Contextual Creativity

In past trips to the beach, when I spent time looking for shells, I was looking for whole shells with interesting shapes. I didn’t want broken pieces, and I wasn’t interested in common shapes. The more spikes and spirals, the better. When I spent time looking for shells with my daughters last week, however, we had a completely different approach.

We happened to be in a gallery that was hosting a workshop on making sea glass pendants. Both of my daughters decided that was something worth spending their souvenir money on. So, the next time we were on the beach, we took a walk looking for sea glass, and while we didn’t find any, they had the realization that similar pendants could be made out of other materials, such as seashells.

But whole shells aren’t appropriate for that type of pendant. They’re too bulky, too round, or too rough. I found myself gravitating towards pieces of shell that had been broken, worn, and smoothed into thin, flat, rectangular shapes with pretty colors and interesting patterns. They were hardly recognizable as being shells. Which just goes to show that anything may have value given the right context.

The Future of Funding

It seems Kickstarter and its ilk are going to play a significant role in the future of our society. From entertainment to product innovation to urban development, people are finding monetary support for ideas that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day. Take LowLine, for example. Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have a vision to turn an abandoned trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into the world’s first underground park. They’ve raised over $100,000 to build a full-scale installation as a proof-of-concept.

I grew up on point-and-click adventure games like Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and many, many more. I absolutely adore those games. I love the puzzles, the humor, and the artistry that made them classics. Unfortunately, that genre of game fell into disfavor. Publishers won’t fund them, and while a few indie developers have produced worthwhile efforts, they’ve been few and far between.

Enter Tim Schafer (Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango) and his San Francisco-based company, Double Fine Productions. He decided there might be enough fans of the genre to fund the development of a new game. He put together a plan and launched a Kickstarter project with a goal of $400,000. They met that goal in less than nine hours. At the time of this writing, with eight days to go, they have raised $2,398,607 from 69,333 backers! They’ve been able to expand their plans for the game and the documentary of its production.

With that kind of support possible, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing a lot of games, movies, books, albums, etc. funded this way. In fact, Yancey Strickler, one of Kickstarter’s three co-founders, was recently quoted by TPM as saying, “It is probable Kickstarter will distribute more money this year than the NEA.” And one of the great things about it is that all it takes is for people to want it. There are no test screenings or focus groups. The only advertising necessary is getting the word out about the project, and that happens naturally through the social web. There’s no publisher or distributor to screw things up.

The printing press made it possible for ”anyone” to publish. Kickstarter has made it possible for anyone to get the necessary funding to make their dreams a reality. It’s like we’re living at the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The Art of Video Games

The Smithsonian is preparing a new exhibition, titled The Art of Video Games, to run from March 16, 2012 to September 30, 2012.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early developers such as David Crane and Warren Robinett to contemporary designers like Kellee Santiago and David Jaffe. It also will explore the many influences on game designers, and the pervasive presence video games have in the broader popular culture, with new relationships to video art, film and television, educational practices, and professional skill training. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition.

Eighty games will be featured through stills and video footage, and five will be playable. In addition, there will be video interviews with developers and artists, large prints of screenshots, and historic game consoles.

As preparation for the exhibit, the Smithsonian is doing a little crowd-sourcing. You can help select which games get featured in the exhibit by voting online. There is a pool of 240 proposed games that have been categorized into five eras, four genres, and several platforms. Voting is open until April 7th, 2011.


I had been planning on posting about another interesting product design, but that will have to wait. I’ve just been overawed by the work of Brian Dettmer, a truly inspired artist. Brian creates sculptures from old books, revealing their contents by cutting into them one page at a time. Brian describes his process of book dissection:

In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose a book’s hidden, fragmented memory. The completed pieces expose new relationships of a book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.

This is one of those brilliant concepts that I wish I had thought of. See more of his work posted at Centripetal Notion, and read about the artist on Wikipedia. Thanks to Jason Fried at 37signals for bringing it to my attention.