Design by storytelling at THUTC

Monday November 25 another edition of This happened Utrecht took place (THUTC), edition 18. Because of other appointments I missed the first speaker; Mapije presented her toolkit for making an adventure game of your home. Sounds like an interesting project so I will rewatch this online later.

The other three talks were amusing and interesting. In all three storytelling played an important role I think in one way or another. Or better said, the way using storytelling in the design proces.

Niels ‘t Hooft seems rather clearly connected to this storytelling; he is presenting the proces of writing a novel. He took us through his process of building characters, plotting activities. Also testing the development of the characters and the interdependencies. I think that the steps of writing he took do resemble the way I write (no novels though): 1. write down the story without bothering on style or grammar, 2. write up doing a rework, 3. a paper check, printed out story, 4. first draft. He mapped those to the chapters and those could have different speed and phases.

thutc18 niels

All in all it gave a great insight in his process of ‘designing a story’, and also the changes that occur along the way. I can recommend the book for sure, it is a real page turner.

The talk by Norah Gauw from Developlay on the iPad game for toddlers –Nott won’t sleep– to learn to sleep also have a important role for storytelling. The game is smartly constructed to make the toddlers learn rituals to go to sleep by telling a story. A short story of a couple of minutes but the build in tension is important for the effect.

She shared some learnings that brings designing an app for such young children. Like the simple fact that a request for ratings of the app (very important for the app marketing) is switched off because toddlers loose their interest than right away.

The last presentation was by architecture agency ONL on one of their projects Parametric Climbing Wall. The work of these agency is always characterised by the marriage between architecture and programming. They are able to make forms generated by code that could not exist without this design approach. This project is a wonderful example of this.

The climbing wall is made out of several pieces of wood that are all different. The volume is never bigger than a standard which makes it possible to make it for the same amount of money. The trick is that the office is connecting the design directly to the production machines (CNC) without an in between layer of technical drawings.

It is remarkable how the approach of Oosterhuis is creating a story in the technology, the only way to be able to make this work is to understand the ‘thinking’ of the machine and build a story in code to achieve the projected results.

THUTC17 Scope as design material

Monday September 9 I visited This happened Utrecht, the 17th edition. It was a solid edition with a nice variety of talks. My short observations.

Manuel Kerssemakers told us about the making of Reus, one of the few god-games made in the Netherlands. He showed in a very This happened-manner how the game grow from idea to realisation. Interesting to see how the focus for creating a game like this means a lot in organising a company next to all the creativity and coding needed. And finding the right boundaries to make a project to complete.

Marrije Schaake did quite the opposite with her side project Onzelootjes, in size of the project. But even in small project it can learn how to balance scope and inspiration by making it fun to work on a project.

Mieke Meijer had a kind of atypical project. Although she worked on a dashboard of a car – which is all about interaction – her work was about designing and fabricating a new material (Kranthout) that did not relate at all to the dash, pure to the image of the concept car. There seems no interaction between the car design and the material whatsoever.

She took us with her into the craftsmanship of creating a new material. Interesting that she would not use it in her own work because of its impractical behavior. So the value is in the story not in the function.

Last speaker was Rick Companje on his Doodle3D app that makes drawing for a 3D printed object easy, and learns you at the same time how the printing process works, an aspect I like the most. The value of his app evaluated more to the hub he created to connect the printer directly to a tablet. It could be in that case a strong way to make 3D printing accessible. Next up he should partner with Ultimaker in making a low budget suitable printer.
Writing this down it seems that scope has a role in all projects in some kind of way. Scope in sizing a company to produce a game, in sizing a project to keep it fun, and scope in choosing the material that fits a cause. And at last scoping an process down as the feature set of a product. Scope as design material, it is an interesting thought indeed.

This happened UTC flies again

Last Monday another This happened Utrecht toke place in the Akademietheater. The 14th edition already, the first with a new team, as founding father Kars stopped, and Alexander is doing the Amsterdam edition now. Ianus is the constant factor doing Utrecht, now together with Evelyn and Tijmen. It was an amusing and interesting edition. A short report.

The biggest attraction up front was without any doubt the Orvillecopter, a stufffed cat made into a Drone like flying object. Bart Jansen is an artist creating installations and paintings. The cat is his own cat that died by a car. It turn out the head need to be replaced due to miscalculations in the molding interior. The weight was the biggest issue. He showed nice the different attempts he had to make to get the thing right. In the end a stronger engine did the job. The Orvillecopter crashed the evening before and one of the rotors was broken, so no live flying performance, still a great thing to see in real life.

Another public magnet was the touch lamp Fonckel of Philip Ross. You can think what you like of the form and the touches you need to make, it is definitely touchy.  I found especially the process interesting; how he used dansers to let the product become human like. Great thinking, there is a big movement in making products with real character especially in with connected products. People like Russell Davies and Toby Barnes do great presentations on that. I found it a bit disappointing how the research was translated in the product; it is rather one dimensional just a fancy on/off switch. It is a great lamp with great operations, but the character the dansers had is not met, like the part where the dancers are teasing the reader. I hope a next version will be enhanced with sensors that can react on your behavior in the light, instead of just touch controls.

A very good presentation by Diana Wildschut of the Knopjesmuseum (Tweak show). They showed the struggle to let their work present and the way guerilla tactics do the trick. The installations emerge from the performance. She did hardly show anything of the product, only of the context of creating and bringing it to the user, which is the main part of the interaction. Very This happened in that sense. I hope I will be able to experience the installations myself one time.

A big part for arty installations this time at This happened. Or a frozen installation as you the Fonckel lamp. Maybe a representation of the team, or just a good fit for the This happened-way of storytelling. We will discover when we see what the next edition will bring.

Rounding up This happened UTC

Tonight (March 30) the last edition of This happened Utrecht will take place. I really regret I have to miss this edition, especially because I visited all previous eleven editions in Utrecht. The followers of my blog know I developed a routine in defining a theme for every edition in my blogposts. Maybe I will complete the series based on the videos, I will miss the IRL vibes that are important. For now I like to share some thoughts on the 11 previous editions of This Happened Utrecht and thank the organizing team – and Kars as initiator – for lots of inspiration the last 3 years.

Before sharing some overall learnings, let’s think of some talks that stood out for me and I remember well. And of course I miss a lot. See all my posts here.
One of the first editions had the makers of the Things app. I still remember my surprise in the unplanned way they developed the product, which was great, and still is with the new cloud version.
On the other hand the talk of Daan Roosegaarde was one of the best of all talks by the way he theorizes his work, he is thinking on the design and creating a factory of art.
Vlambeer stood with me as one of the youngest presenters with unmatched enthusiasm. The were one of the discoveries of This happened for sure and are stars now in the indie games scene I think.
The presentation of Elger Blitz I liked a lot on the way he was combining a huge amount of theoretical knowledge with experiment, playfulness and one of the key examples in creating effective open-ended play.
The presentation of Matt Cottam on its Wooden Logic was beautiful and above all the most poetic of all.

It This happened stands above all for me for a makers culture. Better do stuff than plan doing. Learn of the process of making.
This only can work with a good context. A context that is defined by the passion and vision of the makers. Making without a drive will not result into a good product. And secondly it important to be open for change. Be surprised and go for the learnings of the process. The recipe for open-ended products goes as much for the route.

This happened successfully proved how game design, product design and interactive art all are part to the modern interactive experiences where online feeling is default. Maybe not even explicit for everyone, but for me This happened defined and fundamented the new era of postdigital life as one exploratory research program. I’m sure this inspiration will last.

I wish Kars, Ianus, Alexander and all visitors a unforgettable evening!

Master your freedom at This happened #11

Last Monday This happened #11 took place at Theater Kikker again. Another great event in the series. It was also a bit special because we at did support the event together with Springtime. But that of course does not influence the event, the fine ensemble of speakers did the trick again.

First of was Roy Gilsing, the designer and iniator of Grabbit. A handgrip for the iPad. It do free your movements with your tablet, as Ianus shared from his own practice. 
Continue reading Master your freedom at This happened #11

This happened celebrates 10 times inspiring storytelling

Thursday March 17 there was a special edition of This happened. The initiators Kars, Ianus and Alexander celebrated the 10th edition of the successful series of evenings on the stories behind interaction design. This special edition was connected to the Tweetakt festival and three of the four speakers show their installations on this festival. Kars curated the lovely choice of the installations.

Just like the other nine editions This happened did a terrific job to let us experience what choices designers and artists make to let their work fly. This time all the works are an interactive art piece, where the user of the art is also an unmissable part of the piece.

Continue reading This happened celebrates 10 times inspiring storytelling

The persuasive power of simple at This happened #9

Monday evening I attended This happened again in the Akademie Theater in Utrecht. The ninth edition already, as ever a very fine mix of talks gives lots of inspiration for thoughts. From mo

Let’s start with the last presentation. Diederiekje Bok en Hein Mevissen of John Doe Amsterdam told the story of John’s Phone, the mobile telephone made simple. I have stated some doubts on their choice of simple as you can read in an earlier post, and that topic was not really addressed. In the end they wanted to make a simple phone that should appeal to the hipsters more than to the mobile phone laggards. That is something they succeeded in for sure, the phone is a big success, especially by people who find the concept cute.

It is good to see how they have made a simple idea into reality. The road to realisation was not easy, it took over 4 years learning. The way they told about it gave the impression they went with the flow of their original idea, more than that they really where aiming for a certain result. The choices in the making and the hurdles of the production process in China were just slightly touched. However some of the anecdotes like the urge of the Chinese to put in extra features like radios and blue lighting are hilarious.

Before the story of the John’s phone Hedwig Heinsman of Dus Architects shared the poetic story of the creation of the remember moon jewels Worldmoon. They created a story that only architects can build. With some strange diverts and unrealistic projections of the future. But that did not really matter. The whole thing was something between a joke and a research project to the consequences of globalization.

It was by the way the project with the umbrellas she mentioned in her introduction that strike me even more by its simple idea and concept.

Before the break we had the story of Roel Wouters on the production of the crowdsourced videoclip for C-Mon & Kypski, One Frame of Fame. It was very nice to hear how the idea was born out of a pictures of people who used flash light while making a picture in the mirror. The concept for the clip was simplication in a way. Very well executed; the upload of pictures taken by the webcams of people was well composed and used some interesting persuasive tricks like the direct sharing of the frame to friends. In the end there were more than 3000 pics of which only 1500 could be used in clip. We also learned that people are focused on their moves and not on the setting, and that there was hardly any abuse, maybe also due to the creativity they have to put into it. And we learned that the use of Mechanical Turk for the filtering of the pictures triggers some ethical discussions. Something I did not really noticed was the story that is told in the clip, I was probably ‘disctracted’ by all the pictures.

Besides the clip they are working on a new iPhone app that will be released during Crossing Border in a few weeks. In this app the original idea of the flash pictures will come to a product. Of course you can add your own image to the cloud of images. The light will be playable in the app. Sounds great.

The first presentation of the evening kicked off very strong. Jan Willem Nijman and Rami Ismail of Vlambeer created a very strong game that gets is power out of the simpleness of the gameplay and rules: Super Crate Box. Endless to play. The simple the game looks, the work in shaping all the elements exact right took a lot work. Fixing a perfect gameplay is real crafting.

Jan Willem made some very truthful quotes, like: To make it simple is very hard, and hard games are not hard, they are just short. And: To be able to be successful with a hard game you need to make it free. Or: People get angry when they pay for a game that is hard to play.

And in this quotes is some resemblance to find between the speakers. If any, my theme of the evening would be the persuasive power of simpleness. Because the simple phone appeals to all unless the relatively uselessness, and because of the strong simple persuasive power of being part of a video with one simple gesture. And above all because of the ultimate addictive simpleness of Super Crate Box. And Worldmoon proves it with doing the contrary. How sweet and simple the idea was in the beginning, making it more complex makes it clearly less persuasive.

So another great This happened full of unexpected and probably unplanned learnings. We will see what the 10th edition will bring, very soon already during the Tweetakt Festival on March 17.

Embedding passion as product attribute on This happened #8

It is almost 1 am as I returned from Utrecht, together with a bunch of other visitors from Amsterdam. The 8th edition of the This happened event took place in the Akademie Theater again, a location that fits the event very well. Just like the other editions I had a great experience; the combination of people and interesting talks to think about are a great mix. This time I needed to chew a bit more however on the review of the presentations.
this happened

Almost all speakers lacked time to present the complete story. 10 minutes is a short time and forces you to make choices in the things you can share. One of the reasons Rainer Kohlberger was not able to explain how the presented work (Theseus) fit his own mantra’s. It was nice to see how Rainer got taken away on the quality of the white of the beamer. Too bad the most interesting part of the coding and designing in one fluent flow was only touched a bit. The result is really striking nevertheless.

Before Rainer, the evening was kicked off by Helma van Rijn, PhD student of StudioLab-ID in Delft. She did a warming project for dementing elderly. Starting as investigation on the behavior the project turned into a product for sharing memories. Interesting to notice the fluent process of transition from research to product. A grey area where it tipped. In the talk I couldn’t really hear this interesting process, just at the end of the question round it reveals to me.

In her case the format of This happened with a 10 minute talks and 10 minutes of questions proved to work out very well. Something that holds also in a different way for the third speaker, Lotte Meijer. She managed to put some last topics of her presentation in the question round which surely contributed to the completion of the story. Lotte did a very charming presentation, what compensates for me the somewhat basic interaction design story she told.

Lotte Meijer showed how you can change a poor weblog into a Webby Award-winning website starting by personal drive. Something that strikes me before in presentations on This happened. The road to a good result is paved with the passionate intentions more than with solid design methods. Making things in order to think has turned out to be an overall theme of This happened. Something I can applaud for sure.

The last presentation of the evening by Fourcelabs is almost the blueprint of this believe. The making of Wip’n’Kip was very contagious and the result is great. Putting the making in front is not only the guarantee for creating something that appeals a lot to everyone, and could be built in a very tight schedule. Besides that in this project the documentation of the making seems to got as much attention. What transforms the art of making into a repetitive proces.

You maybe can discuss the solution of connecting Wip’n’Kip to the other Playpilots games, one of the two high level goals (however hard to say because not really presented), but it does not matter because of the end result. For me this is what is the important message of this edition of This Happened: one of the attributes of a good product is embedding the passion that is put in the making. Something that is more important than steering on the bare set project goals.

Looking forward to the next This happened on February 7!

This happened 6 on the soul of products

It was a remarkable edition of This Happened Utrecht again. This time with some more off-the-standard talks I think, but with high quality and good inspiration again.

The most off presentation was the statement of Matt Cottam from Tellart. In his normal life a rather straight forward (…) builder of model and apps, but once in a while he do something different. Researching the boundaries of making digital stuff. Closely together with the Berg London people, so conceptual thinking is guaranteed. The project he presented was Wooden Logic. A concept to add conductive material to growing trees. With a special developed device it is possible (in theory) to make a digital product out of every tree. A funny demonstration video made the hilarious story compleet.
There was of course a serious angle in this story. We will create objects with a soul, in the next ten years we will be introducing emotion into existing objects by making them smart. An interesting and inspiring thought I think.

The start with the children’s game Mijn Naam is Haas was much more practical, as presented by Sanneke Prins and Berend Weij. They built a 15 people company out of the game system they developed as graduates, very respectable. Well thought-through and executed. With some good insights in building game systems, not only for children. I like the insight on the difference in creating worlds in games. A storytelling world which has more boundaries than a open makable world offers a lot more result in achieving the educating goals for toddlers.

Some more straight forward Interaction Design promised to be the work on the iPhone app for Classics by Sebastiaan de With. Or better; it was about experience design, because of the strong focus on finding the exact right experience in folding pages and putting books on a shelf. Impressive to see that Apple borrowed the design for the iPad iBooks app. They helped the popularity of the app a lot to put it in the commercial of the iPhone. The downloads rose from 250k to 2,5 mln.
Sebastiaan delivered a solid This Happened presentation with the exploration of the most important choices he had to made in the design process. From animation to color pallet, and behavior of the books and icons. Classics offers royalty free books and the preparation for the app in making tiny PDF-files turns out to be a real monks work (is that also a English expression?).

Last but not least was Keez Duyves from PIPS.Lab, a collective artists that create music performance theater with high audience involvement. He showed how they developed the app Radarfunk. A good performance need to be simple and silly and the simplicity of Radarfunk is very strong. The idea to transform a loop control into a circle a genius move.
And especially the play aspect in it was cool. But above all it showed how a strong clear and essential concept for a tool can be extended to an unlimited number of installations and performances. And besides that, it turned out to be a great product in order to achieve a purpose: keeping PIPS.lab together.

The play factor as driver to achieve another purpose was shared in all presentations in a way, but to declare a theme for this edition I think we need more poetic stuff. I think you can see in every presentation a struggle between the translation of real life interactions to a digital invironment. They all make their own choices how to do that and what the role of this choice was. The choice for an figurative adaptable worlds for toddlers by Mijn Naam is Haas and the choice for the animation effect to make a crispy reading experience in Classics and the choices in making noise rythmes in Radarfunk. The project of Matt is completely on this theme of course and played in that sense a key role in This happened 6.

As Bill Buxton points out in its supplementary Skype-presentation: the beauty is in the experience. Looking forward to the next edition!