My name is Jack Moffett
. I am an Interaction Designer with over ten years of experience. According to Herb Simon
, that makes me an expert, so I must have something worth sharing. I have started this venture as an exercise to spur critical thinking about my chosen profession. I hope that others may find it thought provoking as well.
DesignAday will present a brief thought about Design every weekday.
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?
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.
Regular readers of DesignAday know that I’m currently teaching a class on Game Design. As I was planning the course, I decided to gamify the grading system. So far, it seems to be working rather well.
Every week, there is a Main Quest that is worth a certain number of points. The amount varies from week to week but works out to be 5 points per week. Along with that, I provide a list of Side Quests. Side quests are typically worth 1 or 2 points, depending on how involved they are. To receive an A+ in the class, a student must earn 100 points by the end of the semester. The main quest line adds up to 75 points, and attendance is worth .67 points per week—10 points total. Perfect attendance and satisfactory completion of the main quest line would earn a student a solid B. The rest of the points are earned by doing the side quests, which should account for 1 point per week.
The beauty of this system is that a student can always make up for past mistakes by doing more side quests. Miss a day of class? Do an extra side quest. Maybe your work on the main quest for the week was sub-par and you weren’t awarded all of the points. So, you do a 2-point side quest the next week to make up for it. Students that aren’t performing well end up doing more work, getting more practice analyzing and designing games.
The awarding of points is still based on qualitative evaluation of the work. Motivated students will likely end up with more than 100 points at the end.
As a college senior, Sean Dooley has some issues with laundry. He set himself the task of designing a laundry bin that would be more space efficient for purposes of storage and travel. After a lot of research into existing products, he was most influenced by paper grocery bags. After initial brainstorming and sketching, he produced a tiny prototype from cardboard, paper, and masking tape.
It took many iterations to get the folds right, especially as he increased the size of each prototype. Eventually, he had one made out of fabric that was large enough to test with friends and family.
The final prototype utilized heavier materials and sturdier construction. A more comfortable grip was created on the handles. Not only does it fold up small enough to stash in a suitcase, it serves another function as well. Laying flat on a table, it serves as a folding station. The two ribs running vertical on the side of the bin are guides for folding shirts.
Sean fully embraced the iterative process, rapidly producing prototypes that helped him surmount obstacles. The result was a design that clearly solved the stated problem and a prototype good enough to use as a production model. I could easily see this product on the shelf at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
We’re well into the semester now, and my students have divided into six teams, each team designing a different game. There is quite a variety, and I’m pleased with the ideas so far.
- Monster Morph is a card game inspired by Pokémon and Gloom. There will be battles between creatures with special powers, but it will incorporate Gloom’s transparent modifier card mechanic to morph the attributes of the monsters during play. If done right, this should result in more emergent behavior.
- Storm Chasers will be a single-player video game in which you try to capture the best quality footage of storms, as well as relevant weather data, while avoiding mishaps. Current plans include upgradable vehicles and equipment, educational content, and a social sharing aspect.
- Bridezilla is a board game that has players competing to be the Maid of Honor. The bride has a lot of tasks for her bridesmaids to help with, and everything must be perfect for her big day. The game has a race-to-the-finish dynamic, but the team is currently considering various ways to make it non-linear, introducing strategic choices for more interesting gameplay.
- Top Newscaster is a party game with a Cranium sort of vibe. Players are trying to get a lead anchor role, and to do so, they have to complete challenges such as reading silly news stories with a professional, straight face, or making up the facts of a story to go along with a random series of images.
- Pillage the Village flips the cliché dragon fairytale on its head by putting players in the role of the dragons. The goal is to collect the largest hoard of gold and gems by successfully selecting and attacking the wealthiest towns. Watch out for knights!
- Carnival is a murder mystery inspired by the game Clue. Of course, it takes place in a sinister carnival, rather than a mansion, and the team is currently working on ideas to make it less derivative while keeping the excitement of uncovering clues and trying to identify the murderer.
I’m fortunate enough to not suffer any allergies, but I know plenty of people that do. I’ve witnessed how difficult it can be for people with dietary restrictions to eat out. Lindsey Estep, one of my students last semester, has first-hand experience with gluten allergies and the situations one must deal with at restaurants. She decided to take on this problem as her semester-long project.
Lindsey developed a service design that she prototyped with the help of Terra Cafe, a local Morgantown restaurant. Her solution involved table placards that served both to inform customers that there are gluten-free selections and, by turning it around and setting it out on the table, indicate that someone at the table was in need of gluten-free fare. The wait staff carried matching cards that they could write gluten-free orders on. These cards would then accompany the order to the kitchen, returning to the patron with their food as reassurance that their needs were recognized and met by everyone involved in preparing the meal.
The system was tested out on a Wednesday after some social media advertising. Only two customers required gluten-free service during the trial, but both indicated when surveyed afterward that they felt much safer and would be much more likely to frequent the restaurant if such a system were implemented.
Will Deskins was dissatisfied with the standard guitar stand. They are typically made of hollow, aluminum piping painted black. This makes them hard to see when empty and easy to trip over. They are light, with a small footprint, which makes them easy to knock over when holding a guitar. Having identified these issues, Will designed and prototyped a guitar stand that would not only do a better job holding a guitar, but would have additional utility and be attractive as a piece of furniture.
The Rock Dock is much larger and a good deal heavier than the standard guitar stand, so it wouldn’t be convenient for travel, but it works quite well in a studio or home. The arching neck support folds down to reveal a storage area in the back for cables. A small drawer in the bottom is the perfect place to keep picks and replacement strings. The base is padded where the guitar rests on it and has a slot to accommodate the pickup/strap button on the bottom of some guitars. The prototype pictured above doesn’t sport them, but the final product would also include power outlets in the base, relieving the need for a power strip to plug in an amp and other equipment. The entire stand is made of stained wood, giving it a sculptural quality.
In preparation for the course I’ll be teaching this semester, I read John Ferrara’s Playful Design: Creating Game Experiences in Everyday Interfaces. John did a good job with the book. The writing is very accessible, and it’s broken up into relatively short chapters, making it easy to reference. John’s target audience is the User Experience (UX) community, so the book approaches the topic from the perspective of applying game design principles to interaction design. Having already read Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design, I didn’t find value in Part II of Playful Design: Designing Game Experiences, but that part of the book will be quite useful to any designer new to the subject. Parts I and III I enjoyed more, with the latter, titled Playful Design in User Experiences, being most beneficial. Here are the descriptions of the chapters in that part of the book:
Chapter 11: Games for Action surveys a variety of ways that games have been applied to influence people’s actions in the real world.
Chapter 12: Games for Learning takes a look at games that have been designed to help people learn new concepts and skills.
Chapter 13: Games for Persuasion describes how games can convince people to adopt a different point of view.
Chapter 14: How Games Are Changing concludes the book with a speculative look toward the future of games, as suggested by current trends in design.
While Schell’s book touches on such topics, it doesn’t do so in great detail, as his book primarily deals with the “how” of game design. Spending a chapter each on learning and persuasion gave Ferrara the opportunity to cover a number of examples I wasn’t previously aware of. Note, also, that Challenges for Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber has similar chapters with even more examples.
If you are seriously interested in designing games, I would first recommend The Art of Game Design, and it will still be the primary text for my class. If you are a designer looking to add game design principles to your tool belt, Playful Design will be perfect for your purposes. I am already sprinkling my lectures with notes from it.
Tomorrow night, I wrap up another semester. I got the majority of the planning for next semester’s course done over the weekend. For the second time, I’ll be teaching game design, but the course had to be overhauled. The first time I taught it, two years ago, my students had a client. I crammed all of the lectures and exercises into the first half of the semester, allowing them to focus on implementation for the second half. It was crazy—one of those situations where we only prevailed because we didn’t know we couldn’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed teaching the course, but it was rushed. I didn’t have time to do it the way I wanted to. Next semester is going to feel luxurious in comparison. I’ll be able to spend a full week focussing completely on game mechanics without having to cram balance and puzzles in with it. And, I can leave the chapters about interdisciplinary teams and working with a client until the end, rather than front-loading them. I’m especially looking forward to being able to spend some time playing and analyzing games, not to mention playtesting the prototypes that the students will be creating. I already have a designer at Schell Games who expressed a willingness to meet with my class.
It’s going to be a fun semester. Who knows, I might even be able to get the game I started designing two years ago prototyped.