Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Sketching a paper toy for a conference

At Game in the City 2009 we handed out cards to all participants. Here’s a photo:

The nine Hubbub cards

As you can see, there are nine variants. Each has an illustration of a fox doing, well, something on the front, plus a quote. The quotes all relate to the nature of reality in some way.

Part of the card can be taken out. As you can see in the following photo:

Hubbub cards with the center bit removed

The part that is removed could be kept as a reminder. What remains is similar to a view finder. You can look through it and take photos of people, adding their faces to the fox bodies.

We went around during the conference doing exactly this. A selection of the photos we took of people can be seen below:

The rest of this post is a description of the making of these cards, with a focus on the role sketching played in the design. I’m posting this because we more or less stumbled across this form of play by accident. However, we manipulated circumstances so that this accident, this serendipitous encounter of an interesting form of play, was bound to happen. I think this is a trick of much value to designers of games and playful experiences.


We were asked by Roger ter Heide, chair of Game in the City, to create something playful for the conference. The idea was to have something that could serve as a conversation topic. People have a lot on their minds at conferences, so a full game was out of the question. We could however introduce a layer of obscurity, so that interested people could attempt to discover the rules that would govern the thing.

Mobiles and paper

(Not “mobiles” as in mobile phones, but mobiles as in the form of sculpture made famous by Alexander Calder.)

After an initial round of brainstorming we decided it would be interesting to see if we could get people to build things out of parts we would distribute. We thought we could hand out paper cards from which parts could be removed. These would combine to form characters or other things, which in turn could be placed on a designated surface, or better yet, hung from a huge mobile we would provide. Here’s a concept sketch illustrating the idea:

Sketch of initial concept

So this was all bout casual construction. We also anticipated people might get into bartering for parts, or start working in teams to create the coolest possible thing.

Having received a green flag for this idea. We bought some metal wire and some nice card board and sat down to experiment. It very soon became clear that constructing mobiles is no joke. Here’s a failed attempt by myself to create something passable in miniature:

Failed attempt at mobile construction

So we ditched this part of the plan. No way were we going to successfully create a mobile that would look good and work well in the available time.

Paper craft puppets and business card holders

What remained of the idea was constructing things, puppets for instance, from paper. At a subsequent session, we gave ourselves a few hour to fiddle with card board to see what we could come up with. We built obvious instantiations of the initial idea, which worked, but weren’t very interesting:

Paper craft puppet experiments

Playing around with these puppets, we discovered another direction; using them as business card holders. Here’s a photo of one example:

A paper puppet holding a FourceLabs Moo minicard

We abandoned this idea too though, since we didn’t see the conference’s target audience exchanging business cards using puppets. I’m sure you’ll agree.

Stumbling across the cards

It was during this same session that Julius cut a hole in a piece of card board and drew a very rough rendition of a character on it. Here’s a photo of the the man in question using this very early prototype of what would become the Hubbub card:

Julius and the first version of the cards

We continued tinkering with this idea. Creating a version that had a removable top, for instance:

Two shots of Karel with a prototype Hubbub card

It was clear this added feature would only make for more hassle and did not add much to the fun. So we settled on the simple, original version. And made a few more models. Like this one:

Julius with another version of the Hubbub card

So by playing around with the materials we would ultimately be working in, we came across an interesting form of play. The specific type of play we ended up with emerged more or less by accident. But choosing to sit down and tinker with the stuff the eventual product would be made of was a conscious decision.

I’ve left out several other options we generated during these sessions. We went for quantity, not quality. Here’s a photo of more of the things we made:

All the things that were made during one of the paper tinkering sessions

Sketching the cards and production

What was left for us to do was plan the cards for production. We had to figure out what kind of illustrations would go on them and how many variations we wanted to do. (Initially, I thought it would be cool to go for 23 variations. Ultimately we settled for nine.) We also wanted to add some text to each card, so we had to come up with something suitable there.

A plan of the cards

Sketches of the cards

Since the cards would double as calling card for Hubbub (which we planned to sort-of-launch at the conference) we thought it would be suitable to go with foxes as characters for the illustration. (Reynard the Fox is our trickster figure of choice.)

Thematically, we thought it would be interesting to play off the AR hype. The cards would be our take on augmented reality, and show that true augmentation happens between people’s ears. To underscore this, the illustrations would be a bit surreal and the texts would be witty quotes commenting on the subjective nature of reality.

Both Karel and I explored many, many variations for the foxes. We thought it was important the foxes would be doing stuff, because play is about verbs. (I went through a large list of hobbies for this.)

Sketches of the foxes for the cards

Sketches of the foxes for the cards

Karel did a great job on the final set of illustrations. From this point onwards we handed over to our friends at BUROPONY. They did all the graphic design of the cards, and handled the printing.

I’m very pleased with the end result, and was happy to see people at the conference play with them. We kept people a bit in the dark about what to do with them at first, but they figured it out. One of the biggest compliments was someone who came up to me to show he had figured out what the cards were good for, obviously proud of his achievement.

Many thanks to Roger ter Heide and Game in the City for giving us the opportunity to make this thing for the conference. Also thanks to Karel Millenaar and Julius Huijnk of FourceLabs for their contributions to the design. And a shout out to the BUROPONY crew for the ace graphic design.

Addendum: the quotes

As a bonus here’s a list of the quotes we used on the cards:

  1. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K. Dick
  2. “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein
  3. “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – John Lennon
  4. “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” – Jeffrey Byron as Paul Bradford in the 1984 film Ragewar. Made famous by Adam Savage of MythBusters.
  5. “Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.” – Jules de Gaultier
  6. “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” – Groucho Marx
  7. “Reality… What a concept!” – Robin Williams
  8. “Every time I close the door on reality it comes in through the windows.” – Jennifer Yane
  9. “Reality isn’t what it used to be.” – Walter Truett Anderson
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