All the World’s a Stage

Last week, I had my students reading articles about defining “design”. Some of them were specifically dealing with the struggle of finding a definition (or multiple definitions) for what we do, while others were about what it means to be a designer. We had a good discussion in class last night, but I wish I would have learned of Cameron Norman’s post on his blog Censemaking a few days sooner. It would have been perfect for inclusion.

It’s been suggested that anyone who shapes the world intentionally is a designer, however those who train and practice as professional designers question whether such definition obscures the skill, craft, and ethics that come from formal disciplinary affiliation. Further complicating things is the notion that design thinking can be taught and that the practice of design can be applied far beyond its original traditional bounds. Who is right and what does it mean to define the new designer?

Titled Defining the New Designer, Cameron’s article examines definitions and descriptions of designers and what they do. He ties in discussion of Design Thinking and cites several people that were contributors to the articles I used in class, such as Sir George Cox, John Thackara, and Bruce Nussbaum. I don’t find any conclusive answers, but it raises a lot of interesting questions that are worth thinking about and discussing.

If I could pin down a result from the discussion that occurred in my class, it would be this: The field of Design continues to grow and diversify, and thus settling on any singular definition of Design is fruitless. We must prepare today’s students to think about Design not as a WHAT, but as a HOW. We must position them with the skills necessary to act as facilitators and bridge makers in interdisciplinary teams. We don’t know where they will be applying design thinking/process/methods in the future. As Dan Roam stated in NextD Journal’s special issue Beautiful Diversion, “A whole new breed of designer is waiting in the wings, and we can’t even imagine the tools, the voice, and the stage she will have.”

This is another kinetic type piece from my graduate course. The assignment was to communicate the meaning of rhythm using only the word itself. As a percussionist, I interpreted each letter as a physical, percussion instrument and then composed a cadence utilizing them. I actually wrote the piece out in notation and then translated it to the animation in Director’s score.

I was just going back and opening some old files to make sure they were still accessible. I’m especially concerned about my Director files from graduate school. I was able to rescue this gem from Dan Boyarski’s class, Time, Motion, & Communication.

A Well-Designed Life

Eve Faulkes was my undergraduate Graphic Design professor. She’s also the one that invited me to teach, inflaming a passion that is still burning strong some eight years later. She is driven to do work that matters, and she invests herself fully—mind, body, heart, and soul. She has been a mentor and an inspiration. Eve is featured in the latest edition of West Virginia University Magazine, and I’m proud to give her a shout-out here.

Pillage the Village

In the world of dragons and knights, you are the villain of the story. It is your duty as a dragon to feed your greed by destroying and raiding as many villages as possible to create a treasure cave King Arthur himself would envy. But be wary of the black and white knights, for they hinder your ability to collect and pillage.

Of the three games resulting from last semester, Pillage the Village was the most successful design. It should have been, as it was the largest team. As the other two teams, they did a great job theming the game through the artwork and game pieces. What set them apart was that their game was the only one of the three that provided enough complexity for emergent behaviors.

Each player takes the role of a dragon: gold, red, black, blue, green, or white. Each dragon starts at its own, color-coded cave in one of the corners of the board. On their turn, a player will roll the die and move that number of grid squares in any horizontal and vertical combination. The darker squares represent villages. Villages in the outer ring are smaller, and thus have less potential for wealth. The village in the center of the board always has the most treasure. To pillage a village, a dragon must traverse every square of the village. Markers are placed on each square that has already been devastated, but treasure only goes to the dragon that pillages the last square of the village. When that happens, the player draws a card to see their spoils.

The dragon must carry the treasure with them as they continue to move around the board, but they are at risk of being attacked. Their are several knights on the board as well, some white and some black. White knights only move diagonally and will take half of the gold a dragon is carrying if they land on the same space. Black knights move as dragons do. They will take all of the gold a dragon is carrying and send the dragon back to its cave with its tail between its legs. Every turn, after moving their dragon, a player also moves one of the knights. Any gold retrieved by a knight is placed in the village at the center of the board.

Dragons can also attack each other by landing on the same space. Both players roll, and the player with the higher number takes the other player’s treasure. A player’s goal, then is to get the treasure they have pillaged back to their cave, from which it may no longer be stolen. The player must find a balance between pillaging villages and making the trip home to secure their hoard.

Each dragon has a that it may use once a game. For example, Licinius, the gold dragon, is capable of stealing double gold due to his gluttony and overly large hands, while Terra, the green dragon, has the ability to restore a previously pillaged village due to its natural healing qualities.

The game ends when all villages have been pillaged. The player with the most treasure in their cave wins. As you can see, the players have many choices to make. Should I try to hit the smaller, outlying villages or go for the center? How long should I take my chances before returning my stolen gold to my cave? Black Knight or White Knight? Move knights away from me or attack someone else? Head for a village or take a chance attacking another player? When can I use my special power to greatest effect? Because their are so many decisions to be made, there is a lot of room for different strategies to emerge, and that is a strong signifier of a good game.

The Top Reporter

There were three project teams by the end of the semester, each working on its own game. I was purely coincidence, but I was pleased that they three games are completely different. The Top Reporter is a party game in the vein of Cranium and Pictionary.

Make sure your teeth are whitened, and your hair is brushed because the National News Network Association (The NNNA) has opened up a primetime spot on National television for one lucky news crew to do an hour-long report of their choosing. You will be put through the toughest challenges a reporter can face to prove your worth to the NNNA.

You will be tested on Weather, Breaking News, Sports, and plenty more. There is one thing your crew has to understand: news happens at anytime and it can be about anything. So, ready your team to out-broadcast your opponents, and try not to lose focus.

There are four challenge categories, each represented by its own deck of cards. Live in 5 requires players to report on random topics for certain periods of time, sometimes stipulating that it be done without laughing, or requiring them to incorporate specific words.

Learn the Lingo tests players’ knowledge of journalism vocabulary, or may ask them to write news story titles within specified parameters. Co-Anchor presents news-related trivia or pits teams against each other in an attempt to pass off the story, “Back to you!”, and not be caught reporting when the timer runs out. Where’s the Weather? finds players standing in front of a US map, trying to remember in which state Tuscaloosa resides.

The team did a good job theming the game, providing props, like a microphone, that helped players get into character. There were still plenty of issues to be worked out with the challenges, and it could probably be shortened significantly, but the game provided a fair amount of variety in the challenges and loads of laughter. It went over well with the mostly college student playtesters.

Carnival Murder Mystery

My Game Design class wrapped up last Tuesday. I’m declaring it a success. I’m very pleased with the work that was done, and my students claim to see a lot of value in what they learned this semester. On top of that, it was an awful lot of fun to teach.

One of the three teams was working on Carnival Murder Mystery: a board game for 2–4 players.

Step right up to the Carnival Murder Mystery! Be cautious and alert as you and your fellow detectives investigate the grounds of this frightening carnival. A body has been discovered and it is up to you to uncover this horrible mystery. Use the clues you find along the way to eliminate the alleged suspects. Be the first detective to solve this chilling mystery. Enjoy your ride!

Inspired by the game Clue, Carnival Murder Mystery has players figure out who the murderer is, the weapon they used, and the location in which the murder took place. The students attempted to take the gameplay to a new level, however, with a more complicated logic puzzle. Players must move around the board, visiting locations to claim clues, some of which will be kept private. There are also cards that allow players to sneak a peek at one of their opponent’s clues.

The spaces with magnifying glasses are the ones that contain clues. After landing on such a space, the player draws a clue card and marks off the space with a whiteboard marker, indicating that the clue has already been confiscated.

The game includes investigator cards that players can use to keep track of the clues they have uncovered.

It was a real struggle for the team to move the game away from being a Clue clone, and it could still be improved. Their clues were relatively simplistic, and they could easily develop a more engaging narrative with them. But, the game is quite playable, and they received a lot of positive feedback during their playtests. The board creates a bit of a race dynamic to get the clues, which Clue doesn’t have, and there are many more variables to track. The team did an outstanding job developing a dark, creepy aesthetic for their carnival, and I’m satisfied with the results.

IxDA Pittsburgh Workshop Open for Resgistration

My workshop, Sitting in the Driver’s Seat: creating production-ready CSS, which I led at Interaction 13 in Toronto, is getting a second run in Pittsburgh. All proceeds, beyond the rental of the space, are going to IxDA Pittsburgh for use in future programming. Since this is the first event to which we are charging admission, we’re keeping it very accessible. It’s only $100 for professionals and $50 for students. Spots are limited, so register now through Eventbrite. After you register, RSVP on IxDA Pittsburgh’s Facebook event page to let everyone know you’re going.

CSS 3 has handed the keys back to designers. With a syntax and structure that speaks our language and a fine-grained level of control, it empowers designers to not only prototype in the actual medium, but to contribute production-ready code. The days of pointing at the screen over the developer’s shoulder and trying to explain how something needs to shift three pixels are over. In fact, much of the JavaScript currently employed for simple UI behaviors can be replaced with well-architected styles. Take the driver’s seat, and make the CSS your UI specification document.

This workshop is intended for intermediate designers interested in gaining more control over their team’s final product. Participants are expected to possess a working knowledge of CSS. They should be able to read a stylesheet and understand what it is doing in the HTML page that references it. They should be able to write CSS styles and apply them to HTML elements to achieve a desired layout on a page.

As a participant, you will:

  • Familiarize yourself with the tools you’ll need to integrate with your development team.
  • Learn how Object Oriented CSS (OOCSS) can lead to cleaner, more maintainable code.
  • Discover how to replace heavy-handed, inefficient JavaScript with CSS-driven behavior.
  • Get started on your own library of CSS components.

About Jack Moffett
With a BFA in Graphic Design from West Virginia University and a Masters in Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon, Jack has been designing web, desktop, and mobile applications for over a decade. He has worked in both research and industry environments and has been teaching design part-time for more than eight years at WVU. As Senior Interaction Designer at Inmedius, a Boeing Company, Jack’s responsibilities cover the gamut from initial user research and product conceptualization through to implementation and testing. As such, his skill set includes visual design, information design, and front-end implementation. He has designed software tools for Lockheed Martin, Shell, DaimlerChrysler, Eaton, and many organizations within the U.S. military, including Joint Service Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Naval Reactors, and NCIS. Jack has spoken at conferences and led workshops to teach designers how to integrate with their development teams and participate in implementation. He writes about design on

Education + Design + Crowdsourcing = ?

I have a question for you. What will happen when design is taught in K-12 grades, not as its own subject—not as Design, but simply as the process by which problems are solved and new things invented? It’s not so far-fetched. I’ve been perturbed by the whole STEM movement in education because of its apparent exclusion, or at least oversight of, the importance of training in creativity through artistic endeavors. Then I read an article like KidDIY: 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge aims to shape future of innovation, and recognize that in some cases, whether or not the organizers realize it, their STEM initiative has turned to STEAM, although a more apt acronym might be TEAMS.

Now, let’s imagine several generations of youth growing up with this kind of education. Some will excel in the core design skills and specialize in that role professionally within various organizations, but everyone will have the basic background. What business schools are calling “Design Thinking” will just be “Thinking.” Now, layer atop that the services popping up—not Kickstarter so much as Quirky and, related to the aforementioned article, GameSprout.

The full question, then, is this: What happens when everyone is educated in the design process and given the tools, collaborative community, and professional advice to create… well, anything?

Backing Design for Good

Lindsey Estep is one of my graduate students. She came to the program with not only a degree in Graphic Design, but business as well. It should be no surprise, then, that she is exploring design entrepreneurship. She has been focusing this semester on self-publishing through Kickstarter.

Rather than me telling the whole story, I invite you to view her video. Perhaps you may even feel moved to visit her campaign page and contribute to this worthy endeavor. She is nearing her goal, with 16 days to go.