Designing for peace: 6 inspiring ideas and thoughts

There is too much hate in the world, particularly towards people from different countries, different nations, different religions – just “different”. Let me tell you what happened to me today. I was in a bus going to Winchester and an old man just seated near me. I was in the back of the bus, and sometimes when stretching we tend to put our feet on the top of the seat in front of the bus. I know it is quite bad, but I didn’t think, I was stretching my leg for a moment and I put my foot on the seat. The man just said something – I couldn’t hear properly, then I said: “Sorry?”. He said: “- Get your filthy feet out of the seat!”. I just moved it very quick and continued looking at him. He said: “-Do you do this in your country?”. Ohhhh – this is where my heart was pumping really fast. I got very angry. How can he say something like that? Why couldn’t he be just polite? Or even say “-Do you do this in your home?”. But no – “your country”. I just said a gentle and sarcastic “I’m sorry”. And I kept staring at him, thinking – How can he be so rude? What should I do?. He then said: “-What are you looking at?”. I said: “-I’m looking at the window.” – and I laughed. There is that saying that a fight only happens when two people really want to fight (as I’ve heard in my childhood, “quando um não quer, dois não brigam”). I didn’t want to fight because that was not going anywhere. The man left and that was it. Then I was thinking. What is making people full of hate? All I could sense and feel was just this: hate. For the whole day I felt a disconnection with everything in this place. When we move to another country we tend to accept and embrace the local culture; sometimes feeling really proud, acting like someone naturally born here. But I am not. I am not British – I am Brazilian. This made me think, due to recent events – Acid Attacks in London, Far Right in America and so many incidents (way worse than my experience) related to racism and xenophobia, what can we do to bring peace and respect back to humanity?

I know it sounds very miss universe talking (world peace cliche), but what are we doing to bring peace after all? What are we doing to slow down this wave of hate? What are we doing to bring respect to each other? I’m not specialist in world peace or social sciences or anthropology, but I do know design. So what can we do as designers to decrease this horrible scenario of hate and change it?

1- Designing games for peace

While looking for references in Design and Peace, I’ve found the Peace Innovation Lab from Stanford University. This is their video below. All they are talking about is behaviour change and how games and game-techniques can help to change people’s behaviour. One aspect mentioned in the video is the classic B=mat, from Fogg’s model of behaviour change that uses motivation, ability and triggers. Thus, games can promote motivation, they can make people learn new abilities and they could function as triggers for people to change their behaviours. Adding to this, games provide real-time feedback, which also helps people to get immediate rewards and improve their behaviours.

There is also the games for change, or in other words, games created to change people’s behaviours, attitudes and perceptions. For example there is a category of games to learn how to manage conflicts, like games that show the how difficult it is to live in war zones and so on. There is also the World Peace board game, which helps players wot work in teams in order to understand political conflicts and make important decisions. Other games also enhance social collaboration, which can be very useful while dealing with conflicts not only in the theme of the game with within the dynamics between players. Perhaps we should be designing more games like these.

2- Using technology for good

This is quite broad but it involves a lot of tech for good and tech for peace. The insight here is that when we interact with systems we create a large amount of data, which can be tracked and can be used to enhance human experience positively. This place here is already doing this type of research. This is quite based on Persuasive Technology, which tends to bring triggers and tools to help to decrease conflict and empower peace makers, for example. With AI no, it is possible that machine learning could predict possible conflicts in the future and avoid them. However I’m not sure how this would work yet, but it might be already happening. From the design perspective I believe that this should be designed based on respect – respect of values, respect of cultural backgrounds, respect of beliefs and human rights. Yet, I still think that technology could be used as a way to explore cooperation and collaboration. That is, peace can’t be done by one individual – it is a collective experience. Thus, if technology could enhance our network and make it stronger, we could make a change. Perhaps communities might emerge through technology empowerment. Some are already there.

3- Designing for empathy

One thing that came in my mind was empathy and virtual reality (VR). That is, VR can teach empathy, since it provides an immersive connection between the user and the environment. In other words, people could live in the “skin” of others and therefore understand their issues. Empathy has always been in the agenda of Design Thinking and all design-related techniques. We need to design for people; thus, it is good to know what they would need, desire, think, feel and so on. In the case of conflict and peace, empathy is crucial. We don’t know what the others are thinking, or if something happened to them before getting into a fight. People don’t know your stories unless you tell them.

4- Positive design

You’ve probably heard about ad blockers. Now imagine if you could have negativity blocker and just read and embrace positive news, interactions and so on. Designing for positivity should be key. Why people are reacting with hate? Perhaps something in the media? Let’s admit, we have been bombarded by so many negative news. People losing jobs, economic crisis, poverty and other things. Can we get something positive out of this? Is there something that we could do? There is this framework for Positive Design, which combines Design for Virtue, Design for Personal Significance and Design for Pleasure. I would say that perhaps the one that would require more work is the virtue side. How can we include moral aspects without imposing them? What a big challenge for designers! Perhaps if I didn’t have any moral or virtue I would have argued with the old man in the bus – who knows? The framework is very good, but I would say that we need to think about the collective as well as the individual.

5- Culture matters

Understanding culture is another thing that we should do as designers. We need to work together to respect values, symbols and rituals from people that have other cultures, values, religions and so on. Cultural differences exist but also do cultural similarities. I know we tend to focus too much on what is different – but what about the things that we share? What are the values that we share?

6- Collective design

Change can come from the individual but it will only have a big impact if it is a collective change, especially in the case of peace. I know that alone I can make some difference. For example, I decided not to argue with the old man in the bus and I will never put my foot on the seat again. But the impact we tend to see in the collective side of things. This is where we should get out of our bubbles and collaborate, cooperate. Tech can help us to do this. Let’s use it.

Conclusion

What can we do? We could use technology to empower communities. And we could all start thinking differently and embrace diversity. We could use tech to help us change our behaviour. But most importantly, we need to WANT this change. I think that even with all those tech around us, we still need to acknowledge that we need to change our behaviour. Perhaps games could help to trigger this “willingness” to change – or perhaps just provocative art could make people think about those issues – or just VR could create empathy and make us change. There is still a lot to do. This is why I say to people that culture is important, values are important – but most importantly, we are HUMANS. So please, be kind, respect others and smile. Look up to the stars and think.

 

The era of AI design and what it means after all

AI design. Artificial Intelligence Design – and you can become an AI Designer (of course!). Recently I’ve been bombarded by thoughts, ideas, robots, the end of the world and this new name – the AI designer. So what is an AI designer after all? And what does it have to do with robots taking control of human life?

An AI designer, according to definitions, is nothing more than a designer, who perhaps uses AI as a tool to solve human problems. As mentioned in this post published in Medium and later in the ACM interactions, AI designer is a designer, who knows at least what AI could do to solve a problem. That is an important position to take in the middle of the courses in Machine Learning, coding, AI, chatbots, robots, Deep Learning and all those things that we are trying to learn as soon as possible.

Why are we talking about AI and why everyone is running against time? Well, according to this article published in different sites and places, it looks like Facebook created an AI that can talk to each other. That means that the AI created its own language and now we lost completely control. So if we don’t know this language, we are in trouble! What can they be talking about? Destroying the human race? Or perhaps it is just a normal aspect of the evolution of AI, after all having a simpler language might be more logical and easier for them to communicate.

Other people are now worried that they might lose their jobs because AI is so much better. Well, it will depend on your job. Apparently, skills that jobs require are more human and we should be doing more “human” work. However, this brings into question what is a “human” work? Perhaps this will change the economy and there would be no human capital to sell or maybe there would be a new definition for human capital. Some say that the best way is to take the robotic work out of the work. Or just like Don Norman said, it is all about “human technology teamwork“. With this in mind, I believe that design will be the key element in all this new era. This is why I will try to put in points what I think we as designers should do and understand.

1- Problem definition

As mentioned in this article from designer Nina (Zhuxiaona) Wei in the ACM Interactions (one of my fav magazines to read) – it is all about the problem and what is the design problem you’re trying to solve. Just like a normal research – you need to know what is the problem you’re trying to solve before even thinking about a solution that would involve AI. Maybe AI is not the solution – the end.

2- Users are still getting used to it

It is not mainstream to talk to your phone, for example. Okay, this might change in the future when you actually control everything with your mind (please read Michio KakuThe future of the Mind). But until there we are trying to make everything a bit more personal, and transforming AI into “human”. For example, IBM wants to create something that is not awkward with AI with personality and social skills. Sounds cool, but are we ready for it? And do we need it? Or are we just replacing things for something that it is easier? That reminds me of the movie Her. Is AI just replacing something that as humans we cannot achieve? (time to think).

3- Users are humans (yes!)

This is what we forget sometimes and we presume that AI is so much better than humans. After all, AI is smart and doesn’t need much to survive. But AI can’t understand comics! That sounds boring! So the question here is what makes us humans and therefore different from AI? Is this just about emotions, feelings, spirituality? Or is there something more? Can we strengthen our human character by giving more attention to it?

4- Embrace the teamwork

What does it mean to work with a machine that thinks just like a person? As mentioned by Donald Norman in this video below, AI should be a reinforcement, not replacement itself. In very black and white words – let’s leave AI to do the repetitive work and then we deal with creativity – other jobs that would require imagination. Perhaps in that way AI could work (time to think 2) and it would leave us to do the “fun” part. Definitely this will change the way we do things and this is quite exciting because this post could have been so much more insightful if we had some help from technology, for example. Perhaps we should embrace technology and work together, find new roles and new dynamics. Would AI become more than an extension of our human life? I don’t know. But for now, as designers, we have a huge responsibility.

5- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Uncle Ben was right – now more than ever. Imagine that you can now build all those AI entities that think and act like humans – this shows power. The power is actually in our hands, but not as a way to control other people (hope not) but to build things that would actually help other people and give them autonomy. I think that one part of this teamwork mentioned by Norman is autonomy. The interaction starts with us, as input, in some way, no matter how – if it is just pressing a button or just blinking or just thinking. The power is in our mind and what we do with it. This gets very philosophical in some point (sorry but I love it some times and it makes me question everything), but it is important that we include this in our thinking.

What inspired me to talk about that was basically the popularity of the topic and a few concerns as a designer. For example, another thing to think about is the trendy word chatbot. Since it is a “robot”, then it is considered as AI, after all it talks alone and replies to people on time. But are chatbots just a selection of answers to a question? Or can they be more intelligent and give you predictions, something that “thinks” – instead of a memorisation of answers? We will come back to that later.

In some way, I still think that movements against AI and technology may rise if it gets out of our control. We like to have autonomy, to have a sense of control and perhaps the only way to do this is to be offline, disconnected, living in fields without Internet (if this is possible). We are in the middle of this transformation and it is our responsibility to think the best way to deal with it.

So, if you’re a designer and don’t know what to do in all this AI bubble and you don’t know coding or machine learning or all those things, just take a step back. Think: why is this important? Why AI? What problems is it trying to solve – if any? Pause to think.

Read more:
What Are The Best Intelligent Chatbots or AI Chatbots Available Online?
Two Chatbots Talk With Each Other, Awkward Hilarity Ensues
So, you want to be an AI designer
You can be an AI designer
AI has a bright future in HR, and is already making waves in shared services
This is what will keep us human in the age of AI

Brands, AR and advergames: when the experience is enough

Advergames and Augmented Reality, what a powerful combination. Getting people to go to places just to get a free item and have fun with it is definitely a successful strategy. Since everyone has a mobile phone, you can “catch them all” and win prizes every time you visit a store. This is what many brands are doing, since the arrival of Pokemon Go! and its large adoption by the general public. Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming mainstream and with that, brands don’t want to waste time! But what are the implications of that? Is that really effective? How?

Recently, the beer brand Amstel created a treasure hunt game app that allows players to win prizes by holding a parcel (?) for 6 hours or so. Basically, Amstel has hired the services from the app company Snatch that has a kind of “model” of treasure hunt for brands that people can simply steal virtual parcels from you. It is quite clever because it makes people engaged and they don’t want to lose their parcel, so I guess people will do everything to keep it safe (hello psychology!). You can also protect yourself, by building a tent or other things by spending some virtual currency (hello, IAP!). In the end of the day, the strategy is pure psychology! People don’t want to lose things and for that, they will do anything. Again, the app is free, but you have to “wait” 6 hours holding this parcel. It is a lot of time. So, as we know, nothing is free in this world!

“It is thought that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining” – https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/loss-aversion/

What is the potential of this type of interaction for brands? The answer is in the experience. Again, if you have a good experience and this is related to a brand – magic! You will remember the brand easily.

But how can this be sustainable? That’s the most difficult part of the whole thing. If you win something that you don’t like, would you play it again? Remember, you need to wait 6 hours. Or if you lose every time? Or if actually you don’t have spare time to play and you know you will lose it anyway? There is a world of possibilities and experiences here. So if you have a bad experience, would that influence the experience with the brand? It all sounds fun in the beginning. And what if you can’t use your phone in the streets because it is dangerous?

My conclusion of this is: brands could benefit from it if it is an event with beginning, middle and an end – not as an on-going experience that will be there forever. Brands should make sure that the experience is positive in the beginning and sustain it until the end – and after that move to another level. Since players evolve in the game, people might lose interest, they might move on and find other interesting things to do.

Digital/Physical: PLAY event at Mother, London: thoughts and insights

On the 4th May 2017, I was invited to participate in a very insightful discussion at Mother, in London. The event was organised by Derek Yates, from WSA, Mother and Sennep. Dr. Seth Gidings was chairing the sessions and the panel was composed of: Derek Yates, Jaygo Bloom, Adam Procter, Vanissa Wanick (me! yay!), Carleigh Morgan, Bobbie Allsop, Mink Ette, Sennep. All super designers and thinkers! We received an email with some really difficult questions and I would like to share with you my thoughts and ideas :) Here it goes!

1.  Ask each speaker to introduce her or himself, and to succinctly complete the following phrase: ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’
I’m Vanissa Wanick, Brazilian UX designer and now PhD in games design from Winchester School of Art, with a thesis in advergames across cultures. And ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’Because the physical and the digital are always in conversation and it is very difficult to find boundaries between each other. It is important because we are changing our relationship with both physical and digital and they are becoming one thing. Thus, imagine that as a child you could play with spaces and anything could become a “toy”. Now this extends to the digital; children swipe paper thinking that it would function just like a tablet. I’ve seen kinds swiping a TV thinking that it was a huge iPad.

2.  Communication design is generally understood as underpinned by storytelling. What are the implications for your ideas and practice in a digital environment in which narrative is opened up and transformed by games and play? What is the role of the creative practitioner in designing or managing the open-ended, social, collaborative and emergent possibilities of playful user experience? What kinds of control do you want to keep, and what are you willing to cede to the player?
A vey huge question. I think it is hard to keep control – or maybe we need to define control in this digital environment. In the case of games, as designers, we have a huge responsibility, since people could change their behaviours by interacting with games. However, there is another side of the coin – games function like a conversation. It is difficult to predict how the player will react, since we are not designing an experience, but we are creating interactions, possibilities. However, since we started the conversation, it is possible that as designers we could function as guides, or as scientists. Who knows? As for the narrative, I think it is all transmedia, it is everywhere and it is how we communicate anyway.

3.  Play is celebrated for its creative potential – it is seen as open, free, social, imaginative, emergent, and even subversive or transgressive. What are the ethical and political implications of deploying games and playful digital technologies for commercial ends: to attract and retain consumers’ attention, to data mine and track movement on and offline, to gamify everyday life?
Wow, that’s a big challenge. First, can we gamify everything? If so, do we need to gamify everything? Why transforming everything into a game? Playing a game is not trivial – it is hard and that’s why it is fun. So it is not because it is easy that it is fun. Another thing is the data mining and data economy. This is everywhere and people can’t hide. Of course, brands can access all these data, which could emerge from interactions with playful and gameful environments and influence people’s minds. One thing to think again is the responsibility that we have as designers. Research has shown that children can’t identify a persuasive content (e.g. advertising) in games. Thus, they think it is fun playing with M&Ms or whatever the product – but in that case they can’t see as advertising strategy. Also, games can function as transgressive and subversive. I’m quite interested in subversive mechanics, in which you actually don’t win – you never win and you keep playing – or you use other political elements in the game to make people question some aspects. Newsgames and critical play are there. I think there is a lot to think. I also think that we should consider values in games and this should be one topic to take into account while designing games.

And that was it! Not sure if you agree with me or if you have anything else to add, but please feel free! :)
Until the next event!

References:
Digital/ Physical: PLAY
The Internet of Toys: Implications of increased connectivity and convergence of physical and digital play in young children

Digital/ Physical: Play from Curtis Rayment on Vimeo.

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

As part of my challenge of gathering #100 usability reviews this year, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).


Figure 1. First screen of the game Tape it Up! Dev: Devsisters corp.

What is the game about
This is a mobile game designed for Android and iOS platforms. In the game you are a “tape” and you need to run through the boxes in a “factory” (Figure 1). In order to win the game you have to swipe left/right and avoid falling in the empty spaces. Sometimes you can fall into boxes with prizes and you may collect letters that would give you a limited power-up/advantage. I’ve tried this game in an iPhone.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tape-it-up/id1147622827?mt=8


Figure 2. Gameplay

Pretty good things:

a) New characters = new assets. The utilisation of characters and assets is very good and the changes in the game scenario, sound and character makes it more interesting for the player, particularly because those changes are not predictable. For example, when the character is a film, the whole scenario changes to “film” (Figure 2).

b) Ability to try new characters. After losing, players can try new characters for free. However this is only temporary. If the payer doesn’t play attention, after using the new character she will be charged.

c) Visualisation of achievements (from Game Center). Although it would be good to see this in the game itself, when the player receives the notification that she has collected a number of points or coins without stop, it is very gratifying.

d) Game goals are clear and easy to play. When the player starts, there is a small tutorial that is part of the game and the controls are very simple. With the swipe and tapping to get some speed, players might feel very familiar with the controls. It works well in a mobile phone and players could play with both hands or one. Since the gameplay is short, the game could be suitable for people who doesn’t have enough time to engage with long gameplay.

e) FEVER. Collection is a key component is this game and it is what makes it pleasurable. The FEVER letters are fun and the changes in the scenario and music are very well-designed. It would make players collect more letters.

f) Question mark boxes. All question mark boxes are very good since it makes the player more curious. When the player unlocks a new character, there is an animation of the boxes and the character appears (Figure 3). Although the player knows the selected character, the idea of something being “hidden” is very pleasant.

g) Collecting daily gifts. The idea of collecting gifts is very good and the animation in the street makes it more special (Figure 4).


Figure 2. New scenario for the “film” tape. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 3. Unlocking a new character. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 4. Getting your gift in the middle of the street. Dev: Devsisters corp.

Some bad things that could be improved:

a) Why do I get a “reward” that is a video that stops my experience? When you jump in the box with the question mark, there is the possibility to get a video jumping into your face. Suggestion: I would remove this. Personally, I think it takes the fantasy away from the game and it forces the player to accept the video after playing very hard in the game.

b) What is the real reward of the game? Not sure if the scores matter as much as getting new characters or unlocking new content. You can see the scores, but there is no real comparison since your position might be very far from the top ones. Suggestion: At the end of the game, maybe the comparison table could appear in order to show the player that she is almost there. Or maybe the scores could be more obvious. For example: beat your score to unlock xxxx. If the player is playing with Facebook integration, maybe the screen of comparison could appear after gameplay. With that, players would be able to compare their scores easily.

c) The game gets repetitive. The gameplay is very simple and repetitive. Although this is not an issue, in this game it is very obvious. Since the beginning is the same (always), it can become a bit boring. Suggestion: once the player unlocks new characters, designers could not only change the scenario and assets, but also give the character new features or change the position of the boxes for a while.

d) Jumping into another level. This feature could be good in order to make the player pay with virtual money to jump into another level. However, since the gameplay is the same (maybe just harder), this function might lose its purpose, unless the player can see the progress from other people.  Suggestion: add something for the player to look forward to in the higher levels. Maybe in the level 10, the factory is prettier or there would be a “boss” there or something that actually requires the player to jump to another level. For example, Temple Run used to do something like that in their first game, in which players could see the distance of their friends.

Have a look at the gameplay here:

The 100 game reviews personal challenge #100reviewschallenge

That’s it! I’ve decided to populate this space with some game reviews, considering many aspects of the game. It includes: usability reviews, gameplay experience, IAP design, interface design, mechanics, purpose and so on. And I will tell you why I’ve decided to start this challenge.

If you want to get into the Games User Research world, you need to be fluent in gaming. That is, you need to be able to evaluate, talk and discuss aspects of games. As Seb Long said in his talk in 2016, the hiring process of a GUR professional in the industry includes an usability review task.

So, what is an usability review of a game? In the talk, Seb mentioned words like knowing the audience and sharing best practices. That is, if you’re going to write a game usability review, you need to consider that developers and designers will read your report (they are the audience!). So the communications of the findings is crucial at this stage. Also, we need to highlight good and bad things as well, and provide recommendations.

Considering this, for my personal challenge of 100 (quick) game usability reviews, I will try to use the following structure:

  • Description of gameplay to situate the whole experience
  • Good practices
  • Bad practices
  • Design recommendations/suggestions for improvement + priorities
  • Conclusion

For the best practices, I’m looking at heuristics of usability evaluation from Desurvire and Wiberg (2009) and Korhonen and Koivisto (2006), especially for mobile games. Since I will be looking for usability aspects, playability will be the key aspect of the game experience.

For the priorities, I will consider the elements that are more urgent and that impact the user experience directly.

The selection of games is a bit random, but I’m trying to play mostly mobile games, tablet games, online and different varieties/purposes (serious games could be part of this list too!).

[I will update the reviews and add them here :)]

#1 [usability review] Lost Maze

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

 

References:

Desurvire, H. & Wiberg, C., 2009. Game Usability Heuristics ( PLAY ) for Evaluating and Designing Better Games : The Next Iteration. Game Studies, LNCS Volum, pp.557–566. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/index/CL1W17LP067K39Q1.pdf.

Korhonen, H. & Koivisto, E.M.I., 2006. Playability heuristics for mobile games. Proceedings of the 8th conference on Human-computer interaction with mobile devices and services – MobileHCI ’06, p.9. Available at: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1152215.1152218.

Kultima, A. & Stenros, J., 2010. Designing games for everyone: the expanded game experience model. In Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology. pp. 66–73.

Sustainable actions through Design: 6 insights and ideas [#sdc17]

On the 18th February 2017, I’ve attended and helped to promote the Sustainable Development Conference, hosted by the Southampton Hub and supported by the University of Southampton – very cool partnership – all created by students from different levels, undergrads, postgrads, PhDs, etc. It was a very good experience (I was a volunteer) and I’ve learnt so much that I would like to share with you. The conference had two themes at the same time: the sustainability and the international development. I was full time in the sustainability side and I will post some notes from my perceptions as a designer (and game designer) from the sustainable side of things – and how can we promote “small actions” to perform a “big impact”.

1. Community design

We live in a community – and this is not only about “society” itself; it is about local communities, people-oriented, people helping others, people making things – PEOPLE. As Seb Mayfield mentioned in his talk, sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the many actions we could take to be more sustainable, but the feeling that we are part of something bigger could help to decrease this “anxiety”. He mentioned about the Circle of Control and the Circle of Concern, in which we can influence people based on where we live, what we do, etc; instead of worrying too much about the natural disasters for example, which is something difficult to control. This shows that being part of a community makes sense and could reduce this “anxiety” of changing the world with just our hands. That is, looking at your surroundings can help you not to feel too overwhelmed.

The idea of community is a key aspect in sustainable living. For example, there is the Repair Cafe, organised here at Southampton, in which people can take their broken things and there will be people in this cafe that could help you to fix broken things: electronics, clothes, anything. In the cafe, people give advices if it’s worth repairing or throwing away. Also there are many activities involved. For example, sewing it’s another form of repairing. That is, knowledge is shared among the community and it becomes something like people helping people, giving value to the “social capital“. Food has also a big impact in communities.

Another example is from Friends of the Earth. They are working with schools in order to raise awareness about the Bee cause. Children grow many different flowers around their schools or hospitals. In the end is all about aesthetics and pollination! They also had a limited gardening for people recovering from stroke.

2. Tiny habits

We should be also thinking about doing small steps. Seb Mayfield said that it is good to grow our own food and in fact, growing our own food can bring many benefits to our mental health (see image below). Thus, growing our own food is more than just having a healthy diet. Seb mentioned that it gives us back “control” over our diet, over our body and over the environment. Thus, when we think about habits, we should start small, like growing pea shoots and in 4 weeks, it is possible to see the results!

Another thing to think: Did you know that even having a shower, you can be more sustainable? Choices of shampoo and even drying your hair could influence the environment. Soooo many things! In the talk about Eco Hair, shampoo choice and other things were very interesting to think. If we put in the paper, there are many things we can do for the environment and perhaps, the way advertising shows shampoo products and our habit of cleaning our hair might change. Sometimes, we learn from our parents – perhaps other lessons can be taught in that level.

3. Storytelling

The talk about Transition Southampton started with an important perspective about what it means to do a transition towards a sustainable life. For Clare and Angela, “Transition is about telling stories”. There were many concerns about clean air and super homes. For example, in the Super Home project, people can visit homes that are very sustainable and “green”, in order to feel more inspired. You can book to visit homes like that. Super cool. It is a way to tell stories about how people do things and feel inspired by them. In this Super Home project, people can also see the heat map from the homes to see if there is any heat coming from different parts of the house. Another example is the action of free books. TheTransition Southampton team showed that we can leave free books in different places like a train station for example – and people could help themselves to read while they commute. Simple as that! Storytelling can be also present in clothing. Do you know where your clothes are from? You might. But do you know ho made it? How was it made? No. Asking for information crucial! Products should tell these type of stories as well! Have a look at the Labour behind the Label website for more stories around clothing and fair working conditions.

In the talk from Friends of the Earth, Gill showed many examples of community engagement in schools. For example, they invited children to write post card for the world! They had in total 1600 postcards in the end and they’ve presented that in the London climate march. What a beautiful way to engage children and tell stories to the world. Gill also showed the example from Oswaldo bikes to Paris, using social media to raise awareness about the environment!

4. Designing Choices

The UK is still behind the Netherlands in terms of the use of bikes to commute or transport. As mentioned in the talk from Sustrans, 65% of people use cars for trips that are less than 5 miles. Another important message is that we need to first empower, then make people aware and then promote activities. That is, if there are no choices or if people can’t have access to the choices, then the action failed. See the photo below!

Seb Mayfield also mentioned that food poverty is not because of lack of food, it is how we are providing food. That is, things for us to think as people and communities on how do we grow our food and how do we share it. Also, it is possible to grow food everywhere. This guy here has built many vertical gardens! Thus, we can apply this to big cities as well. But I can imagine that in terms of design, this might be difficult. But in some cities they are already planting food on the top of buildings. It is like a combination of current possibilities with adaptations in order to become more sustainable. That is, we can do things in small spaces that would have a big impact.

5. Experience Design

Things should last longer than they do. This would increase the level of experience that people have with things and bring more value to them. In her talk, Dr. Emma Waight talked about being materialistic, in a way to value things and not replace them every time – things should last longer! And we might create more emotional links with things, giving them more value. This shows that experience design is key when looking for sustainable actions. What Emma said is that materialistic values are all about measurements: it’s all about more and we put responsibility on stuff. She also mentioned that second hand shopping is one example of people giving value to things that will last longer, but still the main reason why people buy it is because of the price. In the end, people buy second hand goods to save money. However, there is a movement towards vintage shopping as a style and people creating an identity around vintage look. 

6. Calling people to action

Interestingly, in many of the actions showed in the talks, there is an element of “fun” and humour involved in the message. For example, in the talk from Sustrans, a campaign called for “Tax your thighs instead” and “Love handles”. Creativity here seems to be the strategy – together with fun aspects. I can see that there is room for a little bit of game actions here. The movement towards vintage shopping as a trend could be one way to call people for action. It is a way to combine sustainability with style or sustainability with identity. If we can send the message as identity through sustainability, perhaps it will last longer. People might adopt sustainability as a lifestyle and influence others around them. Another aspect to think about is clothing. When talking about fair conditions and fast fashion, Nicola from Labour Behind the Label mentioned that there is a lack of information and lack of transparency  and we should ask brands to give more information. Also, we need to place more value in the clothes, instead of just changing our clothes because of fashion trends. Someone also said that we need to “Change the red carpet to the green carpet”! Why not? Another thing mentioned by Gill from Friends of the Earth is about showing signs around the campus or around places. She said that when there are eyes, people want to take the action! Signs need to be friendly!

Imagine the amount of things that we can do! Each city has a different problem. In the case of Southampton, I believe that the issue is engaging more and more people to have a sustainable life. Many students from the University are here just for their courses and they don’t create a bond with the environment – sometimes it lacks of a link. It is our role as designers to not only engage these people but to also engage everyone around us. We can start small, design our own choices, plan properly our meals and transport, for example, and then help others. But as designers we also need to make sure that we empower people – we need to make the choices available. And then we need to make people more aware of the options. Can we redesign packages and add new information that was missing? Can we create games that will promote a conversation between people and brands? Can we promote games that are critical and will change people’s behaviour? Can we influence people’s habits by designing new choices? What can we do? Reflection time.

15 Lessons from #gamesUR conference

It’s been more than 1 year since last Games User Research conference that I’ve attended in London. I was looking forward to this year’s edition! Last Friday, 30th September 2016, was a very special day. During the GUR conference we had the opportunity to meet professionals and academics from the games user research industry and academia. The conference was in the same place in London, near Holborn station. I had to wake up at 4h in the morning to be there on time! :)

The conference was organised in several sessions that addressed different aspects of Games User Research. I think that the best thing this year is that they brought more aspects from the industry, as for example, communications within teams and how to build your career as a GUR professional. On the other side, we had talks about including games user research in the University as a module of games design and the differences between GUR in the industry and in the academia. Different methods, such as the use of eye-tracking and diary studies for games user research were also discussed. We also had topics around accessibility and cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality.

In this post I will try to briefly explore, explain and mention the 15 main points and lessons that I’ve taken from this conference.
1. Eye tracking is a window to attention dynamic. We have different ways to process information in time. Shape, size, colour, motion, and emotional content are attractive factors and the position of these elements also influence attention. We need to think strategically while analysing eye tracking data in games user research, particularly because each visual element transmits a message.

2. “Is the player looking at how the designer expected?”. By using eye tracking in games user research we could try to map these dynamics. This is very similar to the lesson number 1. The research question here is about expectations, positioning and design.
3. Games User Research as a module in BA education. With a module that explores theory and research, it is possible to include GUR at Universities in the Undergraduation level. Theories like fun and flow, engagement, challenge and difficulty are a few examples. Students can learn research tools so they can test their own games.


4. Transferable skills are crucial for GUR. Yes, students and professionals should have good transferable skills as, for example, communication, cooperation and interpersonal skills. Empathy, leadership, collaboration and oral and written communication are also a few skills in this list.
5. What makes a good games user researcher? When looking for a career in GUR, it is crucial that you know that games user research means and what it really means to be a good games user researcher. You should be able to review games, use the right vocabulary and communicate a clear message to your audience.
6. Communicating with everyone is crucial. Communication is definitely a key aspect in GUR. For example, stakeholders need to be aligned in order to avoid invalid research questions.
7. Write clear and concise reports. Think about your audience. Developers could misinterpret the reports and take the wrong actions, due to the lack of consideration of the whole report, including the solutions and suggestions.
8. Academic GUR vs. Industry GUR. In the academic world, games user research usually summarise the findings and it utilises “finished” games, whereas in the Industry is more “formative”, influencing the development stage.


9. Indie studios need training to be able to do games user research by themselves. Indie studios could playtest their games in their own houses as one way to address GUR in a more viable way.
10. Never underestimate diary studies! You need time to analyse and write your report. Giving support to players is also necessary.


11. Need for haptics! Clothing, hardware, lights, vibration – make use of haptics to replace or reinforce the audio cues that gamers depend on, while designing for deaf audiences.
12. “Designing for a specific group doesn’t mean that it only has benefits for that group”. Look at your core audiences when you’re testing your game.


13. There is a need for a new grammar for interaction design in virtual reality. This could be undertaken by creating conventions and affordances.
14. Cyber sickness and comfort play are the main concerns in terms of VR. Make sure to recognise the symptoms of sickness in VR: opening mouth, heaving breathing, replacing chair, doing nothing in the game, moving at slow pace.


15. Network. Doing networking and playing games after the conference was great. I really had the opportunity to know more the people involved in the conference. Always make sure to network. :)

I believe that the main points from this day just highlighted the importance and the role of Games User Research as an activity and as a mindset. GUR is not about finding bugs. GUR is about people. GUR is about understanding what people do in games and why they do this – and how the games (developers and designers) provide such interactions. GUR is about a conversation. It is about communication and it does not happen in a vacuum! We need to know how to communicate the research findings in a quick and easy way.

I will definitely share my notes from each talk in further posts. See you all in 2017!

For the full conference, please watch:

And if you want to know more about GamesUR, here is a nice video:

#EWIGCONF 2016 – Design challenges in Virtual Reality games

VR and player comfort
In early September this year (2016) we had the opportunity to attend to the European Women in Games Conference 2016 at the Greenwich University. It was a very good conference, lots of great people from both industry and academia, asking questions about the games industry, diversity and cutting-edge technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR).
In this post I will try to bring a little bit from 1 session that I’ve attended: the VR workshop.

The main topic of the workshop was “Presenting the main issues while implementing Virtual Reality”. In this talk, Laura Dilloway from Guerrilla Cambridge introduced us challenges and possible guidelines for the creation of games in VR environments. I might say that most of the content in the talk was new to me. Laura showed the case of the RIGS Mechanized Combat League, the new game from Playstation that features a combat with robots in different arenas.
First of all, VR is quite new, so we could ask questions like if there are different rules and possible different gameplay in games that use VR, for example. Some of the design challenges are related to player immersion and presence like:

  • Giving the player a body
  • Correct the placement of camera
  • Physical body motion
  • Enduring that everything is in the right place

In fact, as designers we have to review the way the player perceive the world as the position of the camera is crucial.
There is also a challenge related to the sense of scale, which could be conveyed by other elements in the game environment. Crowds and doors are a few examples. The assets need to be in realistic sizes.
Another aspect mentioned by Laura is that when creating in virtual reality you need to test it all the time. We should not underestimate VR! The relationship between 360 movement and fixed point should also be considered.
In the end of the day, interface design is the main strategy when dealing with VR games and player comfort. As a designer you can use optic flow and brightness in order to bring comfort to the player. Try not to use absolute black and white for example. Materials could be used in the same way. For example, when you walk the character you could leave footprints in the sand. For ground rush, the choice for material should be strategic. Designers should also bear in mind that sometimes some details are not rendered with enough pixels.
One point raised by Laura was that everybody’s eyes are different so we need to test with a wider audience. This shows that testing is crucial. Thus, one way to solve this problem of diversity is to bring more choices in the game. Yet, it is still a big challenge. One strategy mentioned in the talk was the use of blinkers in order to avoid peripheral vision by the players.
The biggest question about virtual reality is still player comfort. Don’t take away the camera from the player. One advice is to avoid placing things directly in front of the player. As Laura mentioned, performance is king, and I totally agree. As designers we could use defaults like 60fps and mart usage of dynamic lights and correction of player view camera. By using horizontal lines we could also help the player to situate the camera correctly. It is all about the position of the camera.

Another strategy presented by Laura was that designers tend to “climatize” people through tutorials until they get used to it while playing the game. I think this could be a very successful way to bring people inside the game and provide them all the support and guidance required to proceed in the game. Players should be able to customise their settings according to their preference (always, if possible).

I think that the lessons to take home are that in VR and games we need to test a lot with fresh eyes and we should not be afraid, just because it is new. Using defaults and providing these defaults to the design community could also be one way to make it easier. As it is a cutting-edge technology, we need to share, test and publish as much as we can. We will get there! Thanks, Laura!

Follow Laura here: @GuerrillaLaura

Read more:
On-device motion tracking for immersive VR: Freedom from wires
New RIGS Mechanized Combat League trailer shows off Dubai arena
10 THINGS I LEARNT AT THE EUROPEAN WOMEN IN GAMES CONFERENCE 2016

MacCready, your best friend

In June 2016 we’ve bought the Fallout 4 game, after a long time dreaming of playing it. You’ve probably downloaded the mobile version of the Fallout 4 before the release, right? Fallout Shelter was great – and it taught us a lot about how to survive in Fallout 4. But what called my attention was the idea of having companions during our missions.

First, you start with nothing and then you find a dog – Dogmeat. The dog is cute and makes you feel less lonely during the quests in the wasteland. As we know, if you’re hiding, forget about it – the dog will be around biting things. This changes when you start having a human companion – MacCready.

A funny friend

MacCready is not a typical friend and it takes a while for that to happen. He is a companion and he wants to be paid to do the work. He likes when you steal things and with time he can become your friend, just making jokes during the game. I must admit, Bethesda has done a pretty good job there while developing NPCs. I can’t even say that MacCready is a non-playing character – he makes jokes, he is funny and he is unique. And what is interesting about that is that your decisions in the game can increase or decrease your affinity with companions. Read this post in Reddit and then you will know a bit more what I’m talking about.

Actions vs. Personality

Look at this chart. Things that you do in the game not only impact your overall progress but they also impact the way your companion perceives you. What is fascinating is the different aspects and personalities that emerge from those decisions. What makes such character so believable? Maybe the jokes, maybe the non-expected reactions. This is definitely something to think about. In the end, it is a bit of psychology involved. It makes you think about the things that create and maintain good relationships. Not only that, if your character is a woman you can start a romance!

Copyright: Fallout 4, Bethesda
Copyright: Fallout 4, Bethesda

You’ve been through so many things together, so many quests, so many bad and good moments. I bet this made people feel more engaged with the game.

A lesson from MacCready

In my opinion, there is a lot to learn from MacCready in terms of design and artificial intelligence. First, what makes friends good friends – and how to implement this in games. Technology becomes more human – and we develop a kind of affinity towards it. Now image how this could be used to motivate people to do other things. If you’re recovering from a certain illness or if you want to improve some skills. Having a friend becomes more than just a support. It is a way to match your actions, a way to make you reflect about your decisions. This is just the beginning.

Read more:

Why MacCready is my favorite companion from Fallout

http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Robert_Joseph_MacCready