Week 261

The view from the perch

I have just returned from the Alps this weekend and directly travelled to the Netherlands to do some after holiday catching up with Kars.

Standing is progressing very nicely thanks to Simon’s hard work. We’ll be ready to launch the redesigned app and website soon. We’ve been in talks about making a game about camera surveillance and we critiqued a format for a TV show in development.

Camparc ball

Most of the rest of the week was spent on Camparc which has progressed nicely since last I saw it. We demoed it successfully to the client and shot a teaser video of the balls themselves for your enjoyment. A crazy concept (huge balls with cameras in them) turns out to be really awesome when you actually build it.

Stielman coffee packaging

In coffee related news, the Utrecht studio has procured a coffee subscription from new Rotterdam based roaster Stielman which we highly recommend.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Come play Camparc

You’re invited to come play our latest game Camparc at the Strijp-S open day on September 14 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Camparc is a panoramic camera ball playground. It is commissioned by art and technology festival STRP.

At the event you’ll be able to play with several man-size panoramic camera balls in the Strijp-S area and see a live panoramic camera feed of each one on a big screen. We’ll also provide you with a couple of things to do with the balls which make use of their intriguing perspective on the world around us.

So: head over to Strijp-S on September 14 and come play Camparc.

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 260

This was the first week after my holiday so I spent Monday mostly just getting back into things. A process that used to be quite painful but ever since we mostly run on a combination of Asana and Slack it is much easier to get a sense of what has happened and what needs to be done compared to the old email days.

My post-holiday blues were softened by the company of Tom, who had been in the country for a few days. As always, it was a pleasure catching up, seeing what he’s been working on and sharing our own work. We wrapped up with lunch at De Klub, after which Tom went on to explore Utrecht before his flight back to London.

The rest of the week I focused on Camparc. On Tuesday I had a weekly status update call with STRP after which I drove down to Aldo’s studio in Rotterdam. There I had the great pleasure to play with the prototype camera ball he’s been building. Seeing it live for the first time made a big impression. The ball is seriously big and unexpectedly heavy. Watching the gyro inside of it move around as you play with the ball is mesmerising. Seeing the panoramic footage stream live as you move around is a bit magical. For me it was definite confirmation we are on the right track.

Aldo with prototype Camparc ball

During the rest of the week I delved into all aspects of Camparc’s production, as there are quite a few things that remained to be determined and arranged. Most notably I had a meeting with Trudo, who are the developers of Strijp-S, which is the area where Camparc will be played. I shared our work in progress, got enthusiastic responses and we immediately set out to sketch out the exact locations where we will be playing on the weekend of the event the game is part of (September 12–14).

On Friday, I reviewed our progress with Aldo and made plans for the next week in which everything will come together for the beta version of the camera ball, including custom, brightly coloured 3D printed connecting materials. I also went over the current state of affairs with STRP again, pinning down some details of the event’s time table.

Aside from Camparc, I put some preparations into our upcoming project with KLM, and a grant application for a new collaboration related to urban planning. I closed the week off in style with Friday drinks and very nice dinner at De Klub.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 259

I am getting back into things after a pleasant two weeks of holiday on Bali. Meanwhile Alper is heading to Austria for two weeks of hiking, camping and reading Piketty up in the mountains.

Judging by the notes Alper has left me as well as the activity logs in Asana and Slack, things have been progressing nicely in my absence.

I am particularly excited by the work done on Camparc (FUNKOROGASHI) by Aldo. In the taxi back from the airport yesterday I watched with glee at footage shot by the first camera ball prototype. Also, our first big water ball was delivered, giving us an opportunity to get familiar with its physical properties. Size, weight and so on will greatly influence the kind of play Camparc will afford. Aldo also built a gyroscope for the camera and raspberry pi which fits the big ball, and he made good progress on streaming video from the raspi.

For KEGANI, Alper did some research into the possibilities of getting the game published by a European boardgame company. Results are kind of inconclusive so we will continue to talk to people and think about what is the best match for our slightly left field game concept and subject matter.

For Indigo, the annual exhibition of Dutch indie games, Alper reviewed a number of games. There were a couple of interesting entries so I’m sure the next big edition at the end of September will be worth a visit again.

And finally before starting packing, Alper presented design lessons learned from esports at JOIN, the first local multiplayer game summit which was organised by our Berlin friends Sjors and Lorenzo.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 258

The studio is on a bit of a summer schedule with one principal gone on holiday and me finishing things before I go on mine. Most of my time has been spent doing maintenance on existing projects, moving forward new ones and lots of social calls for lunch/dinner/coffee.

Two current projects did see significant progress:

Aldo built a hardware prototype for FUNKOROGASHI that validates our assumptions about what is possible. The video of the prototype in action looked like a proper technical breakthrough. When we have this at scale this is going to be quite something.

We pushed out an update release for the Cuppings guide which is in the App Store already. There’s some features in there for people without location services and a lot of new cafes that our team has vetted.

I ended the week proofing Kars’s chapter for The Gameful World book by the MIT Press. I was happy to find that we had proofed it well already but the final version is beautiful and well worth the wait.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 257

I’m writing this note (and will be writing the next as well) because as we speak Kars is on a well-deserved holiday in Indonesia. He spent most of last week working on Camparc finalizing the design document with Aldo among a slew of other related things.

Full house for the TI final

Monday evening I took interested friends to the Meltdown esports bar to watch The International finale event. The place was packed and did not have any airconditioning which made it good (for us) that the best of five was over quickly.

We continued work on Standing whose new design release is shaping up nicely. We had an update call on KEGANI to see what issues remain open and how to move forward. We are looking forward to publishing a polished and topical card game. During the small sessions that we’ve tested it we have been met with a lot of interest.

Sales efforts continued apace with us preparing upcoming consulting. We are also looking to fund a new project based on opening up surveillance as a substance to be played with. Also one of our concepts has been included in the bid book for Varna European Capital of Culture 2019.

I dropped by the Berlin UX Cocktail Hours for some catching up with local designers. Renato Valdés, founder of fitness app Human visited our Berlin studio for coffee and ramen. Kars chatted with Mapije and with some people from the Università della Svizzera italiana. At the end of the week we both gave an interview to Marrije Schaake and Maaike de Laat from Achter het Scherm who profile Dutch digital makers and document the processes they use.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Announcing Camparc – a public space game for STRP

Over the course of the next two months we will be creating a new public space game commissioned by art and technology festival STRP. The game carries the working title Camparc and Hubbub codename FUNKOROGASHI. It will be playable September 12–14 at Strijp-S—a Philips industrial site converted into city neighbourhood. Read on below for a sneak preview of what we have planned. STRP have also posted an announcement in Dutch.

Strijp-S overview

Camparc consists of large-scale, connected objects with built-in cameras. Players can freely move these “camera toys” around Strijp-S, using its streets, squares and furniture as a playing field, obstacle course or race track. Meanwhile, the toys will capture the players and the space and show the footage back to them on screens placed in the same space. Besides free play, we will also suggest games to play using the toys, described in simple written rulesets placed at strategic spots in the game’s area.

The project is inspired by Katamari, goal line technology, new games earth balls, camera surveillance, selfie poles, panoramic camera balls, skateboarding and Parkour. We hope it will produce an eye-catching, fun and inclusive experience which invites players to reflect on new ways of tech-aided looking and mapping.

Camparc moodboard

We have invited Aldo Hoeben to join us for this project. Aldo is a veritable wizard when it comes to installations involving photography and video. Keep an eye on our weeknotes to follow the game’s development in the coming weeks and mark your calendars—we’d love to have you over to play.

Posted in Announcements, Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 256

Last week I traveled to Utrecht to do some maintenance work on an old project. I took the opportunity to work at our Utrecht office and check out the Vechtclub XL’s new cafe De Klub. I am severely impressed how the venue is shaping up to become Utrecht’s number one destination. Another old project that saw some work—summer time being maintenance time—was Beestenbende for which we shipped a new release.

The big event for the week was closing FUNKOROGASHI and kicking off development for it in rapid succession. This is going to be an installation game for STRP festival which we’ll be posting more on this week.

Playtesting KEGANI at Dutch Game Garden

Kars and I playtested KEGANI which is shaping up nicely. It’s a fast paced card game with a serious payload. Kars then also tested it at the Subcultures game night at the Dutch Game Garden. We talked a bit more about studio strategy and how that is influenced by the realign of a couple of weeks ago. That discussion helped us to further polish our tagline to “design studio for playful products” which we think is concise and covers everything.


I traveled back to Berlin on Thursday evening and did some remaindered sales work on Friday before heading to our local esports cafe Meltdown to watch the opening games of The International. I’m a big fan of Cloud9 who unfortunately have been knocked out of the tournament as I’m writing this.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 255

This week started on a high note with the opening of restaurant De Klub at Vechtclub XL—the creative workspace in which our Utrecht studio is located. It is a lovely space serving good food and drink (including fine coffees) but most importantly a great place for serendipitous encounters with other Vechtclub residents and people from outside of the building.

De Klub opening day

Much of my attention was dedicated to getting project FUNKOROGASHI set up. On Monday I adjusted the proposal we had sent out earlier with a new concept Alper and I had come up with in Berlin the previous week. On Thursday I headed over to Eindhoven for a meeting with the client. We discussed and adjusted the concept, then went out for a tour of Strijp-S which will be the site of the project. When I got back I immediately banged out a third iteration of the proposal and sent it out, ready for signing.

Exploring Strijp-S Eindhoven

Meanwhile Alper went hunting for a rather elusive Beestenbende bug. With help from the mighty Chris Eidhof he eventually managed to locate and fix it.

We were also pleased to sign a contract for a new project with KLM which we’ve codenamed KUMA. It’s concept development, which includes workshops and studio work, aimed at providing insight into the possibilities of game-based learning for a particular application domain. This will kick off next month and we are very much looking forward to it.

Dutch news weekly Vrij Nederland published a piece on coffee and was kind enough to include a link Cuppings—our super simple app for finding great coffee near you. This immediately propelled it into the app store charts again.

Cuppings mention in Vrij Nederland

I finally found the time to write up and publish the talk I gave some time ago at a Behavior Design Amsterdam meetup. It’s an attempt to describe an alternative approach to design for behaviour change which puts people first and strives to increase in stead of diminish their agency.

Throughout the week we had numerous meetings. Alper welcomed a group of students from Belarus to the studio who were on an outing organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. He also entertained friends-of-the-studio Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Justus Bruns. I met with curator Ine Gevers to discuss games and art, visited our friends Perceptor at their the Hague studio and talked interaction design education with Viktor Wijnen who has just become head of the game and interaction design program at the Utrecht School of the Arts, my alma mater.

We also visited a Utrecht escape room and once again failed to solve it in time. I did however manage to nail one whole puzzle, largely thanks to its visual nature.

The week ended for me with a very welcome monthly Bierclub (“beer club”) in the sun at De Klub. Over the weekend I watched a few games of Dota 2 at The International and Smash Bros and Street Fighter at EVO. Meanwhile in Berlin, Alper tells me he caught up on email.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Five Behaviour Design Principles You Never Suspected Would Work

A while ago, I was invited by friend-of-the-studio Iskander Smit to speak at a Behavior Design Amsterdam meetup. Much of our work is related to behaviour change, but we try to steer clear of the reductionist thinking that is quite prevalent in the field. So I decided to use the opportunity of presenting to a room full of professional “behaviour designers” to try and destabilise some of those ideas. What follows is a summary of what I talked about, plus a section I had to skip due to time constraints.


As a first provocation I showed this joyful image of a girl throwing an aerobie. It is considered the best frisbee ever. Its inventor is Alan Adler who would later go on to create the awesome aeropress coffee maker. To me, this is a superb example of the kind of behaviour design I think we should aspire to. Something that makes us more human, not less so.

Girl throwing aerobie

COM-B system

Around the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 we were involved with a project in the healthcare field. We created concepts for products that would help people lead healthier lives. Sadly that work is all under NDA so we can’t get into specifics. But I can share some useful theory we were introduced to, and a playful design tactic we employed.

The COM-B system which is described in an open-access journal article offers a coherent and comprehensive way of thinking about how to affect behaviour through various kinds of interventions.

In this project we used the system to help us evaluate our designs for potential effectiveness. It can also be super useful for constraining your design space beforehand.

Article describing COM-B system

However, it did not help us with inventing interventions that would be interesting to engage in from an individual person’s perspective. To be fair, this isn’t the goal of the COM-B system. But it was something we ran into in this “behaviour design” project. The tendency to create a system that goes about driving behaviour in a purely instrumental way is hard to fight.

We designed our way out of this by using a tactic that I think might be of use to others as well. For a while, we found ourselves painstakingly trying to remove all sources of friction from the product. In doing so we also removed many opportunities for surprise, delight and expression.

So in the end we went back and actually made those sources of friction things for users to deal with, in a playful way. We used this playfulness to frame the activities we would like people to engage in. As a result they became fun to do, in stead of a chore.

“Fun is only fun when it is stupid”

So there is a tension in designing for behaviour change between instrumental rationality and playfulness. It is captured in a wonderful way in a story that Dave Eggers tells about a visit to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He goes there to see 70s revival band Starship play live. A friend of his has joined the band for the occasion and they’re being very snobby and ironic about it.

But at the end of the night to his own surprise Eggers finds himself singing and dancing to the music along with the rest of the audience. “Fun is only fun when it is stupid,” he writes and I think this is almost always true. There might be certain kinds of fun which aren’t completely stupid, but I think we have to acknowledge that there is something deeply irrational about all sources of human enjoyment. As designers we ignore this irrationality at our own peril.

Starship performing

Yellow Claw

As a further example of this tension I contrasted an Apple ad that I spotted in the New Yorker with a video by Dutch trap music production outfit Yellow Claw.

The ad, which is part of the Your Verse campaign, shows sumo wrestlers using an ipad to analyse their movements. So technology is used to make a very messy human pursuit legible, measurable and quantifiable. This is how Apple markets their tools.

Apple Your Verse sumo wrestlers ad in New Yorker

The music video is for a song titled Krokobil which is a weird pun on the Dutch words for crocodile and buttocks. A krokobil is a crocobutt. I’ll leave the lyrics of the rest of the song to your imagination. In short, this is stupid fun in the Eggers sense of the word. But here’s the rub: Krokobil is made with the same kind of tools Apple markets as machines for making the immeasurable measurable, the very opposite of stupid fun.

“If you can measure it, then it’s not the change I want to see”

It’s not just a matter of acknowledging the human desire for irrational pleasure. Contemporary capitalism is in love, or perhaps more accurately in lust, with gamification. Measuring the immeasurable as gamification does is the first step towards commodification. Today’s tech industry privileges instrumental rationality over other modes of human thinking and doing. This approach favours propagating existing institutions over (re)inventing new ones.

So in the cases when we want to transform things connected to the status quo, we should also transform the practice of how we determine change. All of this and more is passionately argued for by Paolo Pedercini at Indiecade East 2014.

Tweet by Bogost quoting Pedercini at Indiecade East 2014

Communities of play

As Pedercini points out, computing technology is great at counting things. This is fine and useful in many cases. But this does not mean we should always count things, or try to make everything countable. The question is: How do we allow for less rational and arguably more human ways of acting within the context of technological or computational systems?


One way suggested by Pedercini is to push parts of a system’s rules outside of the software and into the social physical space of people using it. This is a tactic we have employed ourselves as well.

A great example would be the “no-graphics digitally-enabled playground game” Johann Sebastian Joust. It uses technology, but a large part of the game is socially negotiated. Douglas Wilson, the game’s designer, calls this “deputising players”.

Johann Sebastian Joust

Our game Beestenbende has similar characteristics. We use an app as a game master of sorts, but it is the players who we depend on for upholding the rules.


These kinds of games, and products that share their dependence on social negotiation, are more malleable by the groups of people using them. This is similar to what Bernie DeKoven describes in The Well-Played Game. He talks about communities of play and how the ability to jointly change the rules of any game they are playing is super important for its continued existence. From this perspective players are always more important than any particular game. Extending this to the subject of this talk: People are always more important than any particular persuasive product.

People playing with earth ball at New Games event

Adding degrees of freedom

Another tactic is suggested by David Kanaga in a response to Eric Zimmerman’s ludic century manifesto. At one point Kanaga proposes an alternative to traditional gamification, which he calls “soft gamification”. It is aimed at increasing possibility spaces as a opposed to making things measurable and decreasing uncertainty.

“Soft gamification solves no quantifiable problems; instead, it poses questions. It merely takes an activity/situation, and ADDS DEGREES OF FREEDOM such that it is more malleable (more PLAYED, more of a game).”

Kanaga discusses the same idea in a different way in a talk at GDC 2014 which is every bit as brilliant as the aforementioned ludic century post. Using music theory as a lens for understanding games, at one point he introduces flux dogma: “allow all constants to become variables”.

Tweet by Heather Kelley quoting David Kanaga at GDC 2014

Flux dogma is best explained through examples. Kanaga himself is fond of using Infinite Sketchpad. In this case, the constant that is the traditional drawing canvas is made variable.

Playing with Infinite Sketchpad

A less obvious example is Proteus, for which Kanaga created all the sound and music. In this “wildlife simulator” the player roams a procedurally generated island. Every piece of scenery she encounters has sound attached to it, in a non-binary way. Meanwhile with the passage of time the island continuously changes. There is a day/night cycle and a passing of seasons. Kanaga offers “shifting possibility space” as a definition of what a game is. Proteus fully embodies this.


This idea of adding degrees of freedom connects to Pedercini’s resistance to measurable change as a way of institutional reform. Behaviour design often happens at the individual level. But true change also requires intervention at higher levels of abstraction. It is here that adding degrees of freedom is of most importance.

Two further examples of shifting possibility spaces, before I conclude with a note on ethics.


When we made Victory Boogie Woogie, we took on the challenge of connecting literature with playfulness and ended up with something like a playground for writing.

For this we were hugely inspired by the practice of tabletop roleplaying games and storytelling games. A great example would be Fiasco, which enables a group of players within the timespan of one evening to tell a Coen brothers-esque tale of small-time criminals meeting unfortunate fates.

Storygames like Fiasco support a generous form of play. Play that is non-instrumental. The rules are there to support the players and not the other way around.

Shifting possibility spaces like Fiasco, Victory Boogie Woogie, Proteus, Infinite Sketchpad, Beestenbende and Joust enable a different kind of change. One that is not easily measured by virtue of being socially negotiated. One that adds degrees of freedom in stead of reducing uncertainty. These qualities support a more ethical way of using technology for behaviour change. Finally, they start from an understanding that many sources of enjoyment are fundamentally irrational.


Ethics is a major concern of mine when it comes to what I see going on in the behaviour design field. Most often, the question of ethics is reduced to this: Behaviour designers should use their awesome powers for good. The issue I have with this is that it presupposes perfect translation of a designer’s intent into a product, and from the product into a user’s behaviour. It should be obvious that this is a wholly unrealistic depiction of how tech culture actually is constructed, deployed and used.

In stead of limiting ethics to a question of designer intent, behaviour designers who are concerned with ethics should take their audience seriously and allow for them to be full participants in the shaping of a system’s workings. I would argue that a product that does not allow for the kind of user appropriation that I have been describing so far is inherently unethical.

This position is hugely inspired by Miguel Sicart’s article Against Procedurality which questions the fetishisation of systems in the games industry. It is about games, but I would argue it equally applies to any technological product. By way of explanation I’ll offer two short quotes:

“Without the player there are no ethics or politics, no values and no messages. Objects can have embedded values, technology can be political, but only inasmuch as there is a human who makes the politics.”

“Against procedurality an army of players stand and play, breaking the rules, misunderstanding the processes, appropriating the spaces of play and taking them somewhere else, where not even the designer can reach.”

Pig Chase

As an example of how this could work, I will point to the game Pig Chase, which we designed and developed together with the Utrecht School of the Arts and Wageningen University. It is a game people play together with pigs. Humans get an iPad app, pigs get a custom display which responds to their touch in their pen. They are invited to coordinate their movements and “dance” along a sequence of goals which triggers colourful fireworks.

Pig Chase is about how we as humans relate to these animals, but there is a lot of ambiguity built into the design. There is no clear message we are pushing. In stead, we allow humans and pigs to play together and in the process come to their own conclusions about the topics such as pig farming, meat consumption and animal intelligence. It is a great example of adding degrees of freedom, and it is also a good example of allowing for socially negotiated play (in this case across species).

Pig Chase

The scientist and the mouse

One of my favourite takes on how games work their special kind of magic is from Frank Lantz:

“Games are Skinner boxes in which you are both the scientist and the mouse. You pretend to care, and then you get to experience what it means to care, only at one remove, like, with a clipboard.”

It is this double loop of action and reflection happening at the same time which I think is also vital for a kind product for behaviour change which does not just propagate existing states of affairs, but also invents new ones and transforms existing ones.

To do this, we need to always remind ourselves of the irrational side of human behaviour. To strive to make room for it, in stead of reducing it. So I’ll end similar to how I started. Like the aerobie, the game Animal Upon Animal is an example of the kind of behaviour design that inspires me. I would invite you to play it and study it. And the next time when you sit down to design a behaviour change product, think back to it. Can you create an experience that is equally social, dynamic and open to change?

Girl playing Animal Upon Animal

I collected links to most of the articles and projects referenced in this talk at my tumblr.

Posted in Talks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed