links for 2008-01-27

The path to Interaction Designer parallels Game Designer?

This post at Coroflot, Sidestep: Interaction Designers, and How They Got That Way, covers the diversity of backgrounds and fuzziness that surrounds the definition of Interaction Design. While reading it I was struck by the parallels to Game Design more than once

  • “…as companies large and small seek interaction designers to do…well…whatever it is that they do.”
  • “For those of us not in the field… it can seem a bit of an esoteric, shadowy art, attracting the attention of media and employers, but without knowing quite why.”
  • “It’s a difficult to define field because it’s both extremely broad and relatively young–though not as young as you might think: the term dates to the 1980’s, meaning there are in fact seasoned interaction designers out there with 15 and 20 years of experience under their belt…” [I haven’t traced it yet, but I’d guess that game designer dates from the 70’s.]
  • “Interaction designers I spoke with at Intel and Motorola came from Graphic Design and new media backgrounds, and were able to tick off a lengthy list of fields from which their professional colleagues emerged: engineering, programming, motion graphics, psychology, cognitive science, sociology, and perhaps the occasional anomaly who actually started out in an IxD program.”

Although clearly there are differences in perception, “…in addition to the young cubs we might imagine negotiating six-figure salaries.” the other quotes are all issues that Game Designers face regularly. We work at the point where the user enters the system and a million little factors affect that experience, making it inherently nebulous to those outside of the field. The problem is severely compounded because our language of design is currently very limited. We continue to crib terms from other fields to describe what we do, or have conflicting definitions. “Fun”, anyone?

One line stood out to me however, that I think highlights the challenge of explaining the importance of both Game Design and Interaction Design:

“What also makes the questions hard is the feeling that Interaction Design is something that happens anyway, with or without the input of Interaction Designers.”

Game Design has this problem as well, everyone working in games has played a game leading to the “everyone is a designer” syndrome. Horror stories and personal experience abound of producers or other authority figures, making ridiculous requests for changes to a game because they feel their experience as a player makes them just as informed as the designer. We a,re aided somewhat by the complexity and scope of most games, it’s clear that someone has to architect that experience and define it. For an Interaction Designer I imagine that having an interaction perceived as straightforward (using a web page for example) makes justifying their contribution a more uphill battle. Or perhaps it’s an oft repeated but short uphill struggle with each new client.

A good article, and I think it’s time to dig into the Interaction Design world some more. Perhaps they’ve answered some of the questions we’re wrestling with in games.

Space Time Play is out!

SpaceTimePlayBack in December Heather sent me an e-mail, asking if I had played any of the games on a list. She was co-editing this nifty sounding book, Space Time Play, about the spatial and time elements of games with all kinds of cool contributors. One of the games on the list that I remembered quite fondly was Descent. So with some minor prodding from Heather I wrote a short review of the game, focusing on the spatial aspects of it. If you’ve played Descent then you’ll remember that it’s all about freedom of movement in three dimensions. Anyone prone to motion sickness or vertigo is probably doomed if they play it. I received a copy of the book last week and it’s really well put together. The list of contributors is longer than my arm, and reads like a who’s who of thinkers and developers of games. (I admit to feeling a tad out of place in this august company.)

My copy arrived last week, and I haven’t had time to read it yet (must finish Designing Interactions first!) but there are some really tantalizing titles in the table of contents. Design Patterns are Dead! Long Live Design Patterns from Jussi Holopainen and Staffan Bjork immediately caught my eye, I saw their first presentation on the subject at GDC several years ago. Chaim Gingold has dissected Pac-Man. Jane McGonigal on Ubiquitous Gaming. The list goes on, but each is a brief essay on topic, pared down by tight word count constraints. (Reviewers were asked to keep it under 2500 characters, spaces included.) Can’t wait to read the myriad of perspectives.

Long overdue update

It was with some disgust I noted how long it had been since I’d updated this blog. As with all habits, unless you establish it firmly at the start it won’t stick. My last project was a beast time wise, and given the choice between a tenuous hold on my social life and spending time blogging, I chose the social life to wrap up my time in Montreal.

Continue reading “Long overdue update”

PKN MTL vol 01: Success

Matt Biddulph of Dopplr at PKNMTL vol 01I think it’s safe to say that Volume 01 of Pecha Kucha Night in Montreal was a great success. Everybody had a great time, saw something new and interesting, and Boris got to stretch out his stage legs a bit. The full speakers list is up at and I’ve put the photos that actually turned out up on my Flickr. It was certainly an educational evening for me as I tried learning my new camera on the fly while keeping an eye on the Keynote slideshow. You can tell which shots were taken later in the evening as I started to figure out the appropriate settings.

Huge props to Boris for all the work in putting this together, the SAT for helping us out on the space, and MocoLoco for sponsoring, and of course the speakers for their presentations. (Also, Boris wants everybody to know that Laika is his second home.)

I started trying to do this because I wanted to attend such an event. Boris’ return to Montreal was perfect timing to get it off the ground and there’s not a hope it would have happened without him. I’ve been slammed with a pre-Alpha then Alpha milestone schedule at work and before I knew it things magically started to coalesce. I tracked down a few speakers, did some promotional work and other odds and ends, but Boris made the magic happen. When it was all said and done I think the speakers felt they had participated in a really solid event, we had a lot of fun, and everybody started talking about the next one right away. Along the way it went from an event I wanted to attend to a thing I can’t imagine not doing.

If you attended and took photos, please tag them with PKNMTL!

Pecha Kucha Night Montreal

A few months ago I heard about Pecha Kucha Night and thought it sounded like an event worth attending. The idea is simple, a show and tell by designers for designers. It uses the broadest possible definition of design so that architects, photographers, print, industrial, fashion etc. designers are included. Everybody shows up and starts socializing, a 5 à 7 atmosphere prevails, and then presenters kick off their talks. 10 to 15 people in an evening get 20 slides at 20 seconds each, so it moves quickly. Even if you’re not terribly interested in one presentation, give it 6 minutes and 40 seconds and another will take it’s place.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a Pecha Kucha Night in Montreal. So I contacted the Pecha Kucha organizers in Tokyo and asked what I had to do to set one up. Knowing that I’d need a partner in crime on this project I twisted Boris‘ rubber arm before he returned from Japan and we were off and running. (Mad props to him for the PKN MTL site)

So, June 14th 7:30pm at the SAT is Volume 01 for PKN Montreal! If you’d like to present ping us at infos -AT- otherwise just show up and enjoy.

Helvetica, a documentary

Still from HelveticaWent to a screening of Helvetica tonight, a documentary about the typeface. That might seem like a recipe for boredom, but the omnipresent nature of the font and it’s effect on graphic design cannot be overstated. The documentary itself is an excellent example of the species: genuinely interesting interviews with some great characters from the graphic design world, woven into a narrative describing the subject. There are a remarkable number of laugh out loud moments, but overall what carries the film is the absolute passion all of the interviewees have for the subject. The Helvetica fan club is most strongly represented, but its detractors are given significant screen time to make their point. Eric Spiekermann (designer of FF Meta among others) in particular is quite a character, “Why is Helvetica so popular after 50 years?” a fleeting moment of serious contemplation then, “I don’t know, why is bad taste so ubiquitous?”

Highly recommended if you can catch a screening. It seems to be doing a roadshow right now, and the only word on a DVD release is Fall 2007.