Week 288

I was joined by Alper in the Utrecht stu­dio again this week. With all that’s going on in NL at the moment it’s nice to have him on site a little more frequently.

One of the things we did was start the second sprint on SHACHI. Alper and Tim worked together on the alpha ver­sion of the game with some guid­ance from me. It involved a lot of tweak­ing of our pro­to­typ­ing setup in Unity, which was con­veni­ent to do while co-present. For the remainder of the sprint they will try to con­vert my very simple phys­ical pro­to­type into some­thing digital. We will iter­ate from there. In addi­tion, art styles were explored and iBeacons were selec­ted and purchased.

Prototyping Home Rule

I was present at the kick-off of pro­ject BANKEN with the cli­ent and the rest of the team, which is col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent small com­pan­ies each spe­cial­ising in a part of the product. Hubbub is con­sult­ing on this. We’ll be doing some design dir­ec­tion and some pro­to­typ­ing. Later in the week I did some think­ing about how to best approach this.

I did some copy writ­ing for Camparc Mark II and I headed over to Aldo’s work­shop on Friday to review the pen­ul­tim­ate sprint. I got to admire more nifty 3D prin­ted parts, such as the tape cable pro­tector below.

Tape cable protector part

Alper, Lekha and I dis­cussed Bycatch’s pri­cing at length. After much tweak­ing of a spread­sheet we were suit­ably fried but we had determ­ined a course for­ward. We also reviewed a story­board for a pro­mo­tional video. Once we have that in hand, we’ll be in a good place to offi­cially launch.

Other pro­ject work included Alper doing some think­ing about SHIJIMI’s concept visu­al­isa­tion, and us deliv­er­ing the final batch of KUMA mockups to the client.

On the people front, we had a long over­due chat with Joris, catch­ing up on our work and explor­ing things we might do in the com­ing period. Arjen also dropped by to share his exper­i­ences at Knutepunkt.

And finally, I blogged a review of Play Matters and we were very pleased with a com­pre­hens­ive item on German radio about Bycatch.

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Play Matters

Crowd at Ann Hamilton, The Event of a Thread

When Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters was pub­lished in August of last year it imme­di­ately went on my to-read list but it took me a while before pick­ing it up. When I did I was imme­di­ately hooked. Not since The Well-Played Game have a I come across such a thought­ful treat­ment of play.

Play Matters is also the best dis­cus­sion of play­ful design I have read in book form or for that mat­ter any place else. Given the fact that we have adop­ted the term “play­ful design” to describe what we do, I am always look­ing to improve my own think­ing on the sub­ject. In that regard, Play Matters is very help­ful as it provides a vocab­u­lary for talk­ing about play, play­ful­ness, and playthings, and the craft of design­ing for them.

In fact, it is such a good book on the sub­ject, that I would recom­mend it to any designer, not just design­ers of playthings, by which I mean games, toys and play­grounds. It will make you think dif­fer­ently about the rela­tion­ship between the things you make and the people you make them for. It will help you under­stand that any­thing can be played with, and that this is a good thing.

Miguel con­vin­cingly argues for an under­stand­ing of play as an act of per­sonal expres­sion. Play is a way for people to under­stand and engage with the world. Seen this way, play is an act of pro­duc­tion, not con­sump­tion. Put in lofty terms, which Miguel doesn’t shy away from, when we play we are fully human.

Because of this, play mat­ters. And because of this, it is import­ant for us design­ers to acknow­ledge the role of play in our work, even when it is our job to make things that are primar­ily meant to be use­ful. Even use­ful things can be approached with a play­ful atti­tude. When we design for this kind of playing-while-working we break out of technology-as-servant-or-master dichotomy.

Play Matters is a mere 176 pages long. The final third of the book is taken up by notes for those want­ing to do fur­ther read­ing and research. It may be short, and writ­ten in an access­ible style (which I wel­come) but it is not shal­low. The book rewards con­tem­pla­tion, and per­haps more import­antly it invites dir­ect applic­a­tion in daily practice.

In short, Play Matters is highly recom­men­ded to any­one inter­ested in play. But per­haps more import­antly, I think it is required read­ing for any­one inter­ested in design.

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Week 287

A week in which we got a lot of things done.

KUMA is near­ing com­ple­tion with another round of mockups run by the cli­ent. Aldo is mak­ing steady pro­gress on the next ver­sion of Camparc. We are going to do an early concept explor­a­tion for SHIJIMI about games in urban development.

Most of my time went into a museum game we’re design­ing code­named SHACHI. We are find­ing our feet in Unity and play­ing around with beacons right now. We’ll jump into devel­op­ment in earn­est this week. I have got­ten into the habit of shoot­ing a video of the day’s find­ings with my S100. This is an easy high-fidelity way to share the design progress.

I also wrote a piece on why we are using Unity for this pro­ject and why we think it’s an import­ant design tool.

Bycatch had a quiet week while we pre­pare to launch it.

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Unity makes iterative design easy

We are cur­rently in the middle of a pro­ject for which we are using Unity 3D to quickly cre­ate a work­ing pro­to­type. We had wanted to use Unity for a while now because other tools felt too con­strained. Now we finally have the oppor­tun­ity to do so.

Other design com­pan­ies and depart­ments are also find­ing out about the bene­fits of Unity. I saw two jobs for Unity experts through my net­work in the past weeks as opposed to abso­lutely none before. IXDS were look­ing for a Unity expert and this week I saw that HERE have a per­man­ent pos­i­tion for a Unity pro­to­typer.

There are two main reas­ons why Unity is a great tool for iter­at­ive design.

First, Unity is a pro­duc­tion qual­ity tool in which you can pro­to­type quickly. Unity will allow you to drop your assets into it and place them in a 2D/3D scene. Unity will take almost any­thing you throw at it and if not you can find a lib­rary for it (for example see this work­flow by Zach Gage). If you add some beha­viours to these objects, you can then quickly have some­thing that is inter­act­ive. These beha­viours can be pro­grammed fully but Unity is aimed fore­most at non-programmers. Finally you can pub­lish your pro­ject with a single action to a mobile device, desktop or web­site. There are simply no other tools that sup­port this work­flow and are this mature.

2015-02-20 17_49_08

Second, the fact that the editor and the engine are within the same applic­a­tion enable things that are oth­er­wise impossible. In Unity you can declare any prop­erty of an object to be pub­lic. Unity will then auto­mat­ic­ally gen­er­ate a con­trol in the inspector which you can use to tweak this prop­erty. You can then run your applic­a­tion in the editor using the play but­ton and tweak the value while it is run­ning. In the GIF above (from this tutorial) you can see some­body play­ing around with the speed of a car. This ‘live-coding’ cap­ab­il­ity is one of the most import­ant fea­tures of Unity.

During almost every pro­ject we have done we wanted to be able to tweak vari­ables of a run­ning applic­a­tion. When you want to do play­ful design, you need to fine-tune things to make your game or app feel just right. Currently the only way to do this is through a dif­fi­cult and time con­sum­ing edit-compile-run-test cycle. Xcode has some ways to expose vari­ables but they are dif­fi­cult to set up and share within a team. Unity has this as a key feature.

This being said, actu­ally get­ting star­ted in Unity isn’t easy. There are lots of ways to do everything which doesn’t make it very straight for­ward. But the doc­u­ment­a­tion has improved massively since the last time we tried it and the basic ver­sion is now free. There are also many power­ful lib­rar­ies built on top of Unity for people cre­at­ing games. It seems like a mat­ter of time until there will also be lib­rar­ies and assets for people mak­ing other things.

Unity is one of the most pop­u­lar engines for doing game devel­op­ment right now. Larger com­pan­ies pick­ing it up for design pro­to­typ­ing is an inter­est­ing devel­op­ment. It shows the need for hav­ing tools that allow design­ers and pro­gram­mers to be able to pro­to­type together. One of the few other tools out there that facil­it­ates such an integ­rated pro­to­typ­ing work­flow is the increas­ingly pop­u­lar Framer. I look for­ward to see­ing more tools for bet­ter iter­at­ive design like these emerge.

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Week 286

We made some good pro­gress on sev­eral pro­jects this week. The big one is Home Rule. Alper and I kicked it off with some plan­ning for the next two weeks. Then we imme­di­ately star­ted crack­ing on things. Alper got a pro­to­typ­ing setup in Unity up and run­ning, includ­ing iBeacons integ­ra­tion, and pro­ceeded to do some “mater­ial explor­a­tion”. Meanwhile I did some pre­lim­in­ary game design, out­lining mech­an­ics and ima­gin­ing a player’s exper­i­ence when going through a full game loop.

On the Bycatch front, we had to fix a little prob­lem affect­ing some cus­tom­ers when they tried to make a pur­chase. All should be func­tion­ing prop­erly again, so why not go an grab your­self a copy?

Alper wrapped up his review of an inter­view by Dude about his mot­ley career, and had some rather dash­ing por­trait pho­tos taken for pub­lic­a­tion along­side it.

Alper also presen­ted on Bycatch and our approach to play­ful design at IXDS.

I pre­pared and ran a work­shop on play­ful design for a group of stu­dents fol­low­ing a minor in exhib­i­tion dir­ec­tion at Reinwardt Academy. We redesigned Peggy Guggenheim’s fam­ous Art of This Century gal­lery to be more play­ful than it already was, and in the pro­cess got some exper­i­ence with phys­ical pro­to­typ­ing and playtest­ing. All in less than 2,5 hours.

Playful exhibition design workshop at Reinwardt Academy

On the pro­ject KUMA front, we received and pro­cessed feed­back from KLM on the first round of mockups, and I spent some time with Tim going over all of it and mak­ing a plan for the required adjust­ments in the second round, which we’ll deliver in rough story­boards first.

I spent some time research­ing the 4G offer­ings of the major mobile oper­at­ors in NL for Camparc Mark II. I was pleas­antly sur­prised to find that Vodafone offers monthly con­tracts for data sims. In the­ory this should suit our needs per­fectly so the next step is to test one in the field. If all goes well our Camparc balls will be able to roam the city abso­lutely free, which would be glorious.

And on Friday, I headed over to Aldo’s labor­at­ory to review the first Camparc Mark II devel­op­ment sprint. Quite a few struc­tural improve­ments had been made des­pite delayed deliv­ery of vari­ous parts. Getting a live demo of all the nice little details and mak­ing plans for the next sprint was a lovely way to end a pro­duct­ive week.

SD card protector on Camparc Mark II

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Week 285

The best news last week was the go-ahead on SHACHI. We’re excited to start work on that in the new week.

Work on the next ver­sion of Camparc has star­ted for the STRP bien­nal.

Kars ran a work­shop at Berenschot together with Jeroen van Mastright. As research for the work­shop I looked to find dilem­mas in games and had a harder time than I at first would have thought. This scene from the Walking Dead is a clas­sic example but many other large scale games are some­what dilemma free.

For KLM Kars pre­pared copy and sent the work by Hedgefield to the cli­ent for feedback.

I talked with Sebastian Quack about the Playful Commons pro­ject. I also met Güven Çatak of the BUG Game Lab at Istanbul Bahçeşehir University.

Kars wrote this highly neces­sary post of what it exactly is that we mean when we say “play­ful design” and why that is an import­ant way of look­ing at design.

We had very stim­u­lat­ing update calls with our asso­ci­ates Sebastian and Ianus as well this week.

Today's office

Because we are in between offices in Berlin I am now tem­por­ar­ily resid­ing in the Rainmaking Loft. It’s a fun and inter­est­ing change of scene though I haven’t found a place in the area yet where I want to have lunch a second time.

We’re explor­ing sep­ar­at­ing ship­ping costs from Bycatch’s cur­rent price so we can recoup the money we lose on inter­na­tional ship­ping (so get it now while it still includes ship­ping!). We’re also going to repack­age the game to fix a minor print­ing error.

Bycatch on display in Vechtclub XL

You can now see the game on dis­play at the Vechtclub XL.

I demon­strated Bycatch at the tab­letop game design­ers meetup here in Berlin’s Spielwiese game cafe and left behind a copy there for inter­ested people to try out. I gave an inter­view for the Dutch Design magazine dude about my career in design with a heavy focus on Bycatch.

On Friday even­ing I met Marcus Richter and Dennis Kogel of Superlevel to record a pod­cast about Bycatch where I talked about the game, explained it and played it with my co-hosts in German. I look for­ward to listen­ing to the result.

Next Tuesday I will be talk­ing at IXDS’s pre-work talks about design­ing for Bycatch and privacy.

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An Outline of Playful Design

In the sum­mer of last year we announced a new dir­ec­tion for the stu­dio, which boils down to us no longer fram­ing our work as game design, but as play­ful design. We are inter­ested in design­ing a wide range of playthings, and we are also inter­ested in design­ing things that aren’t primar­ily meant for play but which still bene­fit from allow­ing for it.

In recent talks I have been point­ing to sev­eral ideas that I think together out­line part of what we con­sider play­ful design. I thought I’d write them up here.

1. Community

I have referred to The Well-Played Game by Bernie De Koven, to emphas­ise the social con­text within which play hap­pens, and the import­ance of enabling groups to adapt playthings to their needs. One example of how to do this is by not encod­ing all of a system’s rules into soft­ware but in stead let­ting people socially nego­ti­ate those rules. Johann Sebastian Joust does this, and so does our Beestenbende.

2. Flux

I also think David Kanaga’s idea of flux dogma is very import­ant: “allow all con­stants to become vari­ables.” By doing this, a plaything can become like an instru­ment, an express­ive tool that can be put to many (unex­pec­ted) uses. David’s own Proteus is a great example of this, and we were think­ing a lot about flux dogma when we were mak­ing Camparc.

3. Invention

And finally, when it comes to how we frame design itself, Jack Schulze’s pro­voca­tion “design is about cul­tural inven­tion”, oppos­ing it to design as prob­lem solv­ing, has always made a lot of sense to me. Thinking about design in this way allows us to go bey­ond the instru­mental, even when we are design­ing things with a pur­pose. The work done at BERG often had a whim­sical char­ac­ter, pos­sibly best exem­pli­fied by Little Printer. Our own Standing is an attempt to do some­thing that is both use­ful or even ser­i­ous but makes fun of itself at the same time.

So those are three ideas that taken together give a sense of how we approach play­ful design: 1. Understand and design for social groups and let them adapt things to their own needs. 2. Make fixed aspects of a thing vari­able, and put them under people’s con­trol. 3. Conceive of design as a dis­cip­line that cre­ates things that are not “just” use­ful, but that open up new unex­pec­ted possibilities.

Of course, these ideas don’t sit apart from each other. When sup­port­ing a play com­munity, one applies flux to a thing, and is nat­ur­ally prac­ti­cing design as inven­tion. A vari­ation on this state­ment can be made start­ing from the per­spect­ive of flux, or invention.

A play­ful design dis­cip­line like this can lead to bet­ter playthings, but per­haps more import­antly, it also leads to pur­pose­ful things that are more pleas­ur­able to use because they allow people to make them their own, to express them­selves while using them, while being more present in the here and now, because they can weave them into their own social and phys­ical contexts.

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Week 284

A large chunk of my time this week was taken up with con­trib­ut­ing to E-Motive Day, a con­fer­ence organ­ised by an inter­na­tional net­work of organ­isa­tions work­ing on social change of vari­ous kinds. We were asked to demo Standing, and talk about our per­spect­ive on play­ful design for act­iv­ism. People said nice things about both and I had inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions about a sub­ject that I hold dear.

There were good talks from oth­ers too. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with the work being done by CEW-IT in Uganda to empower cit­izens, Emer Beamer’s efforts to reima­gine primary edu­ca­tion as design edu­ca­tion, and Lino Hellings’s photo walk meth­od­o­logy developed at PAPA.

Meanwhile, work on KUMA con­tin­ued apace. I went over to KLM to review story­boards, and handed over feed­back to Tim for a first ver­sion of mockups. It’s been a pleas­ure to see the first few of those roll by in Dropbox already.

Finally, I pre­pared two upcom­ing work­shops. One is together with Jeroen for Berenschot, about using adven­ture games to increase aware­ness of integ­rity issues in the work­place. The chal­lenge here is to design genu­ine moral chal­lenges for play­ers, in stead of obvi­ous right/wrong choices.

The other is for a group of exhib­i­tion design stu­dents at Reinwardt Academy, about play­ful design. The plan is to have them remix a fam­ous Peggy Guggenheim exhib­i­tion and make a play­able scale model of their plan. Should be fun.

We also con­tin­ued to do mar­ket­ing on Bycatch. And as we sol­diered on this week, we were occa­sion­ally delighted by a mes­sages from play­ers shar­ing their exper­i­ences with the game.

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Week 283

The biggest event this week was that we ful­filled the pre­orders for Bycatch and sent every­body a news­let­ter with updates. That took up a lot of our time and atten­tion as well as fix­ing some last minute hic­cups and mak­ing sure everything was right. At the time I’m writ­ing this I’m see­ing the first games arrive at people’s homes on Twitter which is a pretty amaz­ing feel­ing. We’re now mov­ing towards our offi­cial launch.

We played Bycatch in the stu­dio with Eelco for the first time with the actual cards and even for us play­ing the game is still fun.

A play session with the actual cards of Bycatch. It turns out this is a really fun game!

What also got released is The Gameful World book over at the MIT Press. It’s been a long time in the mak­ing but now the defin­it­ive book on gami­fic­a­tion is out.

We’re work­ing on a con­sult­ing engage­ment for Berenschot. Our work for KLM is pro­ceed­ing with the con­tent hammered out and Tim Hengeveld start­ing on the art.

I pub­lished our 2014 recap as a by product of our OKR sys­tem with a solid over­view of the many things we did that year. Michelle Thorne pub­lished this amaz­ing treat­ment of the work­shop Ianus and I held at Thingscon Amsterdam last year.

I made a big round of Amsterdam vis­it­ing old friends and busi­ness pro­spects before I made my way back to Berlin on Thursday to attend the games.net new year’s party (at the KING offices).

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A 2014 recap

Each year we review our Objectives and Key Results for that year and adjust them for the fol­low­ing one to provide guid­ance for our stu­dio. The goals sum­mar­ized are to be the best known and respec­ted play­ful design stu­dio that works with the best people in the field to deliver value for our con­sult­ing cli­ents and pur­sue rel­ev­ant pro­jects of our own.

Projects

We star­ted and con­cluded many self-initiated pro­jects last year which was one of our key res­ults for 2014. We can call the year a tre­mend­ous cre­at­ive suc­cess. The pro­jects we have shipped are all in some way front-runners of the wider industry and a great show­case of what our stu­dio model is cap­able of.

What was new this year is that many of our own pro­jects are becom­ing their own entit­ies with their own web­sites, brand­ing and rhythm. This makes it easier to talk about them as things in their own right.

Standing

standing-iphone-closeup-01-4x3

We com­pleted and launched Standing to crit­ical acclaim and we then updated the app with an attract­ive visual design. Playful act­iv­ism is a very import­ant theme in our work and Standing serves as an example of our think­ing and prac­tice on this topic. We think that Standing will remain rel­ev­ant for the fore­see­able future and we’ll refer back to it regularly.

Camparc

We con­ceived and cre­ated Camparc for STRP on an open brief and we are extremely happy with the res­ult. Camparc is a very inter­est­ing and deep toy, that facil­it­ates play as a per­form­ance and includes live video, a recent interest of ours. We will develop Camparc fur­ther this year into a stan­dalone trav­el­ing attraction.

Bycatch

IMG_3688-v01-16x9

We star­ted con­cep­tion and design of Bycatch last year as our first col­lab­or­a­tion with Subalekha Udayasankar. This quickly turned into an example of how we think games for ser­i­ous issues should be designed as well as a viable self-published card game. We will be selling the game this year and talk­ing a lot about Bycatch.

Cuppings

This is an odd one out but we still run Cuppings out of a per­sonal interest for cof­fee and because it is a great example of uncom­prom­ising app design. Sales of Cuppings have been stronger last quarter than they have been ever before so it looks like this little app has a bright future ahead of it.

Communication

One of the most import­ant parts of our work is com­mu­nic­at­ing the value of our pro­cess and the­ory. We haven’t been bad at this last year but we need to be even bet­ter this year. The biggest prob­lem is that a lot of things about play­ful design which are obvi­ous to us aren’t even appar­ent to our peers, let alone the wider public.

Most import­antly this year we have changed our core pro­pos­i­tion on the front page of the web­site to very clearly state the work we do for clients—“Strategy”, “Invention” & “Prototyping”—and we split ourselves into a con­sultancy and a stu­dio. The con­sultancy helps organ­isa­tions do things with games and play, the stu­dio cre­ates play­ful products.

We were fea­tured in Vrij Nederland, De Correspondent, Bright, De Gids, Detektor.fm, Mare, Achter het Scherm, Kill Screen, Board Game Geek, Product Hunt.

We did things at LIFT, Behaviour Design Amsterdam, Studium Generale Leiden, Rezone, This Happened Utrecht, Mediamatic, IT University of Copenhagen, De Vuurlinie, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, JOIN, STRP Scene, Vechtclub XL, ASEM, IMPAKT, ThingsCon Amsterdam, Tegenlicht, Lab for City, Talk and Play, Creative Mornings Utrecht.

People

One way to term our approach would be an anti-agency with Kars resid­ing in Utrecht and me in Berlin. We have a list of reg­u­lar col­lab­or­at­ors for many pro­jects and the con­nec­tions to be able to get the best people for any job.

We also have an asso­ci­ate pro­gram con­sist­ing of Ianus Keller, Joris Dormans and Sebastian Deterding which has proven very use­ful. Associates are people who we have worked together with in a part­ner­ship type agree­ment and with whom we want to keep doing this. We have deployed each of our asso­ci­ates on work this year and we look for­ward to doing more.

Logistics

The Utrecht studio—our de facto headquarters—moved to Vechtclub XL. We are immensely pleased with the local facil­it­ies and net­work we have there in an irres­ist­ible industrial-chique loc­a­tion just out­side of the city.

The Berlin stu­dio KANT closed down its loc­a­tion of the past years as sub­ten­ants of Panorama3000. We are wait­ing for our next stu­dio in the newly built addi­tion to the Aufbauhaus Kreuzberg. The new loc­a­tion will have all of the bene­fits of Berlin without its transience.

Looking Ahead

We think Hubbub has an unique per­spect­ive on design­ing for the ludic cen­tury in which we find ourselves. We think we have honed this per­spect­ive over the past years by thinking-through-making and we look for­ward to shar­ing it with you in the com­ing year.

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