The challenges of simulating reality at This happened UTC

20up. This happened has become an institute on it’s own. With chapters in Amsterdam and Rotterdam now, Utrecht remains the original. I dare to admit I am a fan of the concept and the curation of speakers, and was present at a lot of the evenings (I think I only missed two). After edition 10 I wrote on the role of this happened in addressing some elements in designing interaction.


It was of course great to have Kars Alfrink to present at this edition, he is the initiator bringing the event to the Netherlands (it originated in the UK). He showed the work of Hubbub for Shell, creating a game (Ripple Effect) that shapes an environment for learning to work together without trying to simulate reality. It is a signature project of Hubbub.

In the presentation Kars showed the way a divers team agents (that were present in room, including the product owner of the client) together with the client makes a project like this possible. It is an great overview of all kind of tools to shape a project like this.

In the questions we could experience a little bit on the conscious thinking of the design of these kind of ‘tools for change’. Kars mentioned how the use of the concept from the daily reality of the Shell workforce, the Goal Zero clock, was blocking the possibility to step out of the reality and really learn something, change behavior. A useful insight in approaching serious gaming. Making a simulation of reality is not the way to go, you need to adapt the principles and try to shape an environment to make understanding possible by taking action.

Next up was Yvonne Dröge Wendel showing a project where she made a simulation of a train coupe that helps patients with Alzheimer to relax. A beautiful project that was a bit suffering from the choice of Yvonne to go into more than one project. Proven a tricky approach with only 10 minutes of presentation, better give one project all the attention. Luckily in the question round we could dive a bit deeper and hear on the hard work to make the videos in the right manner. Shot from a low standpoint, tuning on the pace, and above all how the filtering all the unwanted visual trigger was important. To much of specific elements like a church makes the patient troubled.

It showed how she is really focussing on creating some product that fits the needs of the user. One thing that is interesting in the light of her statement that she is more of an artist than a designer and that the difference is in the way to propose a project. A designer wants to solve problems, an artist creates problems, new questions.

After the break Lilian Henze shared insights and approaches on the research of the use of the packaging of a product from KPN (InternetPlusBellen). The insights from the research lead to design changes that generated lots of reduction in costs in after care.

Real understanding how behavior works should be the beginning of all design, she thinks. Which is true of course.

An interesting chain of thoughts that flew by during the questions: user insights are hard to adopt in the complex environment and keeping them robust. It felt she is looking for a more lean approach; deliver fast, fail fast, learn a lot (oversimplification).

Last speakers of the evening were the founders of IJsfontein (Jan Willem Huisman and Hayo Wagenaar), an agency with a long lasting reputation in designing games. As it was a bit the classic edition of This happened they brought an old laptop to be able to show the old game Meester van de Macht, a game that started off their fame in a way. It brought back some old feelings. But also shared some interesting choices, like the focus on a couple of principles, and working together with a designer and a coder to create the best and most efficient solutions. Also in animation.

The way they treat the mouse pointer as part of the interaction and communication of behavior was great in the game. It also unlocked the insight that we are losing the cursor as a concept more and more with the ubiquitous presence of touch devices.

A connection in the projects lies maybe in the that disconnection of simulations from reality. As IJsfontein showed with the bouncing ball how you can replace exact feeling with the right combination of key animation components. And as Kars showed in his approach to serious gamers within Shell. The simulation of a world outside for the Alzheimer patients is clearly an altered reality, and in that a simulation of reality, where it is proved that detailed simulation distract you from engaging with the simulated reality. An approach that could be valuable for Linze to shape the future research, getting more fundamental than detail insights as start for design work.

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.

This happened on stakeholder design

Edition 16 already. This happened Utrecht has become an institute on its own. This edition was due to some other event in the location set back to the smaller room. Which is not bad at all; this is the intimacy that fits the format so well.

So just as always four talks, four times 10 minutes talking on what happened, and 10 minutes discussing this with the audience. This edition had an interesting mix of topics. From installation like art project Victory Boogie Woogie, to very business driven user service of Appie.

The evening started with the work of Q42 on the Hue project. They contributed for a seemingly small part to the project by making the web frontend adding the system with lamps, bridge and app. Nevertheless it is an important part in getting the project more into the open space creating a product that is – almost un-Philips-like – good. It is remarkable how the product benefits from the connection to the service If This Then That, making it possible to create nice smart relations between services.

Second talk was on a game called Slag om Dondervoort. Aiming to learn children about the life in Fortress Cities. Mixing virtual and real-life game principles; it is nice how it connects the social fabrics in a school class to the game and transform it to a experience in the virtual game, back to activities in the real city. Managing the second order effects in the game to achieve the goals seems a bit of a challenge. And so is the developing technology that makes the game now hard to play in current device setups. Hope they can get another round of funding for an update.

In the project of the algorithmic Victory Boogie Woogie it was not completely clear how Mondriaan get into the game, it was a brainwave as often happens in projects I guess. The idea is quite sweet; challenge coders with something they do quite naturally; making squares with code, and use that for remaking that intriguing painting by algorithms. With the second order effect to let non coders experience what an algorithm is in the end. Something they definitely accomplished judging the attention on national television.

The last presentation was of a different order; a bit predictable presentation on the service of Appie made by Icemobile. Working in the same field the agile approach and way to present felt very familiar. She discussed some nice aspects. Maybe not the fact that you need a central mission to inspire the project (Beating The Pen), but more in the way the user is making part of the app development, and strategies to really drive the usage. Like the easter egg gimmicks. For an outsider it seems clear that AH is building functionalities around the idea to collect as much data on the products, by stimulating the use of official product names with the scanning functions and deep integration with the recipes. That is also the stimulans for the user to use the app in an AH store. In that sense it is most logical that the service is focused on value for the end user. All to stimulate use. This was not really addressed in the talk though.

This Appie project shares however a theme of the evening in the way it tries to stimulate adoption in the organisation. Just like Hue did by putting the innovation center apart from the rest. And as the Slag om Dondervoort learned the makers that it is more on tuning associations with the client than achieving the direct goals to make the project stand out. And funny enough, even the Victory Boogie Woogie project resulted in conclusions on the adaption of the project with the stakeholders.

In that sense it was a slightly different This happened with less focus on the usual design decisions. It makes more clear than ever that service and strategic design is an crucial part of the competence field of the designer of today.

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.

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!

Touching the senses at This Happened #4

This night I did attend This Happened for the fourth time. It was a great night again. Kars, Ianus and Alexander managed to mix up a fine program with different points of views on interaction design. And just like the other editions you can experience an emerging theme I think. I borrow this from the first talk of Janneke Sluijs: embodied embedded cognition can be coined as the binding theme.
Continue reading Touching the senses at This Happened #4

This happened, the art edition

Last evening the third edition of This happened Utrecht took place in Theater Kikker. As always four projects were introduced by the makers in 10 minutes and 10 minutes of discussion with the audience completed the story of the making of the product. And as the previous editions the talks were interesting all in its own way. This time their were three out of four art project in contrary to the events before, which gives interesting insights.

Last time I discovered a central theme that was not intended by the organizers of This happened (Kars Alfrink, Ianus Keller, Alexander Zeh). This time I can’t say I found a theme that obvious, apart from the mentioned art angle. Maybe you can say that the craftsmanship in creating the solution was an analogy in the projects, but in the end this is more the central theme of This happened of course.
Continue reading This happened, the art edition