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72 Hours for Playful Public Interaction

72 Hour Interactions

The intersection of space and play is at once obvious and under-explored, though a growing number of playful interactions have been designed in and for interior spaces such as galleries and museums, like Joue le Jeu. By contrast, setting something interactive (and potentially physical/architectural) in a public space, with the context that creates and the constraints it demands, is something most designers have not yet had opportunity to explore. So it’s really exciting to have been invited along with 58 talented practitioners in Architecture, Urbanism, Design, Art, and Community-building to spend 72 straight hours creating a playful installation in a public space in the Ruhr region town of Witten, Germany.

We’ve all been split into five teams, with whom we eat, sleep, work, and play. The “Witten Truffle Pigs” are about half Germans, plus a smattering of Peruvian, Brit, Belgian, Lebanese, and me! The competition officially begins in 6 hours, but we’ve been here for a couple days already, getting to know each other and the town, learning about our tasks and the safety rules, building team spirit, and enjoying ourselves in general – but not enjoying ourselves too much, since we’re about to have a long long sprint.

Follow the Truffle Pig adventures on our blog!

Yesterday we were given a tour around Witten, and then played a warm-up game: a miniature version of our 72 hour experience, compressed into an intense 72 minutes. Complete with “sleeping” (resting in a chair with an sleeping mask) and imaginary roles (mine was as a local resident of Witten), we broke into teams and designed interactions for miniature public spaces like bus stops and phone booths. My game team was tasked with creating “A place for privacy” on a very busy streetcorner. So we make the “Am Chillen” private resting hood, complete with picket fence chalk drawing. From inside the hood you can watch the traffic go by, secure and comfy!

Am Chillen resting spotAm Chillen with the hood flap up

New year’s post

Been very busy lately but not blogging about it much, as I threatened when I started!   Hopefully can get a fresh start in 2014, sharing things.  We’ll see.

In the meantime I’ll at least share this interview I recently did with Digitalista, an Austrian website for women in digital industries.  (Intro is German but my Q&A is in English)


my 5 YMMVs since February 2012

In response to YMMV by Ian Bogost.

February 21, 2012:

please be aware!   you need to bring your own towel, washcloth, scrubby, etc.  otherwise you’ll end up drip-drying after your shower!

Also, if you are a light sleeper, bring earplugs.  The room and area is VERY quiet but there is persistent background noise from the fridge and stuff like that.  (Fortunately it just sounds like occasionally trickling water and i just imagine that it’s the oars of a boat being gently paddled in a lake, but YMMV.)

August 4, 2012:

Hey W—–
any news on the travel front?
My gut sense is that flying from Paris will be the best choice for cost and schedules, but YMMV.

February 20, 2013:

In general, I think people in my dreams are always (or at least like 95% of the time) representing various aspects of myself. Rather than actually representing the person they appear to be. Just thought i should tell you about that one since I’d mentioned i pay attention to my dreams. YMMV.

March 20, 2013:

OK this will sound TERRIBLE and maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but i like intoxication to get me out of my head, out of my shame.   i know.   naughty/lazy me, depending on mental crutches!   but it works for me!   (and is a classic technique)    YMMV

April 24, 2013:

I—–, can you explain about Kurzweil’s exponential curves?  I’m of course familiar with Moore’s Law, but is that something different?  I’ll come right out and admit I’m uncomfortable with assuming any extreme techno-utopian ideology as the basis to our discussion. YMMV


For Tagtool, it’s Time.

Courtesy of OMAi, image by Markus Dorninger

Courtesy of OMAi, image by maki (Markus Dorninger)

For the last month or so I’ve been immersed in learning the new live drawing iPad app Tagtool. It was created by OMAi, a small startup here in Austria (Tulln/Vienna) and was released about 3 months ago after a few years of development, first as a DIY live-drawing kit for projection artists, and now as a fully native touchscreen application. Anyone who’s spent time with me in the last 6 weeks or so has gotten an earful about it (and probably a demo) because I really think the app is fantastic. In fact I’ll go so far as to claim that the gestural interface they’ve developed for the app is THE future of digital creative interfaces, as native to the touchscreen as the mouse and the keyboard are to the touchless-screen-based world. If it’s any indication (and I think it is), i now find myself automatically trying to use Tagtool gestures when I use other iPad applications. They’ve become ingrained quickly in my muscle memory because they are so effortlessly natural to the way touchscreens function. And as far as I know, no other drawing app is doing that.

The ostensible purpose of Tagtool (which it succeeds at fantastically) is to enable collaborative multi-artist projection 2D art and animation sessions (including simple projection mapping), with a kind of “musical instrument” philosophy that prioritizes immediacy and continual forward motion over meticulous back-tracking and self-correction. In other words, it’s a drawing app that exists as much in time as it does in space. In fact, OMAi have explained the app’s creative philosophy in their Tagtool Manifesto.

Courtesy of OMAi, Image by Markus Dorninger

Courtesy of OMAi, Image by maki (Markus Dorninger)

Inevitably, this approach turns off some digital artists, accustomed as they are to the ease of undoing and changing things with a few button clicks. But much like live music making, if you accept the premise that some things can be adjusted (a guitar string can be tuned) and others simply have to be worked with (an improvisational melody can only move forward) then you will adapt to the kinds of performative focus that Tagtool represents. I can certainly say from experience that kids really love it – they have no preconceptions about how digital art should work, and they learn the interface almost instantly.

The other focus of the Tagtool philosophy is seamless realtime collaboration.  Multiple artists, each with their own iPad, can collaborate on the same projection session, switching focus between creating new elements, and responding to or changing other artists’ elements on-screen, thus improvising a group performance.  Here the comparison is equally like music and puppetry.  The “actors” in the scene can be moved on stage or off, and in realtime the app allows multiple puppeteers to seamlessly trade strings.

Courtesy of OMAi, Image by gnu (Josef Dorninger)

Courtesy of OMAi, Image by gnu (Josef Dorninger)

So I think there are multiple important things going on here, each of special interest to different creative practitioners. One is this notion of “performative drawing software”, one is “realtime visual collaboration” and the third is this fantastic two-handed drawing interface.  That’s quite a killer combo in my eyes, and that’s why I’ve latched on and have excitedly shown this app to everyone with eyeballs. The fourth important factor is that they are a small, smart, creative startup in a rural corner of semi-Eastern Europe making something of (what I consider to be) international creative significance, and they’re just downright great guys.  I know I shouldn’t consider this wildly improbable but… yeah.  It’s magical.

Anyhow enough yapping, here’s a silly little video that I made with gnu at their sprawling 14th century fortress-cum-farmhouse festooned with street art on the shores of the Danube, in lovely Tulln.

Designing the female orgasm

Heather Kelley at Lift13I recently “shared some insights” – as they say – with the audience at Lift13 conference in Geneva, Switzerland.  The organizers were interested in my prior work on interactive sexual apps, but rather than simply rehash the past, I wanted to bring something new to the conversation.  I proposed to talk about what’s wrong with one entire category of consumer products – vibrators – and to showcase some recent innovations. All with an on-stage hardware demo. They said yes, so please enjoy!

Bringing in the senses

As a reflection of my focus and interest in creating interaction and art with the lesser-used senses of smell, taste, and touch, I’ve been creating new business cards and working on a “sensory identity” (if you will).  I thought I’d share a bit more about my process.

Working with Livia von Seld of LvS design, we created a simple white card featuring a UV-gloss print of a Japanese-style plum tree on the reverse side.  When printed in this clear but extremely reflective ink, the tree branch looks a lot like a splash or a wave of liquid, and I love the ambiguity there.

I’ve come up with a new tagline, too: “makes sense”. Get it? Yep folks, the woman cannot resist a double entendre. The tagline is printed in a grey so light you can barely see it against the white card. So it rides on the edge of perception, liminal.  Overall, for the visual design I want to reward those who take a closer look.

And lastly, I’m adding scent to these cards.  The idea of scented visiting cards is nothing new, of course, but I’m not going to use an antique smell;  no violets here, m’dears. Instead, I spent two solid hours in the perfume room of the wonderful Vienna 5th district shop stattGarten. I chose it because they carry Demeter scents, which are “single note” fragrances that are drawn from specific real-world ideas, and many are not at all “perfumey” – such as Dust, Fresh Hay, Bourbon, Condensed Milk, and… Lobster.  So strange, memorable, and most importantly: not overtly gendered. I’ve owned two Demeter scents, Fig Leaf and Bonfire, since the early 00s when I came across their flagship store in the East Village.

stattGarten also carry a small selection of Lampe Berger, which is an alcohol-based home scent collection from France that I first used as a material four years ago on my SUGAR olofactorizer project.  There are some decent non-perfumey scents like Leather and Ocean, and at a really reasonable price compared to scents made for the skin.

I am lucky stattGarten is just a few blocks walk from my apartment because I’ll definitely be going back.  Most of the designer perfume shops in Vienna are in the first district (the downtown old town area) and cater to the Prada and Gucci set.  By contrast, at stattGarten if you have the willpower to get your nose out of the bottles, you’re greeted by ostrich wallpaper and freaky stuffed foxes.  On the sound system, the playlist included the Shangri Las, Nico… music that was obviously what the owners liked to listen to themselves.  I instantly liked Daniel, one of the three founders, when I asked him why he started the shop, he answered, “Oh, nothing special really,” and then proceeded for the next twenty minutes to tell me animatedly about the founding of the shop and the passions of its owners, their philosophy, methodology, and plans for the future.

At the end of two hours I’d probably smelled 75 to 100 perfumes, and picked one Demeter and one Berger that I plan to combine for something really unique and I hope interesting.  From Demeter I went with Whiskey Tobacco and from Berger, Grapefruit.  Now I’m working on how to distribute them on the cards.  So far, neither seem to stain or blotch the paper, so I may have an easy time of it than I’d feared.

Naturally I tried on a few scents for myself as well, and really liked two:  green, green, green, and… green by Miller et Bertaux of Paris, and IndischLeder (“Indian Leather”) by Austrian (!) perfumer WienerBlut, which features  reformulations of 19th century Viennese handkerchief-perfumes.

My new stinky cards will debut at the Lift 2013 conference next week, where I’m going to talk about recent advances in vibrator interface design.

It’s never too late to talk about the future of art

Was recently reminded of this “immediated autodocumentary” that I took part in (briefly) at Transmediale 2011.

The Future of Art from KS12 on Vimeo.

Is it all still true, or has two years already changed everything?

Design adventures down under

Just got back from Melbourne, Australia, where I delivered the day 1 keynote lecture at the first annual Games for Change Australia New Zealand, sharing some lessons learned while creating and curating physical/sculptural games this summer for our show Joue le Jeu.

The Twelve ApostlesThen after a fantastic (if slightly carsick) weekend retreat down the Great Ocean Road, i returned to RMIT to lead a group of graduate students and local developers in a physical and embodied game design workshop, one result of which can be seen here: Audio Arc, a game of blindfolded hide-and-seek using only the built-in alarm sound effects on your mobile phone.

But the project I want to mention in more detail was my second G4CANZ session – I co-presented with Keita Takahashi in an active session that GEELab founder Dr. Steffen Walz coined the “Super Awesome Play Jam.”  My half of our session challenged the participants to explore the core gameplay of a new game concept I’ve been working on for the past few months.

Garrick BendI’ve always been interested in ropes and knotwork, and in nautical themes in general.  In response to a request in September from a large sci-fi conference, I started concepting a kind of “conference game” – a game which would be played over a short but multi-day timespan in a single large physical location like a symposium, conference, festival, etc.  In the meantime, the conference decided not to host original games this year, but the spark was struck and I’ve been further developing the concept since then.

Building a Garrick Bend knot at Super Awesome Play Jam G4C ANZ 2012Based in a fictional nautical scenario, the game puts the players in the role of collective storytellers, using physical props like short lengths of cord and sculptural objects like a wooden ship to determine the fates of two groups: a crew of sailors on a three-masted ship, and a group of mermaids living in a floating forest of seaweed.  Or at least that’s my hope.  My first question is: how and when is it fun to tie knots in ropes?  So that’s what we explored in my session at RMIT.  The participants warmed up their knot-tying skills with the “Bow-line,” then teamed up with another player to join cords in a “Garrick Bend.” We followed this exercise with a group discussion to tease out the possible ways this simple (although not ‘easy’) activity could form the core gameplay of a much larger experience.

I’m still not certain the concept will work – whether folks at a busy event would care, or be interested, to jointly effect a story through a symbolic physical action like this.  But I’m one step closer to finding out.

Nous sommes arrivés, Nous sommes joués

Joue le jeu : été 2012 à la Gaîté lyrique from La Gaîté Lyrique on Vimeo.

For the first half of 2012, I had the pleasure of co-curating Joue le jeu / Play Along, Paris’s first exhibition of new game and play culture, hosted at La Gaite Lyrique. It was an unforgettable experience, and we’re now in the process of gathering the documentation to share it with you.

The fantastic teaser trailer was created by Emeric Adrian with music by Marie Marie Cells.

Touchable Tent: Prototype Aurora

In October I was invited to join a cohort of sensor and open source software hackers at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry for a week’s residency leading up to the sensing symposium Art && Code 3D.  What an amazing experience, surrounded for a week by some of the brightest folks in creative computing.

On site at Carnegie Mellon University School of Art, the residency cohort spent our time together building a number of different sensing and 3D projects.  I’ve been wanting for a while to explore the potential for physical interaction with digital interfaces from a non-upright body position (such as sitting, lying, reclining, floating, etc).  And I’m always keen to explore more immersive, enveloping interaction environments.