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I am following the Coursera.org course Human Computer Interaction offered by Stanford University. It is taught by Scott Klemmer and is giving me very useful insights in interaction design to improve user interfaces.

The course consists of weekly video lectures and quizzes and a practical component in the form of assignments that are peer graded. I found these very helpful, to get feedback and inspiration from the work of others.

I started a project to find out how technology can help people to pack their bags. Inspired by my own fear to forget my keys when I leave the house. I want to share with you some of the fun I had in the early brainstorms and prototyping:

HCI Assignment 1 – NeedFinding

Packing a bag is something we do so often, that it turns into a routine, but one we are not very focussed on. Leading to doubt over whether we packed a certain item or forgetting to grab that important one item in our hurry to get going.

My goal is to find out how technology can help us to pack our bags.

I observed people packing their bag for a certain occasion to learn about the activity and possible breakdowns and workarounds that technology could play a role in.

Inspiration I found for developing a technology that could help people:

  • Key finders
  • Generate packing list online
  • RFID tags and readers (possible technology)
  • RFID reader for iPhone (possible technology)
  • X-ray baggage screening (inspiration for artwork)

HCI Assignment 2 – Prototyping
Storyboards had to be pen drawings. For digital storyboards, I prefer the Comic Life software.


I then built a sketch prototype with Balsamiq Mockups, a rapid wireframing tool.

HCI Assignment 3 – Start Building
Things started to be more serious and I had to build two versions of my app with Just in Mind
I learned the hard way that this was a lot of work. And that the hours you put in don not always get the reward you hope for. The peer-grading system disappointed me.
I spend hours grading and giving feedback to others, and received only very low grades for my own project. From which I learned one thing: not only in user interfaces, also in assignments you need clear design for the users. I failed to state my goal and background for my app, so my graders did not understand the point.
Luckily, I received great feedback through the coursera forum. I did decide to stop with the assignments and continue only with the quizzes and lectures, because I started my new job as a content manager.

If you want to know more about this Coursera HCI course, read Jodie Locklear’s blog article ‘H.C.I. – Honored, Compelled, Inspired.’.

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In his article Community Mapping, Chris Perkins describes the goals of community mapping as a democratic form of mapping. It enables individuals to express their own perspectives on an area instead of relying on institutional maps. Through five case studies, he demonstrates the struggles in having a really democratic form of mapping:

  • initiatives organised by existing organisations (church, tourism office, pressure groups, etc.) lead to greater participation, but they have their own agendas
  • participants are likely to have contrasting views, resulting maps are compromises
  • maps that could serve as a starting point or ground layer, are often protected by intellectual property rights
Picture taken by foto.bulle.

Old Ordnance Survey map (photographed by foto.bulle).

I came into the right spirit of writing a research proposal for my PhD application with these post-its that scream colour.

Picture taken by myself.

Colourful post-its make the application process both structured and fun.

The PhD project focuses on research on digital cartographies, which ties in neatly with my research on digital space and navigation in games and game rules.

Reading Bill Bryson’s “A short history of nearly everything” and learning a lot from it:

“The picture of an atom that nearly everybody has in mind is of an electron or two flying around a nucleus, like planets orbiting a sun. This image was created in 1904, based on little more than clever guesswork, by a Japanese physicist named Hantaro Nagaoka. It is completely wrong, but durable just the same.

In fact, as physicists were soon to realize, electrons are not like orbiting planets at all, but more like the blades of a spinning fan, managing to fill every bit of space in their orbits simultaneously (but with the crucial difference that the blades of a fan only seem to be everywhere at once; electrons are). p. 184-185.

Popular Science monthly of May 1947, by x-ray delta one on Flickr.com

The Center for the study of digital Games and Play has a website. And as a former research master student writing about games, I earned a place in the list of affiliated people.

Picture taken from gamesandplay.nl

The new Games and Play website.

One of the things that is engraved in my memory is the majestic panorama during the first 4 days of walking the Overland Track. Mountain tops stood as clear landmarks telling where I was going and where I had been. Walking over the plateaus it felt like being on top of the world.

Barn Bluff came into sight after climbing past Cradle Mountain on the first day and was visible until day 5 at Mount Ossa. Mount Oakleigh was visible from the second day until leaving the Pelion Plains Hut at day 5.

Picture taken by me.

Day 4: Barn Bluff on the left and Mt Oakleigh in the foreground on the right.

Literature:

    • Yi-Fu Tuan writes about reference points in the environment which help regain orientation when someone is lost (in “Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience” 1977, p. 69-72).
      Georgia Leigh McGregor has written about landmarks in ‘backdrops’ in games that help players navigate through the game space (in “Situations of Play: Patterns of Spatial Use in Videogames” 2007, p. 534).
  • Media scholar Lev Manovich visited Setup today to present his new research project of cultural analytics for which he uses computer power and screen capacity to analyse large amounts of visual data. The advantage being, he argued, that no longer this work had to carried out by quantitative researchers who would only use a small selection of the rich amount of data. Examples: Capturing the first and last frame of each shot in a film, shot length, amount of movement in a shot and displaying them chronologically. Or taking screenshots of a play session of a computer game every three seconds and displaying a composition of their vertical middle lines. No data will be lost anymore.

    Admittedly, the images looked very interesting from the beginning. But my mind started to wonder when Manovich presented graph after graph of the same media text. This indicated to me that the same text had to be analysed repeatedly to highlight different aspects of it. Perspectives that could not be presented at the same time on the enormous screens designed for the task. But much worse: perspectives that analysed only a part of the text. Because how can a collection of samples of the original ever be as good research material as the original itself?

    Display wall visualising analysis of fifty thousand Manga pages.

    Not to say that Manovich did not have a point. The new techniques provide a way to actually process all the data a text contains. However, I cannot agree that this solves the problem that qualitative and quantitative research methods face. Every way you approach it, researchers still have to take decisions of what intervals to measure, and thereby bias their research. This was illustrated best with Manovich own example of motion. Moving his hands in an inimitable sequence, he stated that different types of movement are hard to compare. Tracking the speed and reach of movement enables this, as he said, forgetting that it loses the richness of the aesthetics which incorporates many more features. Virtually uncountable ones.

    It was very unlucky that I could not stay until the end to witness the questions from the audience. Reading this new media & digital culture master blog (in Dutch), tells me that a question in the line of my critique was in fact posed by one of the present professors that organised Manovich’s visit (see Skip Intro). And it looks like Manovich had no concrete answer.

    A researcher who has put my fears in clear words is William Gaver, who writes:

    • “Asking unambiguous questions tends to give you what you already know, at least to the extent of reifying the ontology behind the questions. Posing open or absurd tasks, in contrast, ensures that the results will be surprising.
    • Summarizing returns tends to produce an ‘average’ picture that may not reflect any individual well, and that filters out the unusual items that can be most inspiring.
    • Analyses are often used as mediating representations for raw data: they blunt the contact that designers can have with users” (p. 7)

    Gaver, William W. et al. “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty”.

    More discussion on Manovich’s lecture (also in Dutch) can be read on the website of Setup.

    I’ve been reading Bernard Suits’ “The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia” and will share some of the highlights.

    On rules, Suits writes the following:

    “Rules in games thus seem to be in some sense inseparable from ends, for to break a game rule is to render impossible the attainment of an end.” (p. 24). And: “I obey the rules just because such obedience is a necessary condition for my engaging in the activity such obedience makes possible.” (p. 31)

    Thus, you need to adhere to the rules to be able to play and complete the game. Something that relates to the “lusory attitude” (p. 38) a player has when playing. There are always rules in games, even if they are hidden in agreements over starting times, place and opponent (p. 67). What then, I thought, if the game is as such that you can only win it once you start breaking its rules? I think the definition still holds, because that would imply another rule which states the breaking of the other rules. Indeed, Suits argues that

    “it is not these manoeuvres [efforts to mislead in order to gain an advantage] that make the activities in which they occur games; it is the constitutive rules of those games which make these kinds of misdirection the useful manoeuvres that they are.” (p. 152).

    Which also says something about the creative interaction that can take place with rules. This is possible because “[g]ame rules are not ultimately binding” (p. 26) and “other rules can always supersede the game rules” (p. 27) or one rule can be placed higher than the other.

    A note about the assumption of roles in games is that they should always stay assumed. When the role is adopted as a serious business, the game seizes to be a game (p. 112). A reference to the fact that games are described as being outside everyday life, which Suits touches upon with his term ‘lusory attitude’. A possible outcome of assuming game roles in everyday life could be that the audience is forced to change their behaviour in acting along with the player to not disturb the illusion (p. 124).

    This is something that should be remembered when designing urban games that involve the public. An example was the game Snatch Ball that I played at the Cultural Sunday, in which the designers explained a game instance in which one man decided to help the players for a longer period of time, ruining the game premise of persuading by passers in helping you.

    This blog article by accident neatly sums up what I’ve been developing to be a continuation of my master thesis on Deleuze and games. I thought: What if I compare Deleuze’s dynamic conception of the virtual to understand game play and confront it with the rigid framework that rules compose? Would one theory win or can they be combined to form another? Realising the difference between digital and non-digital games, I decided that pervasive games would be a fruitful area to look at to provoke answers.

    Almost the same questions and premises are posed in the blog post by augmented reality (AR) research Blair MacIntyre. Only he develops his ideas from the difference between digital and non-digital card games. About the difference between them he states:

    “I was thinking about the ways games enforce rules, and how board games and card games are fundamentally different than computer games. With board and card games, rule enforcement is left up to the players; they know the rules, and they abide by them.”

    “Computer games, on the other hand, encourage players to do anything the game allows to win. Because the system is closed and the rules are enforced by the computer, finding ways to get around the system is part of the fun for many players.”

    Rules as restraining element or as source for inspiration.

    Besides the consequences MacIntyre sees for game design, he stresses how the challenging question is to be answered academically. Which is exactly what I was thinking of doing as my new project. Good case of synchronicity apart from the difference in subject between his card games and my pervasive games.

    This is the day I handed in my master’s thesis for the research master Media and Performance Studies at Utrecht University. It was supervised by dr. Joost Raessens and my second reader was dr. Jami Weinstein. This is the abstract:

    “The term virtual is frequently used by game scholars to describe the space presented in computer games. This space is usually typified as unreal and contrasted with unmediated real space. The conception of virtual as fake originates in the popularity of virtual reality technology in the 1980s. There are roughly three descriptions of the virtual in the meaning of unreal: The virtual is seen as an unreal reflection of the real world, as an imitation of it that however much perfected is never the real itself, and as having very real effects.

    The dichotomy between virtual and real can be traced in game literature in the conception that game space is a representation of real space. The idea that games could thus be analysed as texts prevailed at the outset of the study of games as an academic subject. However, this perspective was soon criticised by scholars who opted to study games foremost as interactive media. This focus on the interactive element of games led to a growing amount of work on the importance of the body during play and, more recently, to a focus on the role of the player as a performer who actively creates space. Studying game space from these approaches, the opposition of real versus unreal virtual space is no longer of use.

    Constructing an alternative terminology of the virtual drawing inspiration from the work of Deleuze, leads to an understanding of games as processes of virtualisation and actualisation that involve affect. This enables an explanation of the reality of game space, accounts for the convergence between player, machine and game and respects the specific characteristics of games. I recommend the use of the new terminology of the virtual that I formulated, to enable a true break from the perspective of games as representations and maps for the approaches of interactivity and embodiment, and to provide a firm ground for the approach of performativity to study the creation of spatial realities in respect to the specificity of the medium.”

    Front page of RMA thesis.

    A virtual version of the thesis can be found on this blog on the page “Written work” and on the website of my university’s library.

    Tweets (Dutch and English)