed the cam­era view to a mac­book and we used a simple app to over­lay the image we would be draw­ing on top of the cam­era feed.

Camparc anamorphic drawing test

Then it was a mat­ter of find­ing a nice spot to draw our ana­morphic puzzle and mask­ing it out (which involves lots of check­ing and recheck­ing between the draw­ing and the image on the mac­book screen). At the game’s run on Strijp-S we used spray chalk to fill in the shapes.

A shout-out to our friends at Pony Design Club who did an excel­lent job on all the visual mater­i­als for Camparc and who also painstak­ingly cre­ated the final set of ana­morphic puzzles at Strijp-S for the game’s event.

Anamorphic drawing at Strijp-S

The end res­ult looked very inter­est­ing and people enjoyed fig­ur­ing out how to place the ball exactly so that the image kind of popped into view on the big screen.

People playing with anamorphic puzzle

A Tribute to ‘Planet Pass’

I could not let the oppor­tun­ity pass to stage a trib­ute to one of our sources of inspir­a­tion, the New Games move­ment. So in addi­tion to free play with the ball and the ana­morphic puzzles, we sched­uled a few games of Planet Pass with the people in attendance.

It was a rather glor­i­ous exper­i­ence. We also cap­tured the foot­age from these ses­sions, a few clips of which made their way into the final video.

'Planet Pass' in the New Games book


I found it very inter­est­ing to see how we man­aged to get an increas­ingly large group of people to join us just by start­ing to play the game and invit­ing people to help us out. The scale of the Camparc balls affords col­lab­or­at­ive play so very eas­ily. Outside of the Planet Pass ses­sions there were many occa­sions where people would spon­tan­eously start to play together.


This is another qual­ity of the pro­ject that I am rather fond of. Camparc is a play­ful tech­no­logy which very eleg­antly lets people step into and out of play­ing alone or together.

Mark II

So that is the story of the mak­ing of Camparc. After this first ver­sion we were com­mis­sioned to improve on it. This second ver­sion, which we decided to name ‘Camparc Mark II’, was released as part of the STRP bien­nial. The most not­able change is that we exchanged the large screen for a VR head­set. Once again we encountered many chal­lenges dur­ing the making-of. But that is a story for another day…

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Week 318

Let’s start at the end. On Thursday and Friday I par­ti­cip­ated in a two-day work­shop on the future of energy at FreedomLab. Meanwhile, Alper moved apart­ments. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of our energy sys­tem and came away optim­istic about the switch to renew­ables. Alper learned a lot about how to get a wash­ing machine down a flight of stairs.

Earlier in the week I atten­ded the first of a series of co-creation ses­sions organ­ised by State of Flux, aimed at devel­op­ing a new tem­por­ary pro­gram for the Buikslotermeerplein area in Amsterdam Noord. I was there to observe their pro­cess. Once all the ses­sions have fin­ished we will develop a concept for a trans­la­tion of this pro­cess to a tab­letop game, the aim of which is to enable oth­ers to repro­gram the pub­lic spaces they make use of every­day without expert help. This is pro­ject HENDO.

On the Free Birds front we pre­pared the latest release for dis­tri­bu­tion to the Airborne Museum. The game now allows play­ers to share game con­tent to Museumkids and we had to make sure it also works with that website’s live envir­on­ment. Meanwhile, Alper spent some time research­ing how best to go about imple­ment­ing a future improve­ment to the game’s chat user interface.

On to our side pro­jects: We sent out a Bycatch news­let­ter to cus­tom­ers and sub­scribers. (Sign up here to receive the next one.) For Cuppings, Alper and Simon made a list of final things to fix for the next big release.

Over the week­end I headed over to Ianus to lend a hand with his annual apple har­vest and Alper had cof­fee and beers with @neb and friends.

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Week 317

A quiet week for once, now that we have wrapped up most of the cur­rent pro­jects on deck. The slower pace took some get­ting used to even though it is a wel­come change from the con­stant pres­sure of the past few months.

On the Free Birds front, we made some final fixes to the build we fin­ished the week before. The cli­ent came over to the stu­dio for a sprint review which went very smoothly. Later in the week the team con­vened for a ret­ro­spect­ive which once again yiel­ded some use­ful learn­ings to apply to our pro­cess in sprints to come. By the end of the week we had groomed our back­log a bit so that we are all ready for the next and final phase of the project.

For Bycatch, we pre­pared a news­let­ter to be sent out soon (sign up here). We talked to Lekha about her exper­i­ences at XOXO. The game was a big suc­cess at the tab­letop event. We also ful­filled some more orders and I took some time to make our web­site favicon ret­ina with thanks to Mr. Gruber.

Alper made use of the down­time to do some work on a next release of Cuppings which I’m told will drop soon. He also had Lorenzo over for a sneak pre­view of his talk on Japanese minigames.

Lorenzo Pilia talking about Japanese minigames

Finally, Alper put some words together on his blog about con­ver­sa­tional user inter­faces, a trend we’ve been fol­low­ing and also apply­ing to some recent pro­jects, includ­ing KOKORO and Free Birds.

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Week 316

Another week largely taken up by Free Birds. The whole team (Alper, Tim, Niels and myself) worked together on fin­ish­ing another release, which we did with only a small bit of over­time on Friday. With each sprint we learn more about the intric­a­cies of Unity’s UI sys­tem.

We also delivered a spec and a budget for TEDASUKE, which the cli­ent will use to back up a grant applic­a­tion for the product’s devel­op­ment. We used a list of user stor­ies as a light-weight spe­cific­a­tion. To arrive at a budget we then assigned a size estim­ate to each story (using t-shirt sizes) and for each size we assigned an aver­age amount of hours for the dis­cip­lines involved. The whole pro­cess was rel­at­ively pain­less but did yield the required amount of detail.

In the lead up to Lekha’s pres­ence at XOXO we updated the Bycatch web­site with a link to our artist state­ment and an endorse­ment from Lea Schönfelder. Perhaps most sig­ni­fic­antly, we quietly switched to char­ging our cus­tom­ers in dol­lars in stead of euros, for vari­ous reas­ons too bor­ing to go into here.

I updated the page for Camparc in our port­fo­lio to include the excel­lent video made by Sylvan of our run at STRP this year. I also added a descrip­tion of how the whole thing works now, as well as some more photos.

And finally, on the week­end Alper vis­ited some new spots for an upcom­ing update of Cuppings.

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Week 315

Last week once again was very much a heads down kind of week. Alper more or less exclus­ively worked on Free Birds. We also talked to the cli­ent about the next phase of the pro­ject, which kicks in after we fin­ish this sprint, and involves scal­ing up to mul­tiple museums. Furthermore, we pre­pared a bug fix release, and we received a first batch of sur­veys from play­ers of the Airborne Museum beta, which were largely positive.

On the Bycatch front, I taught around 30 people how to play the game at a Hacking Habitat event. People seemed to enjoy it, and much dis­cus­sion happened dur­ing and after play­ing the game, which was a lot of fun to see happen.

People playing Bycatch at Hacking Habitat Life-Hack Marathon #3 'How to Cross Borders'

On to the remain­ing smal­ler con­sult­ing engage­ments. For SHIJIMI I atten­ded a pitch for the pro­duc­tion of the concept we helped develop. For TEDASUKE I draf­ted a spec for the product we’ve helped envi­sion in an agile man­ner, by whip­ping up a list of user stor­ies. And finally, for KOKORO, I tied up a few loose ends left over from the pre­vi­ous week’s delivery.

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Week 314

This week’s big pro­ject was fin­ish­ing a second ver­sion of the KOKORO prototype.

Alper and I spent a couple of days writ­ing javas­cript, html and sass, as well as good old copy. By Friday we had man­aged to com­plete most of the items in our back­log, and were quite sat­is­fied with the res­ult. Next up is demo­ing the res­ults to the client.

Earlier in the week the Free Birds team con­vened for a sprint ret­ro­spect­ive, and to plan the next sprint. It was the first time we did a proper ret­ro­spect­ive and I was pleased with the amount of valu­able pro­cess improve­ments it yiel­ded. The res­ults of the plan­ning ses­sion were approved by the cli­ent soon after, so we’re all set for another sprint this week and the next.

On the Bycatch front, Alper emp­tied his stock by ful­filling the last of the bump in sales we got after the XOXO announce­ments. And I did some work on our web­site and shop­ping cart so that it would also accept PayPal.

Finally, for TEDASUKE, we pro­cessed some final bits of feed­back on the mockups we’d delivered the week before, and we made a plan for how to go about the final deliv­er­able, a spec and a budget.

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Week 313

The big one this week as in the weeks before was Free Birds. After a suit­able amount of UI wrangling, bug hunt­ing (and squash­ing) we delivered the first pub­lic beta on sched­ule at the end of the week. It is now play­able in Airborne Museum. I am super proud of what the team has achieved, and I look for­ward to hear­ing what vis­it­ors make of it. Meanwhile, we will start plan­ning work on the next release.

Another not­able event was XOXO’s announce­ment that Bycatch is part of their Tabletop selec­tion. (A huge honor!) This lead to us being Boing Boing-ed, and with that, the Twitter floodgates opened…

People tend to respond strongly to our little card game. Many “get it” and sup­port our efforts, which is great.

Some come at it from a tra­di­tional boardgam­ing frame of mind and seem to have a hard time with the notion of eth­ical play. For a great counter­example, check out this redditor’s com­ment on Tom Vasel’s mer­ci­less review.

Still oth­ers dis­like us using a game to dis­cuss the topic of drone war­fare, pos­sibly because in their eyes it trivi­al­izes a ser­i­ous sub­ject mat­ter. Here’s an (admit­tedly extreme) example of the lat­ter case:

Thankfully, some people whose work in art, games and act­iv­ism we hold in the highest regard were kind enough to sup­port us:

So yeah, Bycatch is mak­ing some waves, which is great. By the end of the week Alper (who is tak­ing care of ful­fil­ment) had a con­sid­er­able amount of orders to put in the mail.

On to the remain­ing pro­jects. For TEDASUKE Simon delivered a first round of mockups which we got reviewed by the cli­ents. They seem to be happy with the dir­ec­tion so it looks like we will be able to deliver a second and final round next week.

I also did some read­ing up on agile plan­ning and estim­at­ing for a final bit of work we’ll do TEDASUKE, which con­sists of a pre­lim­in­ary spec and budget.

For KOKORO I did some more pre­lim­in­ary design work in pre­par­a­tion for some more intens­ive work on a second pro­to­type together with Alper in the week to come.

One more thing of note: Alper provided an intro­duct­ory talk for the screen­ing of Free to Play (a recom­men­ded doc­u­ment­ary on esports) at the lovely Game Science Center.

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Week 312

The big focus this week was once again Free Birds, our iBeacon-enabled museum game app for fam­il­ies, about free­dom. Alper con­tin­ued devel­op­ment, Tim worked on art and UI, and I did a lot of build­ing and test­ing, and production-type stuff.

On TEDASUKE, I got everything ready for brief­ing Simon on Friday, who will help us out with some visual design. This mainly con­sisted of fin­ish­ing wireframes.

And finally, on KOKORO, I took some time to think through some of the more com­plic­ated parts of what need to build, and came up with lots of ques­tions for the cli­ent. Once we have those answered, we can con­tinue design and development.

So yeah, very much a heads-down kind of week, with at least a couple more of those in the imme­di­ate future. Onwards.

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