Bees in a Tin:
Yesterday I attended a day of seminars and workshops called Bees in a Tin in Birmingham. The organisers brought together artist and designer who’s work explores interactions with physical objects. Games designers, geologists, hardware hackers and artists spoke at the event.
Highlight of the day for me was Holly Gramazio’s talk about her work designing games for public spaces. Holly’s talk Games in places; Places in Games, critiqued some of her work, as well as that of others, in terms of what worked and why. Holly only had a 10 minutes slot but she packed a lot in - all of it clearly very well thought out. The following attributes were offered useful considerations when designing successful and engaging large scale interactions.
Familiarity: people in public spaces are quite often short on time. If you want to maximise the chance that they will engage with your game, familiar modes of interaction creates an immediacy that (she used the example of ping-pong tables in parks) can draw people in and encourage play.
Multi-purpose: if an activity offers a useful function and and opportunity for play, then this can encourage interaction. She used a wonderful example of a slide installed on a flight of steps leading down from the entrance of a train station. Genius!
Playing With Scale: Holly explained that works that did this were universally popular - although she didn’t know why…
Swings: Always popular - Put a swing somewhere and people will use it…
Holly described a further set of attributes for successful interactions - the descriptions are my interpretations so sorry if I haven’t understood them correctly.
Deniability: If you present and interaction which allows the user to play in a stealthy manner without drawing attention to themselves, (the may be self conscious being seen playing in public), then the interaction will tempt more people than just extroverts.
Secrecy: Very similar to the above I think: Stealthy play - nobody need know you are playing a game.
Un-childlike: If you want to engage adults, presenting interactions in ways that do not seem childish can increase likelihood of play. I guess swings are the exception to this rule.
Touch, Responsiveness, bright colour, and photo opportunity were described as other seductive interactions, but due to the shortness of the presentation, these really weren’t elaborated on to much - however, they are fairly self-explanatory.
In summing up, Holly made the great point that, in order for users to be able to interact with counter intuitive interfaces, they need to at least have an understanding of the underlying principle of interaction.
Other speakers included a photographer who organises walks in Birmingham for people to take photographs. The photographer was trying to work out what he was doing by facilitating the Photo-Walks: ‘is it art?’ he asked. I wanted to ask why it mattered but didn’t get a chance. I also wanted to explain the it was through photography and photo walks that I learnt how to look around and notice more, and it’s reductive effect on my photography - I see more so don’t feel the need to use a camera very often.
The geologic unsurprisingly gave a talk about rocks, but I admit that I zoned out a bit and did some sketching during that one. I did look up at one point to see that she was showing arial photographs of desert landscapes that looked like Drone footage from Afghanistan. Except she wasn’t. The images were coming from a camera she had mounted to a microscope on the desk in front of her. The desert landscapes were microscopic slithers of rock magnified thousands of times. I still expected to see the screen white out and an explosion at any second though.
Another speaker gave a presentation in which she made the point that Facebook was like disco, and twitter was more anarchic and therefor like punk. Amusingly, myspace was compared with prog-rock. I wanted to ask about sub-cultures and if they were still possible in the social media era, but didn’t.
The keynote speaker was Sarah Angiss, a multi-instrumentalist, roboticist and theremin player. Sarah was introduced as having a particular interest in Coupling, which was described as what happens between user interaction and the resulting output. This piqued my (research) interest, but it wasn’t elaborated on. Sarah’s presentation was fascinating, but it was the little incidental points about interactions that resonated most. She talked about how some members of the audience never make the connection between her performance playing a theremin and the music they were hearing. Because she was not touching anything, the connection wasn’t made. Once she understood this, she would act out tuning the theremin (not necessary) on stage before each performance to relate gesture and sound - priming the audience.