Games, Play and Web Applications

[Dan Saffer’s](] latest presentation called Gaming The Web: Using the structures of games to design better web apps is a great summary of many of the themes I’ve covered over the years, which is gratifying to see.

In his presentation Saffer looks at the way games are structured, the difference between games and toys and also interactivity and flow, which I also wrote about a while back.


The flow principle was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and, amongst other things, looks as the border between boredom and anxiety. The idea being that when a task is perfectly pitched to our abilities – not too hard and not too easy – we become fully engaged in it. Games designers have been using this process for years building up these skill levels via game levels.

Toys, Play and Games

Much of what Saffer has to say about toys versus games is also really valuable and echoes what we were banging on about back in the 90s at Antirom. Toys are things without goals and rules in the way that games have them. There’s a lot to learn from toys because people simply pick them up and play with them, sometimes becoming quickly bored, but other times becoming absorbed and inventing games from that play. It’s a great way of getting people to explore and learn a new interface and it’s one of the things that Apple do very well.

Part of my ongoing PhD is about this very aspect of interactivity and uses OS X as an example. As Brenda Laurel argued way back in 1993 in Computers as Theatre, computers have grown from the paradigm of being a ‘tool’. Windows has always separated the ‘business’ side of computing from the gaming side and the OS itself (prior to Vista) has always had quite a utilitarian attitude. The Mac OS has always had a sense of humour and this leads to nosing around and playing and thus discovering its hidden secrets. That irritates those wanting to ‘just get the work done’ but it also emotionally engages people and is, I think, one of the reasons Mac fanboys (and girls) are so passionate about their emotional attachment to all things Apple.

Saffer breaks down the structure of games thus:

Mechanics create Dynamics which create Aesthetics

and argues that this is how most development works. The business or technical mechanics come first and then the aesthetics are bolted on top, when actually we should be thinking the other way around (or perhaps not thinking directionally at all):

we should really be designing like game designers do: you start from the opposite side of the equation. We should figure out the aesthetics–what should this feel like? what is the emotional response to this application?–and work backwards from there. What dynamics will create these feelings? And what mechanics will support that?

It’s one of the reasons the iPhone interface looks like it does and most other mobiles are a complete nightmare to navigate and configure

The point is that in a world where so many interfaces are competing for our attention those that fail to engage from the first contact (and this is usually an aesthetic, playful moment) fail entirely. Put simply, if someone can’t be bothered to play with your GUI all the technical wonders in the world behind it won’t ever get seen or used.

Cultural Play and Change

The main thrust of Saffer’s presentation is about web apps, of course. The last chapter of my PhD is about social play in this realm. A few months ago I wrote that StumbleUpon is the Antirom of the Web as an example. Social software is about play and discovery and ‘work’ or ‘business’ benefits are spin-offs from that, not the other way around.

I would go further than Saffer, though, an argue that it’s not just designers and developers who need to get playful with their design, but that corporate and company structures need to become more playful. In a presentation to Neue Digitale in Frankfurt last year I spoke about play and playfulness not only being useful design outcomes but also an essential design approach. But for this to happen the playfulness needs to be structured into the company workings not just bolted on in the same way as we argue that design should be integral to the entire process as it is in service design.

Much of this I’m going to be talking about next week in my session at Flash on the Beach in Brighton – if any of you are there, please come and say hello!

[tags]Dan Saffer, interactivity, play, design, flow, antirom, presentations[/tags]

Use Designers Better


For several years I’ve been trying to express how design thinking can be used across a whole range of disciplines from sustainability to education to, well, design stuff. Service Designers like Live|Work do a great job of bringing much of these ideas under one discipline. It helps designers move up the chain of events in a project and have influence earlier on, when it’s really needed.

Designers aren’t just there to pretty stuff up. We can be used far better to solve problems. That’s what designing really is, especially in this whole interactive, interconnected, interweb world.

Thank goodness, then, for Ben Terrett’s brilliant talk that he’s put online called I’m a Designer, Use Me Better. It’s insightful, concise and funny in the way that things are funny when you know they hit on home truths.

Every designer, from every area, should read it.

Even more so anyone who is ever thinking of employing a designer should read it – I don’t agree with Ben that as designers climate change is our fault. We perhaps don’t voice our opinions often or early enough, but we also rarely get in front of the right people to voice those opinions to. Unless designers are used better and earlier in the process we’ll be at the mercy of corporate consultants pretending they know all about it.

[tags]Ben Terrett, sustainability[/tags]

Omnium need a Sys Admin

Just a quickie to say that the Omnium Research Group with whom I work in Australia are looking to hire a sys-admin.

So if you’re a Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL and Shell scripting genius (pretty darn good will do) and want to work in a lively design studio at the [College of Fine Arts](] at University of New South Wales in Sydney, then go check out the Seek listing or send Sam an e-mail.

Pass it on.


IKEA Dream Kitchen


The multi-camera technique that freezes a moment in time, but allows you to pan around in space (popularised as bullet time in The Matrix, but it has quite a history) seems to be being used all over the place in Flash micro-sites now.

Now that Flash handles video and images so well, it’s interesting to see people try and use that ability in original, navigable ways rather than just putting a TVC on the web.

The folks over at Forsman & Bodenfors in Sweden have been going great guns with it on the IKEA Dream Kitchen site, which allows you to move around various styles of kitchen as they are frozen in a moment in time. They also did a Swedish version (that I think might be from 2006), which is simpler, but I like it better personally.

The same technique was used in the Halo 3 launch site by Method Studios.

(The picture above isn’t really a great example because it looks like an ordinary picture, so you have to imagine being able to move around the space – or you could just [look at the site](] yourself).)

[tags]interactivity, play, IKEA, Flash[/tags]

Interactive Gestures Wiki

Multitouch screens of all shapes and forms are really all the rage, but with them come whole new paradigms of interaction. Do you wave like a Wii or do the Minority Report hand swipe popular in many kinds of large-screen set-ups.

Interaction designer, Dan Saffer, who also wrote Designing For Interaction has written a call to arms for interaction designers over at Adaptive Path. He points out some of the issues and dangers if these ideas aren’t documented and resolved. Standards help everyone and sharing knowledge of what you’ve played with, what works and what doesn’t is essential. As Dan says:

And if we wait, well, we’ll simply find individual companies (Apple, Microsoft, Perceptive Pixel, etc. etc.) creating their own standards (as is being done now). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one can easily imagine having to remember a crazy amount of movements and gestures for common actions. (”Wait, to turn on the lights do I tap the wall, or wave a hand? Is this an iRoom or MS Rume?”) We’ll get a lot of ad hoc solutions – some of which will be great, some not so much. Standards and a pattern library would help.

In order to gather this knowledge together in one place, Dan has started an Interactive Gestures Wiki. It’s already interesting to nose around and see just how many gestures and ideas are already out there, but it needs some filling in from us all.

[tags]multitouch, interactivity, gestures, physical interaction, dan saffer, wiki[/tags]

Fix for Modifier Keys not working in Adobe CS2 Applications

It’s not really on-topic for Playpen, but I’m hoping this might help others out there who have had the same problem with modifier keys suddenly not working in Adobe’s CS2 applications like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. I haven’t had a chance to try this with CS3 yet.

It’s pretty dull unless you’ve been bugged with this problem, in which case it’s really useful to know. So hit the “Read More” link for the a solution.

Continue reading “Fix for Modifier Keys not working in Adobe CS2 Applications”

Steve Scott – animator and illustrator to the stars


My mate and erstwhile work compadre, Steve Scott, has finally updated his website with lots of new goodies. If you’re a fan of illustration and animation, check out is work. I just whiled away a nice chunk of precious time seeing what he’s been up to.

Don’t be fooled by the Australian domain name either – he’s living in London these days, so go hire him before someone else does!

[tags]steve scott, illustration, animation[/tags]

Podcast with Matt Clark from United Visual Artists

Matt Clark from UVA at Core77 Broadcasts

Following on from my last post about Hereafter, my podcast interview with Matt Clark from United Visual Artists is now online at Core77.

We chat about a range of UVA’s work, process and interactivity. Matt gives some great insights into working across disciplines and the exciting and emerging field of interactive installations much more tightly integrated into architecture rather than being a last-minute add-on, as well as using their skills and techniques to create stunning visuals for video. My thanks to Matt for his time – have a listen and let me know what you think.