Make It Ourself, which you can read here.

Make It Ourself, which you can read here.
Leo Rossoni
A huge hug to my family: Mom, Dad, Danielle, Giogio and KoKo- for
encouraging me to pursue my interests, even especially if it makes a
fool out of me.
To DMI teachers and cohort: thank you for making the past two years
welcoming, thought provoking, and fun.
To Diana: Thank you for pushing me to do my best, no matter what I do,
and for being my best friend. You are my sunshine.
Autograph Page
This thesis is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of Masters of Fine Arts in Design and approved by the MFA
Review Board of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Joseph Quackenbush
Coordinator of Graduate Program in Design, Professor of Design
Dynamic Media Institute
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
Jan Kubasiewicz
Professor of Design
Dynamic Media Institute
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
Fish McGill, Thesis Advisor
Professor of Design
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
Dennis Ludvino, Writing Advisor
Visiting Professor
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
Gunta Kaza
Professor of Design
Dynamic Media Institute
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
How To Navigate Through This Book
Doodle Maker
pg. 42
Random Inventor
pg. 50
pg. 72
Tylo App
pg. 80
pg. 104
Laugh Booth
pg. 116
pg. 60
Motion Paint
pg. 90
Blob Squad
pg. 126
pg. 92
Play is an integral part of humanity. Through play, we learn, develop,
and share ideas and skills that are essential later in life. Play is embracing the boundaries of a system, interacting with it in a way that brings
enjoyment. By this definition, playing with anything means enjoying the
process of exploring the possibilities. In a rapidly changing world, we
are subjected to never ending streams of data, media, things, people,
and systems. We consume vast amounts of information. From personal
experience, the rate of consumption far outweighs the rate of production.
As a designer, I wanted to pursue a life of inventing, creating, and
making new things for the sake of enhancing the lives of others and
myself. Designing and making is a creative outlet; it is the way I share
how I see the world. Through improv comedy, I was able to channel
random thoughts into (sometimes) funny situations and characters.
I became better at playing with the possibilities and communicating
those ideas within a team. I learned to let ideas run wild and to commit
to making it as real as possible. Through both design and improv, I
learned different ways to take in the ordinary and make something
In this thesis, I explore different ways to jumpstart the creative process
through introducing randomness to inspire imagination, using rigid
systems to accelerate play, and encouraging personal expression to
create meaning. Through designing playful objects and interactions,
guided by philosophies of improv and the creative process, I construct
different ways to enter the world of making, designing, and playing.
Opposite: Here is me, 7
years old, showing off my
Lego cowboy rocketship.
“So long, space cowboy”
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Play is being okay with
wandering and letting
the activity dictate our
decisions, not vice versa.
The activity of play is autotelic, meaning that it is done for its own sake.
However, there are many byproducts of play: increased creativity,
socialization, and adaptability. Institutions and organizations have tried
to capitalize on the products of play, from teachers shoehorning games
into math curricula to companies gamifying their products to engage
their customers. When done improperly, the underlying lesson is lost in
the fog of forced fun, leading to a disconnect between the person and
the activity. Integrating play into our everyday lives involves convincing
ourselves that fun comes from imposing conscious boundaries and
subjecting ourselves to them. We find enjoyment by using the boundaries as opportunities to do something new.
Play is Enjoying Work
If you treat any object as
a toy, the act of using it
turns into play.
So in my dad’s eyes, this is
seen as playing outside.
spinning metal into weeds and ditches while gnats buzzed in my
face. Because I hated mowing the lawn, I tried to figure out the most
efficient way to mow so I can spend as little time and energy possible
outside. I experimented with different ways to cut around the trees and
gardens that minimized the number of passes. I learned the optimal
blade height so the grass stays short but doesn’t dehydrate in the sun.
I figured that I can use the spinning blade as a fan to blow away yard
waste so I can cut down on sweeping off the driveway.
Over time, I became an expert at mowing the lawn, and given the
right temperature, it was actually enjoyable. I came to appreciate how
smooth and effortless the mower pivoted after strolling the length of
the lawn. I learned when the lawn mower would run out of gas, and
strategically placed the gasoline nearby so I did not have to walk all
the way back to the shed to pick it up. Through fully embracing the
process and the limitations that came with mowing the lawn, I grew to
appreciate the larger network of things existing throughout and around
our property. I felt how far the roots of our trees grew in the grass and
where the local moles liked to tunnel. This experience showed me the
power of using play to enhance the work. The fun did not have to come
from an extrinsic motivation, I was able to make my own challenges
and motivate myself through beating my expectations. By making my
own fun through doing, I was able to transform a tedious chore into an
engaging process.
Dr. Stuart Brown discusses the work-play differential in his book “Play,”
where we conventionally view work as productive and play as unproductive. Traditionally, society relegates play as distracting, escapism,
and lacking in depth, while working is supposed to be our most important purpose. He argues that work and play is not a dichotomy, but a
collaboration between mastery and novelty in any activity, from dance
to engineering to shaking the crumbs out of a comforter. We bounce
between delighting in the novelty of a new activity and mastering the
skill of performing it.
When I turned 13, I was bestowed the responsibility of mowing the
lawn. At first, it was literally a drag: pushing and pulling a hunk of
Take drawing, for example. Through play, I found that I enjoyed
drawing new styles of graffiti and cartoons and landscapes; and
through drawing further, I improved my technique to enjoy it even
more. The cycle of play and work creates a harmonious system of
wandering and focusing, daydreaming and producing,
lateral and linear thinking that is essential for a creative practice. The
benefit of play is the expansion and refinement of working with the
creative process.
Along with filing taxes and
applying for jobs, shaking
Nilla Wafer crumbs out of
blankets is a lifetime skill
they don’t teach you in
grade school.
Chapter 1 - Introduction
In my research and projects, I see play as the engine for generating
ideas in a personal way. My projects in some capacity invite players to
play and interact with the different inputs in order create opportunities
for creative thinking to occur.
thesis. One day, I was entertaining myself by twirling a Lego disc on
my desk, seeing how the spinning quickly fizzled and died. I started to
wonder how I could make the disc spin faster and longer. I experimented with adding bricks at different spots to lower the center of gravity
while maintaining enough clearance while it spun. When I was finished,
I had five different Lego tops, each with their own distinct color and
style. Just by having the opportunity and material to play, I was able
to explore a curiosity and produce artifacts as record of my thought
process. This quick experiment helped me see my Legos as dynamic
objects, a system of customizable components responding to user
In my childhood, I have
swallowed more Lego’s
than I can remember. I
have literally sh*t bricks.
The rules I made for
myself when I write came
to me like themes: each
character had to echo that
theme while also retaining
some semblance of the
letter form.
If I had trouble reading
my wild-style, I felt very
Toys are objects and interactions that invite people to play with them.
Whereas other objects have been made to complete a certain task,
toys are presented as opportunities for play to occur. And when we do
engage in playing with the toy, there is no one way to play with it. The
beauty of a toy is in the different ways we express ourselves through
the interaction.
In the beginning of the semester, I brought in a couple of Lego sets
into my studio as a way to productively procrastinate on writing this
Lego is a perfect example of a toy as an accessible form of dynamic media because they invite interaction and appropriation. We ask
questions and discover new things about the world through interacting
with the toy, as well as appropriate the toy to fulfill a creative expression. Legos are great because they are toys that are about making
toys. The play activity is as much if not more focused on the process of
making as it is on the finished build. The Lego builder is able to make
whatever they want in order to fit their specific playing inclination (limited only by their imagination and constraints of the brick).
I use toys as a medium for integrating play and imagination into our
everyday lives. By playing with toys, we also transform the context in
which the toy exists into a playground. Playing with action figures in a
living room transforms the coffee table into a cliff edge, couch pillows
into boulders, and the family dog as a fearsome beast. The projects I
discuss in this book range from specifically to loosely defined as a toy,
in the sense that they are dynamic objects that invite players to play
Chapter 1 - Introduction
and express themselves in different ways. Projects such as Modulus,
Tylo, and OmniBlocks are platforms to support various ways of playing
with the same object and make it easier to jump in the making process.
IMPROVidence at the
2014 Del Close Marathon.
Our warmup consisted of
chanting “Mayonaisse” for
ten minutes. Not my best
The team generating
ideas at the start of a
long-form. Every player
is one part of an ecosystem, linked relationally to
the adjacent players. We
use these relationships
as inspiration for later
A question I get asked a lot is, “How can you practice improv? Doesn’t
that defeat the purpose of improv?” Practice does not mean a rehearsal
like in a play, it is more similar to practicing a sport, where you develop
good strategies and techniques to play better later on. Good practice
creates a clearer roadmap to correct mistakes during performances
down the line. And just like in sports, when everyone knows the rules,
the whole team is able to play their position to the best of their ability.
Initially, I thought improv was simply saying whatever came to my head.
The more I practiced, though, the more I learned that good scenes
flourish when there is structure and a system for teamwork.
I saw improv as an opportunity to learn how to make it easier for
groups of people to play better together. Studies have shown that
during improvised activities, the brain essentially shuts down its centers
for censoring and judging itself in order to rapidly make decisions
and react to stimuli more effectively. An essential tool for improvising
successfully is accepting every decision made, and building off of what
has been established. Otherwise, denying too many ideas halts any
creative momentum. Good-natured humor plays an important role in
helping us be more receptive to each other’s input. Naturally, the act of
playing is a catalyst for developing new ideas. Similar to how improv is
a collection of systems to guide our imaginations, toys are tangible or
visual channels for directing our creativity.
I started doing improv my freshman year of high school. All I knew
before I tried out was that you make stuff up on the spot. I had never
heard of it before then, and I was astounded to find out that there is a
group of people that do the same thing I have been doing all by myself
in my head. There is a distinct difference, though. In performing with
an improv group, the ideas that come out are not proprietary, anybody
can add on, twist, or transform their own bits of information to change
the story in a way they see fit. The scene is more important than any
one person or idea; being controlling or stingy with ideas most likely
leads to a bad scene. I started to see individual ideas and choices
(called bricks in improv) in a scene as toys that can be shared and given
new meaning. As long as all the players are in agreement, they can add
bricks onto their building, and that building can evolve into a cathedral,
or a hut, or a fireplace.
This thesis draws heavily on improv philosophies and techniques I
have learned over the years to reteach a system for collaboration and
flexibility. The Random Inventor Game is inspired directly from an
improv game, whereas projects like the Doodle Maker practice observation and adapting to the unexpected. The Laugh Booth uses laughter
to encourage collaboration between participants, very much like a
comedy performance.
Chapter 1 - Introduction
As an artist and designer, it is hard to not take pride in my work.
Producing an original piece or an intuitive design often became a
crutch to validate my decision to pursue a career in design. Nevertheless, priding myself in being creative has a downside.
In middle school I started to become more determined as an artist.
However, I would often find myself staring at a blank sketchbook page,
with a pencil in hand, unable to draw. “Why can’t I feel creative everyday?” I realized that the pressure of making something ‘good’ was
holding me back from even starting. This struggle has stayed with me
to this day. So I do what anyone would do when they are faced with an
unsurmountable challenge: I lower my expectations.
I found that a lot of the ideas I liked the most come from unexpectedly
normal places, from half-finished doodles to casual conversations with
friends. I felt more creative when I focused on subjects I was passionate about, such as toy design and modularity. Projects such as Blob
Squad and YouNits came from developing ideas I knew I could finish.
By setting up parameters early on in the project cycle, I was able to
focus on the concept and execution of the idea without getting too
overwhelmed by uncertainty. Creativity comes when we are passionate,
open to sharing ideas, and able to set boundaries. Within groups of
people, it can be hard to share personal ideas for fear of judgment. But
Blob Squad and YouNits invite personal expression through play, which
creates an atmosphere that is more socially and creatively flexible.
Why can’t I be effectively creative
everyday? Why do some people
see themselves as creative, while
others do not? How can we develop
creativity through play?
Ok, ok, calm down... Let’s break down what creativity actually is, and the
factors that influence a creative practice.
“When we play, we bounce
between delighting in the
novelty of a new activity
and mastering the skill of
performing it.”
Chapter 1
This thesis explores how play can be
used to develop creative thinking in
others, starting with making it easier to initiate the act of making
something new. I see play as a way to learn more about the world and
ourselves, through experimenting and exploring new things. We begin
to develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally through
playing in different ways with different things. Creativity is defined as
the use of imagination in creating original work. I believe that creativity
is integral to the human experience: we strive to make or do something
new and original as a statement that we are unique and dynamic. Play
is a creative activity, we make things up and devise novel ways to interact with the things around us. I chose to focus this exploration through
the lenses of toy design and improv comedy because they integrate
play and creativity in a way that is generative, personal, and playful.
Play is inherent in creative thinking: we learn, discover, and explore the
world through play. Dynamic media can enhance these characteristics
to create more favorable interactions and experiences for creativity
and play. The computer and subsequent interactive technology is
the ultimate tool for play. It can be programmed to structure, observe,
and visualize any number of interactions, becoming the impetus,
playground, and archive for creation and experimentation.
Opposite: Just as babies
absorb as much as they
can through play, I acted
like a baby in the contextual research phase:
bumbling aimlessly, and
approaching everything
with a look of confusion.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
Top: Jacob Rabinow
Bottom: Mihaly
Jacob Rabinow was a prolific inventor, holding over 230 patents. In
an interview with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he describes
through his experience how to be an original thinker. The first step is
to know a lot about a certain domain of knowledge, whether it is in
design, math, philosophy, or juggling. (Csikszentmihalyi, 66)We tend to
study and know more about things we are interested in, and the things
that interest us tend to be easier for us to understand. “It is difficult to
recognize an interesting problem without a good dose of curiosity,
wonder, and interest…” says Csikszentmihalyi (Csikszentmihalyi, 72). As
we gain more context about our interests, we can formulate our own
assessments and draw our own conclusions about the state of that
domain. The second step is to “be willing to pull the ideas,” or “[play]
with the contents of the domain” (Csikszentmihalyi, 66). This step can
include combining information from other domains and designing
rough drafts, concepts, and prototypes. The important part is that
we are materializing our thoughts, physically manifesting, organizing
and rearranging ideas in order to make something original. However,
original thoughts are not necessarily creative, yet creative thoughts
are always original (Csikszentmihalyi, 84). The final step is being able
to “get rid of the trash which you think of,” and saving the promising
ideas to develop later (Csikszentmihalyi, 67). We must not only have
the capacity to conceive of original ideas, but also to judge those ideas
objectively; seeing how they match up to specific criteria. Sometimes
an idea can be new, but “it’s not good…it’s too complicated…it’s not…
elegant” (Csikszentmihalyi, 67).” A creative person is knowledgeable,
productive, and also critical within their domain of practice. But there
are also factors that determine creativity outside an individual’s control.
The creative process is a way to break down how we actually develop
any creative idea, from experimenting with a waffle recipe to directing
a musical. The common belief is that people are born innately creative
and some are not. However, there are many factors that contribute to
creativity that are outside the control of individual. Individuals are more
likely to develop and channel creative ideas when their environment
is organized, resources are plentiful, risks are encouraged, and their
peers are supportive (Csikszentmihalyi, 42). These things are necessary
to facilitate a creative practice.
Learn a lot about your
Make your ideas
into real, shareable
Focus on the
promising ideas,
toss the bad ones.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
Designing a Creative Space.
1. Make it hard to fail, or
easy to start over.
2. Organize relevant
information so it is easy to
share and find.
3. Have ample time and
resources to experiment.
Plan on making multiple
iterations of your project.
4. Set realistic boundaries
and goals to focus your
creative efforts.
Even if our creative ideas are small and seemingly trivial, developing
a creative habit is a vital part of navigating a complex world. When we
are confronted with the unexpected, we need to have strategies for
learning, adapting, and expressing what we encountered, so that we
and others are better prepared for newer surprises. We need creativity because the world is constantly changing, and we cannot afford to
wait on external factors to make conditions more favorable. Creativity
is fundamental to making our environment to better suit our needs, as
well as adapting to the things beyond our control. Just as literacy is an
important skill to gaining knowledge, creativity is essential in transforming that knowledge as an avenue to communicate, empower, and
change ourselves.
I define play as testing the limits of what an object, space, activity, person, or system (the ecology of play) can provide. Rather than
searching for a definitive stimulus for play to start, the ecology of play
shows that a culmination of these factors can inspire and invite people
to play. Any of the elements in the ecology of play (object, space,
activity, person, or system) can be designed to facilitate play, like toys,
playgrounds, games, playmates, or technology. A group of people in
a parking lot is not a specified play ecosystem until someone initiates
a game of Tag. Then, everyone can be player, and the space becomes
the playground. Conversely, a designed object for play such as a
baseball bat can be appropriated as an object of damage, transforming the ecology of play into a dangerous environment. As a result, play
does not necessarily materialize from one designed thing, but through
the network of elements in the ecology of play as interpreted by the
player or players (Sicart, 43).
Simply put, play is embracing something and enjoying all aspects of
its existence. Play can take many forms and involve different pieces
from the ecology of play, from stacking building blocks to playing
golf. What differentiates play from other activities is that it is primarily
performed for its own sake and enjoyment. Play becomes the way we
learn through interacting mindfully with our environments and peers
in a low stress environment. Different styles of play emerge as our
personalities start to develop, and the way we play reflects the way we
tend to live (Brown, 65). When we play, we embrace and absorb the
activity, while also producing our own version of that activity. The idea
of work can be seen as drudgery. We perform tasks to reach a quantifiable objective, and then move on to the next task. We view work as
a means to an end, which can be money, comfort, safety, etc. We view
play as a means in of itself, we do it because it is pleasurable. Philosopher Ian Bogost describes how to find fun through working: “Fun is not
so much a feeling as an exhaust produced when [you] treat something
with diginity.” (Bogost, 87). Work can be transformed by play through
embracing that work activity and finding ways to enjoy the process.
Work and play are often viewed as opposites, divided by the thought
that work is useful and therefore important, while play is juvenile and
useless (Bogost, 98).
Play is the activity, Fun is
the byproduct. We play
with things to explore the
fun things it can provide.
Fun is novelty.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
For more information on how toys,
play, and learning fit
together, check out
Seymour Papert’s book
Using play to cultivate creativity is hard to constrain to a single formula.
There are so many ways to play and be creative, how can we measure
these abstract qualities to test if creativity is present, or if playing
actually leads to anything productive? This is where the philosophy of
Constructionism comes into play. Constructionism is a way of learning
that applies our personal reasons to create and play in order to foster
a practice of lifelong learning and creative thinking. It uses the things
we are naturally interested in as an avenue for applying, sharing, and
refining the skills and knowledge gained from pursuing said interests.
Constructionist learning is based on four principles: Peers, Passion, Play,
and Projects; without these things, creative learning is hindered. The
DIY and Maker Movement is based on this philosophy, and it argues
that anybody with an interest in anything should make something
to learn more about that interest and develop it even further. As the
maker explores and plays, they start to feel empowered by their ability
to create, learn, and share things with others. The power of Constructionism is that it accommodates and celebrates our own unique
personalities and learning styles; we approach our projects however
we want, and we are able to determine our own metrics for success.
Through play, we construct extraordinary circumstances out of normal
everyday conditions.
Toys are objects that can be played with, channeling creative expression into the open. A toy is an object, program, or system that invites
appropriation for the sake of play (Sicart, 43). We give the toy meaning
through our playful interactions, and it turns into a tool for our creativity.
A player assigns its own rules and objectives for the toy, as opposed to
a game, where its objectives are designed by the creator. Playing with
toys is one of the first ways we learn about the world. We replicate and
condense culture into a playable medium for the sake of acclimating
ourselves to reality while also spurring imagination (Sicart, 42). Toys
become the models in which we internalize how things operate, and
through play we experiment with those operations to create new possibilities. When we play, we create our own worlds that reflect and investigate our understanding of the world. Good toys are able to facilitate
that expression and create new avenues for cultivating and exploring
new models of our understanding through play.
If we express our true selves through play, then toys provide multiple avenues into guiding that expression. Play can be seen as simply
testing the potential of an object or system, and if a toy is anything
that can be played with, then it could be assumed that anything can
be turned into a toy if one plays with it. By fully appreciating the things
around us for what they are, we can quickly unlock the toy or game
in everything (Bogost, 92). In school, I use a pen just for its designed
purpose of writing on paper. Out of boredom, I found many more uses
for my pen through fiddling with all the parts: the spring clicker on
the back can launch it in the air, the point can poke holes in paper, the
pocket clip and a rubber band turns into an impromptu dart launcher.
Tapping a pen on a desk transforms the objects of function into objects
of sound, motion, and rhythm. The appropriation of objects through
play begs our attention, and if we listen, everything starts to look a little
more like a toy (Bogost, 89).
“As the maker explores
and plays, they start
to feel empowered by
their ability to create,
learn, and share things
with others.”
I also learned that the ball
point pen can explode if
you chew on it too hard,
essentially ‘blue-ing’
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
The toy designer is
responsible for establishing the play system in
the toy, The player can
expand on that system
via appropriating it for
personal use, or constrict
the system via lack of
For the sake of simplicity, I am focusing on a narrower definition of toy,
as an object or system designed primarily for play. The specific design
of the toy determines how effective it is at encouraging play from the
player. As it was described to me by a Lifelong Kindergarten researcher at the MIT Media Lab, good play systems have “low floors, high
ceilings, and wide walls.” This model of play systems can speak to not
only the player but the designer of the system. A low floor means a low
barrier for entering into play, such as learning how to handle the toy,
or finding enough people to play, or where it can be played. If a toy is
too confusing or unwieldy, players become less willing to interact with
it. A high ceiling represents the way the system provides opportunities
for exploration and an increase in skill level. A toy is less effective to the
user when it cannot offer anymore stimulation or challenge, which is
why we grow out of playing with most of the toys from our childhood.
Just like learning new ways to handle and shoot a basketball, good
toys are able to respond and accommodate the player mastering the
object. It is important to note that the exploration aspect of a good toy
also reflects on the player’s willingness to challenge themselves and
explore new ways to interact with the toy. The wide walls illustrates
the openness a system of play should have in order to account for the
different ways players play. An overly restrictive play pattern can deter
players and squash creative exploration. Therefore, the play system
must be open to appropriation by the player, in order for the player
to explore what is most interesting to them. When players are able to
use the toy for personal applications, the toy is elevated from an object
of entertainment to a channel of self discovery and learning. Because
we play in different ways, our toys should be designed to encourage
appropriation for the purpose of personalized fun.
I have found that a ‘good toy’ is one that is easy to understand, scalable
in complexity, and easy to appropriate. The ball, in whatever form,
presents itself as one of the most effective toys, because of these
characteristics. To the player, the basic interface of a ball is simple to
grasp how it works: it can roll, bounce, balance depending on different
Toys start play, play develops creativity.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
interactions. From a designer’s perspective, making a ball can be as
easy as crumpling up a sheet of paper, or as precisely engineered as a
golf ball. The simple form of a sphere can be made out many types of
materials, in different sizes, and still be recognized as a ‘ball.’ Through
mastering the basics of the ball, we become aware of how it interacts
in the context of other factors, such as the ball material, surrounding
environment, and potential players. We are able to play more deeply
by being aware of how these external agents affect and connect us to
the ball. Think about how a professional athlete is able to fully use their
body, the field, and the unique design of the ball in harmony to play
a game, compared to someone who has never played sports before.
Both can have fun and love the game, but as the beginner masters the
basics of playing, the intricacies in the play system come to light. How
we use the ball in play is up to us as much as the designed material,
size, and context determines the interaction (Sicart, 44).
In mastering the form of the ball and the system of play it exists, players
display their unique personality and explore their tendencies through
what we call style or strategy. From reserved and precise, to bombastic
and explosive, playing styles develop constantly through playing and
understanding that we are how we play (Brown, 65).
Improvisational comedy, or improv for short, is a theater form that
utilizes quick thinking and teamwork to create comedic scenarios,
characters, and stories based off a certain stimulus, such as a word from
the audience. The allure of improv is the thrill of spontaneity, but there
is a lot of preparation and training in generating a climate conducive
to creativity. While technically you can make anything up on stage and
call it improv, there are techniques and strategies in place for teams
to improvise cohesively and to find the comedy more efficiently. The
foundation of improv is listening to your partner, acknowledging them,
and building on top of their ideas to create something collaboratively. These rules are implicit in how we naturally play, and the power
is in its application for other creative fields. Improv exercises one’s
skills in observation, adaptability, recognizing patterns, empathy, and
teamwork. The process of improvising onstage is a microcosm of the
creative process: conception, exploration, ideation, and execution are
displayed within minutes of receiving inspiration for a scene.
In the design field, we are taught to use creative thinking to solve
problems and communicate them. However, there is no singular way
to reach a creative idea, and the path is almost always unclear in the
beginning stages of creating. Many scientific and artistic innovations
seemingly come from nowhere, from Mendeleev using playing cards to
organize the periodic table, to Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin from moldy dishes. While we cannot purposefully design ‘accidental’
innovation, we can see that there are prevalent principles that can lead
to discovery, such as observation, curiosity, playfulness, and courage.
Coincidentally, these ideas also form the basis for practicing improv
Players must be able to observe i.e. listen and accept the bricks of
information laid out in the scene. Once something interesting presents
itself, such as a weird character or oddly specific detail, the team must
be curious to follow where the interesting thing can lead (called the
‘game’ of the scene). Improvisers are trained to mentally ask themselves
questions repeatedly, from “If this is true, then what else is true?” to
simply “Why?”. The answers to these questions are answered through
the choices they make in the scene, pointing them towards the game.
The playfulness starts when players start to explore the humor to create
comedy, which in turns creates more opportunities for exploration.
They are able to generate new ideas that reflect and heighten the
game, building a scene that takes a life of its own.
And it definitely takes courage to pursue the silly or the unconventional route. Whether it is a success or failure, the end result will have
Think of bricks as ideas
that we use to build a
story. It is important to
accept other’s bricks
and build on top of them
with your own, using a
‘Yes And’ mind set. Don’t
tear down your partner’s
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
been something no one has ever seen before. The courage plays a
large part within the scene, in committing to a weird decision, and in
also supporting a teammate’s actions. I have been in improv scenes
that end up falling flat, and all the creativity seems to seep out of my
head. During those times, I abandoned my commitment to the scene
for the sake of a quick laugh from the audience. A good improviser
does not have to be funny all the time in order to make comedy, but
they do need to be honest to their character and committed to their
scene partners. A scene loses its momentum once people start to
break character and ironically point out the weirdness. Courage is also
needed in between performances, to deliver constructive criticism to
each other for the sake of improvement.
Practicing improv provides a framework for a safe yet exciting creative
space. It is safe in the sense that there is almost no harm done for
flubbing a scene. Improv teams build trust through supporting each
other. When one person initiates a scene by calling everyone to dinner,
the team supports that decision by acting like they are about to eat a
meal together: smelling the food, placing imaginary napkins on their
laps, acting extra hungry, etc. Through observing each other’s reactions
to being called to dinner, the team establishes a base reality, or shared
agreement that what happened in the scene is factual (Besser, 17).
We are able to take
greater creative risks
when we feel safer. We
can create a safe space by
making communicating
clearly and encouraging
each other.
Within any improv scene, trusting in each other at the start allows
individuals to take more creative leaps later. The exciting part comes
in when a player or even the whole team makes a creative risk. For
instance, instead of actually eating dinner, the players exaggerate
the activity of preparing for dinner: replacing the tablecloth, figuring
out the ideal seating arrangements, to even making new dishes on
a potter’s wheel. The dinner scene becomes a scene about a family
obsessed with making a perfect meal and never actually starting one.
Alternatively, after establishing the dinner scene, a player may suggest
that the main course is a bit dry, and a teammate replies “Well, it’s my
first time cooking sober.” The scene about dinner turns into a scene
about how one person is a better cook when they are drunk, leading
the players to convince the sober friend to relapse into alcoholism to
make a better dinner. In both of these examples, the team was able to
find an interesting thing and expand it into a richer and funnier situation (Besser, 67). In improv comedy as well as design, we observe a
certain detail in a system and transform, condense, and expand that
into something that can be communicated to an audience.
Without experimenting and pushing the boundaries of weirdness, we
tend to come up with a flat, unoriginal, obvious product.
Improv (re)teaches us how to play
well with others.
Group projects fail when
we have unclear goals,
miscommunication, and
a lack of trust in the team.
We tend to blame others
for the group’s mistakes.
Improv provides
techniques to help groups
collaborate consistently,
such as listening, trusting,
and supporting the other.
By pursuing a shared goal
and supporting the other,
groups can create things
that surpass what any one
person could achieve.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
The design thinking process is derived from the creative process,
focused on designing products and services to solve a problem or fill
an opportunity for improving a way of life. Design thinking holds the
steps of researching, testing, and refining a project together; which
can take anywhere from hours to years to complete. Just as the end
product of design thinking is a good or service, the end product of an
improv scene is an engaging story. I have found that I can draw similarities between the structure of an improv scene to the structure of the
design thinking process. By comparing these two creative systems, I
hope to shed light on ways others can use improv to clarify and invigorate their creative practice. People who do not think of themselves as
creative tend to see creativity as a murky, nebulous landscape; hard to
reach and difficult to navigate. However, improv can provide a system
to reach new ideas quickly and organically.
An improv scene starts with fielding a suggestion that can jumpstart a
scene. It can be a one word suggestion, non-geographic location, or
the last text sent on someone’s phone. The podcast Improv4Humans
often uses Youtube videos or questions from Twitter followers to inspire
scenes. With design thinking, the first step is finding an opportunity,
which can be an observed problem or situation that can be changed.
Both systems require listening and observing to what was provided.
Gathering Information
This is a famous diagram
illustrating the design
thinking process. Below is
an illustration of how UCB
lays out a basic improv
Practitioners in both
disciplines cast wide nets
to build a foundation of
information. Once an idea
seems promising, they
heighten and refine that
concept until an objective
is reached.
After receiving the initial seed for a scene, players start to build a base
reality (Besser, 36). The team lays down bricks (improv term for bits of
information provided by characters in the scene) to create a foundation for the scene. The popular “Yes And” strategy is used in this stage;
meaning improvisers agree to their partner’s bricks (saying “Yes that is
true”), and adding onto that idea with another brick (saying “And this
is also true). This normally includes who is in the scene, where they are,
and what they are doing. The base reality can easily be established in
under a minute: the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Comedy Improv
Manual provides exercises to establish a base reality with the first three
lines of dialogue. The research process in design thinking requires
learning more about situations related to the opportunity, through
primary and secondary research. After establishing the who, what, and
where, both systems explore the why and how things come about. In
improv, this is called justification (Besser, 129), where players justify why
they are doing what they are doing. They are simultaneously creating
and discovering the base reality, just as design research is creating a
Use “Yes And” to find a
concept to explore.
Once a concept is
found, use “If Then” to
explore and flesh out that
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
structure to look at the problem through uncovering information (Leski,
Tracking and Ideating
Once enough bricks are laid out in a scene, the improvisers can start
to see where their scene is building up to. The base reality situates the
players and audience in a shared reality, but the game of the scene
is found through discovering the compelling brick that makes the
audience laugh or sit forward in their seats. The game of the scene is
the single idea that makes the scene funny. In the Substitue Teacher
sketch by Key and Peele, the game is that Mr. Garvey takes attendance
insisting that the students pronounce their names his way. This sets the
pattern for the rest of the scene, with Mr. Garvey growing increasingly
frustrated with the class’ pronunciation of their own names.
(Besser, 113). Following “Yes And” allows for an influx of new ideas in
the scene, but at this stage, it would make the scene convoluted by
introducing more bricks that can distract from the game. Therefore the
“If this, then that” strategy is established to refine and explore the game,
which is the focus of the scene now. Heightening the game is important in engaging the audience, just as a story builds up to a climax.
Improvisers are looking for ways to heighten game in ways that are
increasingly absurd and funny, which holds the audience’s attention. In
design thinking, the ideas are tested through making a prototype, and
refined by judging them based on how well they satisfy the opportunity. Designers are looking to heighten the design in a way that optimizes
the solution to the problem. If a feature detracts from that goal, then
it must be refined or removed. Commitment to the concept is a key
attribute in designers and comedians.
“If one of y’all says some
silly-ass name, this whole
class is gonna feel my
wrath. Now Dee-Nice-”
“Jay-Quellin... Where’s
Jay-Quellin at? No
Jay-Quellin here?”
“Do you mean Denise?”
“Um, do you mean Jacqueline?”
“SON OF A B--”
-The pattern is always
heightening, pushing the
concept to surprise and
delight the audience.
“Okay. So that’s how it’s
gonna be...”
-We begin to catch on to a
pattern and settle into a
After enough research is gathered, designers start to track the collected data, finding patterns and identifying potential ideas to test. Reflecting back on findings informs the designer’s approach to ideation and
testing. The base reality creates an environment for funny things to
happen, allowing them to play in the ideation stage. For improvisers, ideating means exploring the game of the scene, looking at the
different possibilities the same game can play out. This stage invites
the participants to experiment with the structure they created through
research, pushing the boundaries and producing new things with the
same bricks.
Refining the Pattern
After the game is established, the improvisers explore the game by
asking internally “if this unusual thing is true, then what else is true?”
Final Product
The great thing about improv is that once a scene is over, it only exists
in memory. Characters, dialogue, environments, and stories vanish
once someone wipes (ends the scene). The scene ends when the
game is heightened to an extreme, or the pattern if the game is broken
or changed. The final product of an improv show is a performance;
the inception, development, and execution of one or many stories is
experienced in minutes. Improv is a theater art form in of itself, but it
is also a tool for testing ideas. Many improvisers from UCB take their
improv skills to develop characters and sketches for TV shows and
movies. The comedic and creative skills gained through practicing
improv is a byproduct of playing with ideas with other people. The
design thinking process is used as a structure for product development,
and practicing through that framework only strengthens the ability to
perform it. Even if the output of design thinking or improv is a new app,
Mastery over a system
or tool helps us to create
better products.
Chapter 2 - Contextual History
or a waffle, or a scene about an alcoholic chef; the product of experiencing and practicing these structures is being better at observing,
trusting, collaborating, experimenting, and producing.
These are not simultaneous operations, nor
should we stick to only
one side for too long.
A good improv scene and a good design process is a balance
between: exploring/focusing, constructing/deconstructing, acting/
listening, responding/planning. Within an organization and individuals,
we oscillate between synthesizing our choices, ideas, and actions and
analyzing them. I believe that both improv and design thinking give us
a blueprint to utilizing those functions in a way enhances the creative
process in a collaborative way.
Chance occurrences present themselves throughout the creative
process. Improvisers are built to respond and recover from mistakes,
unplanned happenings. On a similar note, designers typically pivot,
experiment, and adapt in the ideation/refinement process, but lose that
flexibility in the execution and testing.
It seems that creativity flourishes and productivity decreases when
the pressure is low, and creativity is stifled but productivity is heightened when the pressure is high. Pressure can change depending on
available resources, such as time, material, manpower, creative license
(Csikszentmihalyi, 34). The right balance of pressure and limitations can
unlock creative breakthroughs, while too much or too little of anything
leads to creative stagnation or burnout. The best designers/improvisers
use the inherent limitations to enhance their creative practice, transforming supposed obstacles into building blocks. (TJ and Dave is an
improv form where only 2 players perform the parts of multiple characters) (Gravid Water is another example, where one person can only
recite rehearsed lines from a well known play, while the other player
has to improvise their own dialogue.) Without these limitations and
challenges, we are limiting ourselves to the obvious solutions and the
easy punchlines.
This creative system is too
narrow and hard to reach.
Therefore, the players
get frustrated and feel
Both design and improv comedy represent designated arenas for
people to come together and imagine new possibilities and alternate
realities. They both involve participants to collectively work towards
achieving a specific and shared goal. The work needed to attain said
goal is creative: it requires deep dives into and lateral leaps between
domains of knowledge to reach an innovative yet approachable experience. Play is an integral part of creative work because through play, we
view any and every bit of information as of equal importance. When we
are playful, mistakes, successes, distractions, and relaxation are all seen
as opportunities for growth and exploration.
In the following chapters, I will
show how my interest in toys
and passion for improv led me to
learning more about the nature of
creativity and play.
A well designed toy and
improv structure provide
low floors, wide walls, and
a high ceiling; in order to
cultivate the spectrum
of experimentation and
expression in different
players. Some designs
are more effective than
All of the projects in this section
utilize randomness in order to interrupt our preconceptions, to introduce a fresh element to keep our
minds on our toes.
Our brains are built to recognize patterns and make connections in
order to create sense of the world, from using myths to explain natural
phenomena and recalling scenes from a movie whenever a familiar
scenario happens in real life. Unexpected Fun is focused on bringing together unpredictable elements in order to challenge players’
preconceptions. The fun comes out of the process of combining these
elements to create meaning.
The combination of random elements puts the focus on our efforts
to create a connection. The concept of bisociation (as opposed to
association) by Arthur Koestler is described as the intersection of two
different domains resulting in a new idea that can exist on both planes
simultaneously. He has found examples of bisociation in science, art,
and even humor. The pun is a common but popular form of comedy
that bridges two subjects with a word or phrase. My go-to pun is:
Pro-Tip: Bisociation is a
fancier term for cross-pollinating ideas. Use it
whenever you run out of
buzzwords at your next
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
Alternative Pun
Q: What does a cheerleader drink before a
A: ROOT beer
(I will also accept
POM-POMegranate Juice)
The punchline connects two ideas: primates (ape), and sleeping (cot)
through a third idea: apricot. It’s not the cleverest joke, but the fun
comes from our brains trying to comprehend two disparate meanings
at once. In trying to make sense of a nonsensical situation, we laugh to
release the tension.
encourage us to look at the randomness and create connections, no
matter how absurd. The case studies Motion Paint and Twitter Bot are
experiments in dynamic media that delight the users with surprising
The building blocks for creative ideas are already here: the way we
connect them is the basis for a creative idea. Creativity is creating
something new out of the things we already have.
In improv, scenes and games mostly start with a suggestion from the
audience. This suggestion becomes the seed in which a scene grows.
If the improvisers performed with a word already in mind, their playing
becomes less off the cuff and more planned. The one word suggestion
involves the audience in the performance, putting the focus on the
performers actively building a world without any preconceived notions.
The unexpectedness activates the creativity.
When confronted with the unexpected, we are invited to go on a
journey that leads us to a place we did not know existed. The improv
scene is only interesting and funny if the audience does not know what
to expect at the end. The improvisers themselves should work to keep
their performance fresh, challenging their own expectations. We play
with toys because they have the potential to delight us and give us fuel
to create our own discoveries. On Sunday afternoons, I used to make
forts with army men in the sandbox with my brother and friends. Once
we finished building, we turned on the hose and watched our construction slowly dissolve into the mire. We would narrate the destruction
as it happened, exclaiming as water rushed through the trenches and
engulfed our favorite figurines. As much as we planned the scene in
the sandbox, the way the fort disappeared was always different, and
our schemes grew more complex over time.
The goal of these projects is not to expect perfectly formed ideas every
time, but to warm up the mind and lower the threshold for creative
opportunities to occur. The first few scenes of improv practice are
going to be bad, and the first sketches will be rough. However, by
persevering through bad scenes and drawings, we start to improve
our skills and end up with something that was creative, personal, and
surprising. When engaged in a creative process, anything can inspire
creative direction. The Random Inventor Game (RIG) and Doodle Maker
Diagram by Koestler
illustrating the concept of
‘L’ is the creative idea that
exists on the intersection
of both domains of knowledge ‘M1’ and ‘M2.’
How can we accelerate
these intersections?
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
and saved into the program folder through pressing the ‘Save’ button.
The buttons for saving and changing the line style are built as physical
buttons on the drawing surface, programmed through an Arduino. The
objective for designing the Doodle Maker is to create a streamlined
way to generate dynamic compositions that disrupt the way we usually
As a compulsive doodler, I find myself falling into the same drawing
habits. My cartoons usually started with a face, then expanding to a
hairdo and maybe arms and hands. I gravitated towards drawing the
same things because I was familiar with drawing those things from a
certain view, like guys in suit jackets, hamburgers, big teeth, cubes. I felt
my drawing process was stagnating.
The Doodle Maker is a drawing
program that produces random
white shapes to create a silhouette,
or a proto-doodle on a computer
The player uses a Wacom stylus and drawing tablet to mark the composition in two different line styles: a thick white stroke, or a thinner black
line. The player uses the silhouette as a point of inspiration, sparking
their imagination to draw something using what they see on the screen.
New doodles are generated by clicking on the ‘New Doodle’ button,
There was a common drawing game students played through middle
and high school, where one would draw random scribbles and pass it
to their friend. They would then have to transform that abstract scribble
into a meaningful representation of something. I had an unspoken goal
to make the scribble comprehensible while drawing as little as possible,
to integrate the randomness with the latter drawing so as to display
both parts equally. This practice encouraged me to decipher the
scribble as if it were an archaeological artifact, and I was the explorer
re-imagining the parts that were lost to time.
The visual and imaginative searching was institutionalized by psychologists with inkblot tests. (Poorly verifiable) Psychoanalyses were carried
out by showing patients a series of and abstract inkblots, and asking
them to interpret what they see. The meaning they interpreted from the
random shapes was noted and determined whether or not the patient
was psychologically sound. Psychotic diagnostics aside, the idea of
“What do you see?”
“A Master’s Degree? No
wait, two lizards eating
the USS Enterprise!”
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
making meaning out of meaninglessness struck me as an important
part of the creative process. As a creative species, it is an unavoidable
trait. The synthesis of random material into a collective system by our
brains is a skill that should be celebrated and cultivated.
A strategy for character design is to focus on the silhouette of your
character, using the outer shape to speak first about the nature of your
design. The silhouette acts as a structure for the pose, proportion, and
personality of the drawing. Our eyes are initially drawn to identify the
edges and spots of drawings with the most contrast, hence a distinct
silhouette is important in creating dynamic and unique drawings. I was
interested in designing a system that would generate silhouettes for
me, reducing the chances of me falling into repetitive patterns again.
Character design silhouette by Francis Vallejo.
Players can draw as much as they want on any given doodle, nor does
the program require players to draw on every doodle that is generated.
The doodles created can be ignored, it is up to the player whether or
not they choose to develop a doodle further. There is no eraser brush
or an undo button to encourage players to adapt to the markings
on the screen, made intentionally or unintentionally. The limited
color palette and minimal brush selection emphasizes the unrefined,
warm-up nature of doodling, where too many options can distract from
the drawing process itself.
My first prototype consisted of a rectangle, ellipse, and two lines
randomly generated to represent a torso, head, and limbs for a figure. I
made a couple of drawings that felt static in composition, probably due
to the limitations of the primary shapes. I then decided to add another
ellipse and a non-rectilinear quadrilateral to create more diagonals
that offset the balance and created more dynamism in the composition.
This version pushed me to venture outside of my standard drawing
patterns; I was drawing less conventional poses and more absurd
characters, which I enjoyed. The pointedness of the quadrilateral
made for interesting silhouettes, but the fact that it made very distinct
features became a weakness on this program. In light of this, I added
a random bezier curve to give the outlines some graceful curves and
to cover up some of the points and straight lines. The current version
combines two ellipses, a rectangle, a quadrilateral, and a bezier curve
to create a dynamic silhouette.
I found it fun to document a doodle before I mark it, as well as several
times throughout the drawing process, so later on I can see a progression of my sketches.
I used the buttons from a template I designed for another project,
which I remade with corrugated plastic and aluminum foil and connected it to a Makey-Makey Arduino. I used copper wire and tape to craft
a makeshift circuit board on the underside of the drawing surface. The
plastic board obscured the buttons that came with the Wacom tablet,
so as to direct the users to focus on only the save and brush buttons.
The randomly generated
The top left box is one
of the first versions, the
bottom right is the latest.
Turn the page to see what
I added to these doodles.
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
Playing with the Doodle Maker resulted in me exercising a new way of
critically looking at my drawings by searching for a way to turn it into
something meaningful to me. The Doodle Maker trained my eyes and
mind to find significance in a mix of insignificant shapes. If I did not
see something at first, I found myself tweaking the picture in little ways
until I eventually saw something recognizable emerge out of the mess.
I wanted to design the Doodle Maker to encourage thoughtful yet fast
drawings. Players are not expected to make polished pieces, but rather
focus on getting over the creative hump of finding something interesting to draw.
Even in their limited scope, the brushes proved to be fairly versatile.
The white brush is used for blocking out rough shapes, as well as for
covering up black lines on a white background. I have also used the
white and background to create rough highlights, and drawing with the
black on just the colored background loosely implies some atmospheric perspective.
I noticed that my drawings changed, and I was surprised by what I
saw and drew from the random shapes. Although I still am drawing
human figures, the poses and expressions varied widely, from old
women to space ships to giant ducks. From any given picture, the more
I drew, the more opportunities I saw to define the picture. Sometimes,
mistakes led to funny discoveries.
Opposite: ‘Blockman’,
‘Hedgehog’, ‘Fallen
Cosmonaut,’ and ‘Spider
Below: The physical interface inspired by keyboard
After I tested it by myself, I distributed it through my website to share
with others. I set up this project at the 2017 DMI Fresh Media Show,
and observed how others interacted with the full installation. It was
interesting to see how others worked something out of the proto-doodle that I did not see as obvious. I showed a friend a proto-doodle and
the picture that came out of it. Where I saw the outline of a tank, my
friend saw a round man with a trapper’s hat. Even though we are given
the same things, and can interpret different meanings based off our
personal perception.
In terms of next steps, I am interested in building a web-based version
that is more accessible to users, so it can be easier to share drawings
and save them for possible development. I noticed that the nature of
the shapes I programmed influenced the outcome of the drawings,
many of the outlines I saw turned into birds or portraits of people
with big noses. In future versions, I would include ways for the user to
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
customize their own parameters on the front end, through a physical
or digital interface. Ideally, they would be able to choose the types of
shapes and the width of the brushes to gain slightly more control over
the doodles.
Collection of doodles
from Fresh Media 2017.
It is interesting to
observe how each person
approaches and explores
the doodles differently.
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
Opposite: Rules for an
early paper prototype for
Can you think of any
product ideas that
combine a ‘Drill’ and a
‘Chicken’ ?
RIG is a party game that invites
players to invent products inspired
by two topics selected by the group,
such as ‘Places to Relax, ‘Pets,’ or ‘Office Supplies.’ Once the topics
are chosen, players write one word related to each topic on a card
and puts each card in the corresponding pile. The piles are shuffled
separately and the top card from each pile is revealed.
Players then have 2 minutes to draw as many inventions that connect
the two words. When time is up, players take turns sharing their
inventions with the group, and the group judges if the idea is valid or
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
not, depending on whether the idea incorporates the two words in a
cohesive way. For example, if the two words are ‘Goldfish’ (from the
Pets category) and ‘Stapler’ (from Office Supplies), potential ideas can
be a stapler shaped like a goldfish, or a stapler designed specifically for
goldfish to use. Players are awarded a point for each valid idea. After all
players have shared their ideas and tallied points, two more cards are
flipped over, and a new round starts.
things together to create a new idea. In the realms of art, technology, and science, creative breakthroughs come through introducing a
principle of one domain with the practices of another. Biomimicry is a
good example of applying principles of the natural world to improve
or reinvent how we conduct everyday life. Breaking the boundaries between domains leads to new connections we thought do not
normally belong together.
If two or more players have the same idea, they can enter a Pitch-Off,
where they get a chance to distinguish their inventions from their
competitor, detailing best selling features, tag lines, brand message,
etc. The other players can vote on which player wins the Pitch-Off, who
scores a point, while the loser of the Pitch-Off receives no points for
that idea. The game ends when one player receives 10 points, or when
all the cards in each pile are used.
Party games like Apples to Apples and Scattergories provide opportunities for people of all creative levels to think laterally and play
with ideas for the sake of having fun. Part of the fun is being able to
challenge our minds to make connections between things that we
normally do not care about. In a way, games suspend the hierarchy
of important and unimportant ideas, making them equally important
although inconsequential after the game has run its course. Scattergories questions the way players categorize ideas by combining words
in terms of their first letter with more relatable groupings like ‘Sharp
Things’, or ‘Reasons Why You’re Late.’ Apples to Apples alters the way
we describe things by starting with an adjective and asking players to
submit nouns that best embody that adjective. Pop culture, science,
literature, and the everyday topics are shuffled together, with each idea
being just as valuable as the next one.
RIG is largely inspired by the improv game called Dueling Salesman,
or the Ad Game. A group of improvisers is split into to teams and
given two words by the members of audience. Those two words are
combined to be the name of a product which each team has to devise
an ad campaign for. The game has three rounds for each team to pitch
their product to the audience, using improvised infomercials, testimonials, tag lines, and even jingles to convince potential customers that
their product is worth buying. The audience gets to choose which team
has the best product by round of applause.
I thought that the Ad Game would be a great foundation for a party
game because it encourages groups of people to create wacky things
in a matter of minutes. It touches on similar points relating to the
concept of bisociation, in that it directly involves combining two unlike
These games incite disorder and improvisation to create fun, through
players trying to make the best of out of a system that is unpredictable.
It is fun when they play the game well, and it is arguably funnier when
players fail. Because both outcomes are still fun, players are more likely
to play again and enter a creative, playful space. The friendly competition motivates players to take small creative risks in order to win, so in
the process of reaching the highest score, players are developing skills
in observation, adaptability, and listening.
Games like these use
time as a boundary for
managing creativity and
Creative ideas need a
variety of sources to grab
inspiration from.
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
In the same vein of the creative process, RIG follows similar steps
from research to execution, albeit in an improvised manner. The initial
goal or opportunity is provided in the objective, which is to design a
product inspired by two words. The categories to inspire words were
derived from the Scattergories prompts, because that system provided interesting ways to categorize ideas while still allowing for players
to personalize their word choices. Choosing the topics and inserting
the words inspired by those topics can be seen as amassing data, or
research. The ideation phase begins when the cards are shuffled and
players start to draw different ideas based off the first two cards flipped
over. Finally, the testing phase comes in the form of sharing and testing
the ideas with peers, as well as participating in Pitch-Offs. The iteration and refinement cycle restarts with every round until the cards are
The Pitch-Off makes
players dig deeper to
clarify and specialize the
obvious solution.
I liken the Pitch-Off as a gladiatorial face off between multiple players,
as it gives them a chance to sharpen their ideas and attack their
opponents’ products. The Pitch-Off is the antidote to the most obvious
solution because it challenges players to specify and distinguish
themselves from each other. After a Pitch-off, the best presentation and
most refined idea is rewarded, giving the original idea more depth.
RIG is a system that creates a space for creative ideas to emerge more
frequently through juxtaposing two random ideas next to each other.
The game started as a paper prototype, where I acted as a facilitator
and player. I used it as a brainstorming tool and team building exercise
for a product design studio. The team I was a part of was multidisciplinary, consisting of engineering, business, and design students (just
me). I conducted a 20 minute design clinic so all of my teammates can
get a feel for the creative and iterative process, and how that carries
through in a collaborative setting. I felt that the Random Inventor Game
hit a lot of the same points and condensed the design process into
a fun activity. As a facilitator, I chose the topics of ‘Favorite Toy’ and
‘Profession’ and asked each team member for one word that fell into
each category. Within the limited time frame of the design clinic, our
group came up with 12-15 different ways origami can be implemented
by doctors, Lego inspired tools and spaces for chefs, and spy gear for
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
Rejected Topics:
‘Dead Pets’
‘Movies I Haven’t Seen’
‘Species of Grass’
‘Prime Numbers’
Opposite: Screens for RIG
as an iPad App. It keeps
track of score by taking
pictures of the Post-Its.
Each player is a different
My teammates remarked that they had a lot of fun and felt that this
exercise got their creative juices flowing. However, I wanted this
exercise to stand on its own, without the need for a person to facilitate
the creative process. Instead of coming up with topics from scratch
every game, I compiled a list of topics that can lead players to produce
their own word banks. Some of these prompts were gleaned from
Scattergories such as ‘Things that Grow’ and ‘Sports Equipment’, and
I added my own to focus more on contemporary trends, such as
‘Millennial Slang’ and ‘Popular Mobile Apps.’ In order for RIG players
to produce ideas for inventions, products, and services, the prompt
topics should encourage a balanced mix of tangible ideas (‘Head
wear’ and ‘Places to Relax’) with intangible conditions (‘Bad Habits’
and ‘Emotions’), and popular culture (‘Children’s Stories’ and ‘Celebrities’). The curated topics are broad enough to foster diverse ideas, yet
focused to direct efforts towards specific products.
The next step in this project is developing a digital version to replace
the idea generation and card shuffling steps to save time and paper,
while also capturing pictures drawn on the Post-Its during the ideation
phase. The mobile interface design is friendly and clear, guiding the
players through the rules like I did as a facilitator in my earlier tests.
The interface streamlines the manual steps of choosing the topics and
inputting words through laying out potential topics and organizing
player suggestions for the word banks. The app shuffles the words
and picks two terms from each bank for players to start drawing ideas,
keeping time for each round. After time is up, the app will be able
to keep track of each player’s scores, as well as store pictures of all
the ideas grouped by round. This way, players can look back on their
ideas if one was particularly funny or thoughtful. RIG can be played
with a group using only one mobile device so players can focus on the
innovation rather than the technology.
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
The Random Inventor Game provided a platform for generating new
ideas in a structured and rapid way. As a physical exercise, it helped
non-designers think outside the box and give them a crash course
for the product ideation process. After testing the first iteration with
business and engineering students, I observed that they were more
willing to think together and express creative ideas more openly.
When I play-tested RIG with a group of students at Northeastern
University, they felt that the Pitch-Off was particularly successful, and
suggested it be a permanent part of the game as opposed to an
optional variant.
I found that RIG can be used as a solo brainstorming activity as well as
party game. As a game, it is easy to design with the end in mind when
the objective is clear. The easiest and most relatable objective (for me)
is a product design because of my background in industrial design.
Although I have not had time to explore this area, players can assign
their own objectives to invent. Instead of a product, players can design
characters, apps, and even brand names.
However, there still needs to be more testing for the mobile interface,
as it is still in a conceptual phase. I would like to explore this game
further, and develop it into a digital board game and creative tool for
groups and individuals.
Players discuss their
product ideas for
“Lipstick + Stroller”.
Mark describes a stabilization process for applying
lipstick while walking with
a baby stroller.
Things that are cold
TV shows
Things that grow
Things that are black
School Subjects
Musical Instruments
Bodies of Water
Cartoon Characters
School Supplies
Things that are Hot
Things in Downtown
Sports equipment
Non-Geographic Location
Literary Genre
Parts of the Body
Things on sale
Excuse for being Late
Bouncy Things
Things in a park
Things in the office
Non-Living Things
Popular Apps
Items in this room
Fictional Characters
Items in this room
Fictional Characters
Kinds of Candy
Items you save up to buy
Things that hold
Something you hide
Sticky Things
Modes of Transportation
Bad Habits
Cooking Utensils
Park Activities/Things
Types of Allergies
Halloween Costumes
Things that are round
Exercise terms
Things you replace
Things found in a desk
Vacation Spots
Ways to relax
Stressful Things
Money Words
Things you wear
Things you throw away
Outdoor Activities
Types of Drinks
Here is a set of topics
to start your own RIG.
Choose one topic from
each column and write
down five entries that
belong in that category.
Combine a random entry
from one category to the
other and start inventing!
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
This exercise was a way for me to explore how computing can facilitate
the creation of interesting narratives and situations simply by shuffling
the data it is fed. The reaction gif became a popular part of Internet
culture because gifs were able to convey specific yet relatable qualities,
such as emotions, through the web. I wanted to transform the format
of people using technology to share stories into making the computer itself an automated storyteller. By having the computer create
something new out of a stable system, my objective was to design an
avenue to create stories through dynamic media.
The first iteration mimicked meme reaction gifs, which is pairing a gif to
a statement describing a given situation, such as: MRW (My Reaction
When) my bf brings me coffee at work [insert gif of an excited person].
I found that this version created a lot of non sequitur statements, and
the program had no way to post embedded gifs. My workaround was
to post a link to a random gif through This
choice lessened the effect of the reaction because viewers had to click
on the link, which redirected them to a new page and removed the
accompanying reaction statement from view. Example:
The @rando_reacto Twitter bot is a program that strings together
random words from a spreadsheet to create some form of a statement,
then posts it to twitter under the handle @rando_reacto. The program
is a template based off twitter bots created by Darius Kazemi, an
Internet artist specializing in generators and bots. I initially created @
rando_reacto to be a random reaction gif generator, then transformed
it to generate design-thinking click bait headlines. Currently, it is called
New Eats NYC, and it creates random restaurant names along with their
specialty dishes.
The second iteration was called Design World, and it posed questionable statements regarding new research on random topics. It involved
asking how a social issue can be solved in a similar way to another
topic, adding an expert’s opinion on the end. For example:
Chapter 3 - Unexpected Fun
The hashtag was important to enter into community conversations, as I
quickly learned that there are bots that automatically retweeted me as
long as #innovation or #designthinking was included anywhere in my
The current iteration is called New Eats NYC, which randomly generates fake restaurant names, two paired dish specialties, and the street
corner it is located on. I focused on including lots of different ingredients to combat the repetitiveness of previous versions. Mocking a
foodie account gave me more freedom to imagine restaurants and
dishes that sound plausible, but very experimental. Example:
Through the different iterations of @rando_reacto, I found that I gained
a better understanding of structuring syntax and content to balance
the variety of the words with the clarity of the tweet as a whole. As I
made more versions, I was able to balance the flow of the statement
with word variety so that the tweet makes grammatical sense while not
becoming stale. With Design World, the tweets posed humorous or
even insightful situations. With New Eats NYC, the syntax allowed for
imaginative dishes and trendy restaurant names to stimulate the imagination. Unfortunately, the automatic posting broke when I updated the
spreadsheet, so I have to post tweets manually after running a randomization preview script. I used this project as a case study because it
encapsulates the creation of new ideas through balancing structure
and randomness to create humorous stories.
Foods I would try:
-calamari Pad Thai
-bacon brownies
-bottomless berry mochi
-honey rolls
Foods I would avoid:
-artichoke salad
-clove chutney
-okra rolls
-quinoa pizza
Chapter 1
“When confronted with
the unexpected, we
are invited to go on a
journey that leads to a
place we did not know
Chapter 1
A system is a set of connected
things or parts forming a complex
whole, or more abstractly: a set of
organized principles or methods
according to which something is
A creative system is a system that
involves participants to innovate,
create, and test new ideas.
Any given thing is composed of systems and/or existing within a
system, whether they are concrete or conceptual. The thesis document
you are reading is a system of pages (or screens) filled with words
and images to convey the idea that I know what I am talking about.
That same book (yes, this one) is also one part of the DMI graduate
program, which in turn is one part of the Massachusetts College of Art
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
and Design. The system as a whole relies on each part in order to fulfill
its function. As a result, it is important for the parts to work well together or else the system fails, whether it be gears in a wristwatch or in-laws
during Thanksgiving. The effectiveness of a system lies in the way each
part supports each other. While each module has a specific function,
it becomes a detriment to the system if it cannot cooperate with its
Contrary to popular belief, play is not freedom, but rather making your
own set of rules and exploring the possibilities within those constraints.
Play is a balance between rigidity and fluidity: acting within a system
but also pushing the boundaries to discover new systems. Without
searching for new possibilities outside the rules, play becomes routine
and stagnant. And by neglecting any system at all, play is aimless and
The projects in this section were designed with the idea that while
systems implement and produce the product, the user has space within
the system to tinker with the components and develop new structures
out of existing ones. These projects are designed systems, but invite
the user to create their own objectives to explore, using the projects as
a medium for discovery. I tried to make apparent delineations between
what I, as the designer, have established as the initial system, and what
the player can do to appropriate the system for their own exploration.
Tylo and Modulus embody structure through their geometric forms,
yet expressive opportunities are facilitated through making it easier
to arrange and rearrange the parts to develop new structures. Motion
Paint uses simple shapes to inspire and translate organic movement
by the user. OmniBlocks takes the familiar system of playing cards and
adds new opportunities to create new games.
We learn about systems through play because play treats every module
as equal in importance. In playing with toys, we create a system of
rules for interacting with the world through that specific object. When
playing with a remote controlled helicopter, I try to avoid crashing into
the walls and ceiling because that may damage my toy and ruin my
fun. However, those same walls facilitate play in a game of racquetball.
We begin to learn about the diverse characteristics of our environment
and systems through play. A wall creates disruptive air currents that can
disrupt the flight of my helicopter, and it also changes the directional
bounce of my racquetball. I also learned that swinging limbs can easily
punch holes in a wall, leading to an angry mother and a weekend of
patching dry wall.
A creative system needs to be clear in order to enable creativity.
Without clearly defined parts, it is hard to determine the potential of
a system. In an improv scene, clarity is key in moving a scene forward.
If two players are on stage and not clearly defining what is going on,
the scene stagnates and gets confusing. There are rules set in place to
assist players in establishing the who, what, where in a scene within the
first three lines of dialogue. By following the rules, players can quickly
build on top of each other’s ideas to improvise an entertaining story, as
opposed to a shapeless, awkward dance scene. In design, without clear
objectives or an established system, the final product will be muddled
and unclear. This is why we need style guides, design briefs, and
blueprints to focus our energies on the act of creating and playing. On
a specific woodworking project, I spent half of my time making a jig to
in order to cut my wood pieces at a precise angle. The jig is never seen
in the final product, but nevertheless it is an integral part of carrying out
my design. A system is the scaffolding in which to support the design
or creative process. Without the system or scaffolding, we would not be
able to reach structures of such complexity or sophistication.
A simple but effective way
to clearly define a scene:
Establish the Who, What,
and Where as soon as
possible. It may seem
rigid at times, but the
structure is needed to
move things forward.
(Image from UCB Manual)
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Modularity is a key part of a creative system because it encourages
cohesiveness amongst all parts of the system, while being responsive
to user input and adjustment. The name Lego is derived from the
Danish phrase “Leg Godt,” which translates to “Play Well.” Lego allows
kids and adults to play well with their toys, because their bricks are
designed to play well with each other. The bricks adhere to a basic
“stud and tube” connection system that enables all pieces to fit into
each other, regardless of whether it came from a Star Wars or Harry
Potter set. Standardized dimensions and strict tolerances maintain the
quality of the system over time and across the spectrum of diverse sets.
In design, modularity is used to create visual or experiential cohesion.
Through form or hierarchy, designers create a language that is understood by the users through interaction. If an established creative structure is successful, users can rearrange and modify modules with little
difficulty and a low chance for disrupting the form.
Modularity makes it easy to translate, navigate, and manipulate
complex structures. When something stands out of a system, it is easier
for a user to identify and troubleshoot discrepancies. After an improv
show, our team would take time to discuss scenes we enjoyed and
parts to improve. Without a shared framework for analyzing success,
our feedback would be all subjective, based on our own perception of
what a good scene is, instead of following an agreed method to improvise as a team.
A creative system allows participants to design their own playgrounds,
or possibility spaces. Through playing with toys, designing products, or
improvising, we are envisioning and exploring alternative realities. We
need rules and systems to help direct our focus on the task of innovating, and to materialize the abstract ideas we express.
Patent blueprint for Lego’s
stud and tube connection
system. Because of rigid
systems, the end products
are more reliable and
easier to understand.
Below: Products of
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
The deck of cards can be approached as a system of numbers and
suits, with a clear hierarchy and pattern through which rules can
be established for playing certain games. Early games like Go Fish
and Old Maid are have simple objectives: match the same numbers
together, or try to pass the Queen to other players. The same deck of
cards lends itself to more complex games such as Poker and Bridge,
which involves players bidding and bluffing in order to best their
opponents. The materiality of the cards lends itself to other interactions
beyond traditional card games, becoming more of a toy than a game.
I practiced throwing cards at my brother like Gambit from X-Men, and
struggled to make a house of cards taller than two stories.
Playing cards have become a platform for facilitating games, as well as
the medium in which games are played.
Both House of Cards
and a deck of cards are
organized and designed
with a specific direction
for play. Playing with these
structures allows us to
explore the world through
its design.
OmniBlocks is a set of 52 blocks,
1.5 inches cubed. One face of each
block is a playing card, and the
opposite side is a marker board.
Players can play classic card games, or create their own games and
drawings on the marker board side. They can design puzzles, draw
patterns, write notes, and make up their own games.
The deck of playing cards has been a staple of human gaming for
centuries, as early as 14th century Persia. What struck me about the
deck of cards is that we all use the same 52 cards, yet can play so many
different games with different people.
Charles and Ray Eames’ House of Cards is a set of cards with six
notches that interlock with other cards to build stable, boxy structures.
Normally, constructing a house of cards is a difficult and frustrating
activity because of the inherent features of a card: its flatness, slick
surface, and light weight make it hard to create solid connections. By
designing notches in the cards, the Eames transformed these unfavor-
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
able characteristics into opportunities for building taller and more
flexible structures. The inherent material, size, and weight of the cards
turn into a positive attribute to construction through simply tweaking
the form to make the individual pieces work together.
I also looked at how Post-It notes became a huge part of the creative
process. The form of a post it is similar to that of the playing card in
size and number. In the same way playing cards structure play and
strategy within a group of people, Post Its can hold information and be
arranged in a structure to communicate ideas. We use them in design
and in the professional world, they are large enough to fit several ideas,
small enough to manage multiple notes at one time, sticky enough
to post itself on a vertical surface, yet easy enough to peel off and
rearrange. They have become an essential tool in our everyday life: a
temporary way to communicate a small idea.
In a brainstorming session, the semi-permanence of a Post It is also one
of its strengths. Its affordability and accessibility allows us to use it a
lot, and invites us to physically manifest as many ideas as we can. Ideas
can and will be discarded, rearranged, and reedited during that time.
Being able to physically visualize these ideas on paper helps greatly in
cataloging and tracking the progression of a brainstorm.
Post-Its are affordable,
adaptable, and shareable:
attributes of an effective
creative tool.
The original idea stemmed from a curiosity in making a recognizable
system something novel through transforming an element of its form.
I was interested in transforming a platform to create new forms of
familiar games, or even becoming the basis for structuring new types
of games. The marker board face introduces a new element of customizability and personalization for game creation and play. This adds to its
potential as a creative tool because organizing and revising a system
becomes easier when components can be easily switched out and
The OmniBlocks were made by gluing two 3/4 inch MDF boards
together, laser etched, then cut on band saw into 1.5 inch cubes. Originally called ‘playing cubes,’ I played around with adapting traditional
card games to a more three dimensional medium. A game of solitaire
created sprawling towers and rows of shifting blocks. I became more
aware of how I was placing the blocks on top of each other because a
collapse can potentially ruin my progress, similar to how a gust of wind
can end a card game. I decided to start a new stack of a suit when the
tower reaches six or seven blocks high to decrease the risk of a tumble.
I attempted to make up my own version of solitaire by stacking the
blocks card-face down on top of each other in layers of three by four
I could have gone in a
completely different
direction, turning Playing
Cards into cylinders or
waffles or projections.
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Honestly, it was about as
fun as playing Go-Fish
(Take that whatever way
you want).
blocks. I revealed the corner blocks of the top layer and removed them
from the stack if the sum of the numerical value was between 15 and
20. I flipped over a block if it is touching no more than three cubes.
Face cards that appeared high in the stack are harder to pair, and
ended up making towers that blocked access to lower cards.
As the game progressed, I learned to strategically save lower numbers
for pairing with face cards in order to stay within the value threshold.
The game ended when I could not make any more pairs, and the
objective was to end up with the smallest tower as possible. Although
it was not the most engaging form of solitaire, it was fun to experiment
with building systems and playing them through. The form of stacking
layers of blocks definitely influenced the structure of how this version
was conceived and played.
The playing cubes were tested with family members during Thanksgiving, and we played a variety of group card games such as Crazy
Eights and Hearts. Common card interactions such as shuffling and
dealing took longer and involved more hands to handle the masses of
cubes being distributed. I was interested in how each player managed
and sorted their blocks, some stacked vertically while others laid
them in neat rows. The group as a whole had to decide on ways to
organize and shuffle the draw pile for crazy eights, and stacking cards
in the discard pile became its own game. The way the cubes felt drew
similarities to other tile or block based games such as dominoes and
Alternative names:
‘Playing Cubes’
‘Deck of Blocks’
‘Swiss Army Squares’
‘REALLY Thick Cards’
I laser cut plexiglass squares and hot glued them to the face opposing the playing card face to create a mini marker board on each cube.
I began to draw eyes, ears, noses, or mouths on each block, and by
mixing and matching the facial features I inadvertently created an
analog version of the Mii Editor originally found on the Nintendo Wii.
I play tested the playing cubes with volunteer workers at the Boston
Children’s Museum, given their experiences with observing children at
play. It was here that Mark, one of the volunteers, suggested the name
OmniBlocks because of the variety of games, puzzles, and applications
the set can provide. Alice Vogler is the volunteer coordinator for the
Children’s Museum; she noted that the blocks can unveil activities that
“grow with the child.” Toddlers may enjoy stacking blocks, while older
children may prefer to draw on the marker board side. Parents can use
the blocks to teach children card games, counting, and spelling.
I started to experiment with adding augmented reality markers to one
of the faces of the OmniBlocks in order to incorporate more ways to
play within the system. Each block would have a distinct AR marker
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Mockup for using
augmented reality with
OmniBlocks. 3D characters are not mine.
connected to a virtual 3D model using the game engine Unity. When
grouped together in different ways, the AR models could potentially act
as digital building blocks for telling stories. For the 52 distinct blocks
in a set, there can potentially be 52 different 3D models, almost like a
virtual toy collection. Simple models such as a person, house, tree, and
car can be grouped and viewed as a domestic play set through a smart
phone with AR capabilities. The relatively large number of AR markers
presents itself as an opportunity to add wacky and less conventional
figures: such as aliens, dragons, waffles, and record players. Even if
the AR markers are sized to fit one face of an OmniBlock, the virtual
model it corresponds to can be scaled at any size in any orientation.
A mountain and a bow tie can be summoned out of the same sized
squares, but occupy vastly different spaces. The fun arises from being
able to tell different stories through combining a rigid set of elements
in various ways.
While this project initially started as a way to tweak the card game
platform, the current state of OmniBlocks shows that playing card faces
are the least interesting part. The marker board provided more ways
for personal expression and play, as people used it for writing notes,
playing Pictionary, and even teaching new languages. The card side,
on the other hand, were more cumbersome than normal cards, and the
novelty of a ‘playing cube’ wore off sooner than the marker boards.
As a creative system, OmniBlocks were composed of simple modules
that facilitated arranging and rearranging bits of information in new
ways, whether as cards or drawings. Over the course of several play
tests, players used the OmniBlocks in a variety of ways. They decorated
towers with abstract patterns, drew giraffes with extra long necks, and
designed their own Sudoku puzzles. I found that breaking the marker
board up into smaller pieces afforded a different kind of interaction
from how we normally use a larger, static drawing surface. Given that
dry erase boards allow for faster drawing and erasing, affixing them
onto OmniBlocks gave these drawings more mobility and dimension.
Drawings do not have to be erased and redrawn in order for them to
move in space, they can simply be picked up and arrayed horizontally
or stacked vertically.
Overall, I would have liked to explore cross-pollination between the
playing cards, marker boards, and AR markers. Currently, each side
exists as its own ‘game mode,’ and players tend to not play with all
three faces at the same time. What could help spur creativity in that
direction would be to show examples that incorporate two or more
sides into one activity that celebrates the distinct attributes of each
face. I see the playing cards as representative of systematic thinking,
embodying structure and function, while the marker board opens a
space for emotional and visual expression. I think a true success in
this project would be to observe players creating their own systems of
playing and thinking using both sides (maybe three).
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Board games like Labyrinth, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan utilize
modular tile arrangement to create unpredictable landscapes that
encourages players to adapt to the uncertainty. The game pieces
are essentially building blocks for the board itself. Instead of a game
designer designing the layout, they design a system in which players
take part in designing the setup differently every game. In Labyrinth,
players use the tiles to create mazes and collect treasure, shifting rows
and columns to trap opponents and alter their paths. In Carcassone,
players place tiles to build fields, castles, and roads to gain the most
points by the end of the game. Within these games, experimenting
with the board design can become its own source of play, divorced
from the rest of the rules that determine a winner or loser.
Tylo is a toy designed to create
seamless patterns using tiles with
seven different designs.
The analog version has seventy tiles, or ten copies of each design, that
can be arranged in any configuration on a flat surface. The mobile app
fills your screen with a 4 x 6 tile grid which can be filled with any tile
patterns the player wishes. You can save your designs, tweak the colors,
and programmatically randomize the tile order to create spontaneous
Tiles are everywhere: on the floor, walls, and ceilings inside our schools,
bathrooms, banks, and dentist’s offices. I entertained myself by identifying patterns or shapes within groups of tiles, mentally blocking out
faces,Tetris pieces, or letters. I passed the time at the dentist by staring
up at the ceiling tiles, drawing imaginary vectors to connect various
One could see this genre
as ‘the salad bar’ of board
games: getting players
to assemble what the
designer didn’t feel like
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Sebastian Truchet is the
best there is at what he
Opposite: Tylo Blueprint.
The set was designed with
strict rules leading to a
cohesive aesthetic.
I call it “Bauhaus
corners from around the room. To me, tiles are appealing because
while they are designed to join together, each unit relies on its neighbors to fit in. Collectively, a mass of tiles becomes the thing in which it
covers, whether it’s a wall, ceiling, floor, or picture. The tiles are almost
invisible, only to be noticed if one goes missing. I wanted to explore
this relationship between modules and the network it becomes.
Sebastian Truchet was a French scientist and inventor who designed
tiles for pattern making in the late 17th century. Truchet tiles, as they
came to be were squares bisected diagonally to create two triangles, one black and the other white. He started to document all the
possible ways he can orient two tiles next to each other, growing into
larger sequences and patterns. Complex and ornate patterns arose
out of systematically orienting any given tile in specific relation to its
neighbors. Even randomly arranged groups create visually interesting
With Tylo, I designed the pieces to lead into each other seamlessly, so
whatever arrangement of multiple tiles creates a cohesive shape. By
making each tile modular, there is virtually no wrong way to arrange
the pieces. The modularity focuses the player’s efforts on exploring
different compositions rather than trying to figure out how which
pieces fit best. Tylo was created as a system for adaptively unique
designing patterns and paths using simple shapes. The limited selection of shapes makes Tylo approachable. It invites the user to make as
many different patterns given the small set of distinct paths on each
tile. Given four sides to each tile, seven path designs, and ten of each
design, a simple collection can create millions of unique arrangements.
I wanted to explore how simple modules can build into complex
networks, given enough time and material.
With 18 different shapes
for each tile space (including rotations as separate
designs), there are at least
18^24 unique combinations of patterns on the
Tylo App. Adding the
color change increases
the possible combinations
even further.
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
The tiles started as vector files, and lived inside an Illustrator file during
the summer of 2016. The design of the seven tiles is a visual solution to
the question: “How many ways can I connect the sides within a square
to each other?” Using only lines and circles as paths, I created a basic
form language to ensure uniformity throughout the set. I spent the rest
of the summer playing with the tiles on screen: rotating and multiplying
large regions of squares while adjusting the colors and scale of each
Next, I laser cut the vectors into plywood, bringing the digital toy
into a physical world. Naturally, the wooden version lent itself to a
board game aesthetic, and I started to develop a rule set inspired by
Labyrinth. Two players face each other and use the tiles to generate
mazes that would entrap their opponents and allow them to reach the
other side of the game board before the other. Every turn, players can
take two actions: moving a game piece one space, sliding a row of tiles
to create new paths, or rotating a tile. Players can also draw a random
tile and place it anywhere, but that move costs two actions instead of
one. The player who can reach the opposite side of the board and back
to their home base wins.
Opposite: Vector File,
Analog Toy, iOS app.
Each version has its
own constraints that
determines how the
system is used.
I decided to adapt this project into a polished digital experience, with
the help of a programmer and graphic designer in Mobile Development Studio, taught by Martha and Pascal Rettig. As part of the class,
we fleshed out potential users, optimized the interface for usability,
and built our minimum viable product given the one semester time
constraint. Tylo version 1.0 was accepted into the App Store on April
6th, 2017, as my first iPhone application. In this version, users are given
a 4 by 7 grid of tiles to rotate or replace, as well as a randomize and
coloring feature. Players are invited to design shapes and develop
patterns on the canvas as they see fit, adapting to new configurations
and color schemes.
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
Tylo became a great project for me to explore the unique differences
between analog and digital play. The design process also oscillated
from digital design to physical prototype testing, and then back to a
digital counterpart. Each medium contains inherent constraints that
allow for different ways to interact with it.
With our interactions
growing more digital,
these details were
glorified as special
features, rather than
as impediments to the
The physical Tylo set allows players to create patterns in any direction
and at any scale. Players are given the freedom to lay out their pieces
however they like, from a simple line of four tiles to a sprawling map
using everything in the set. I constructed an arena to fit 20 tiles, and
found it satisfying to slide entire rows to dynamically shift the design
of the pattern. I observed players stacking grids of tiles on top of each
other and removing the top layer to reveal another piece. This interaction literally added a new dimension to play with through integrating
depth. Intangible attributes also added to the experience, such as
the clacking of wood on the table, and the smell of laser char on your
hands after playing. Because of the material and physical design, it was
harder to pick up the pieces that are in the middle of an arrangement
without disrupting the alignment of others. The scorch marks left over
from the laser cutter accentuated the edges of each piece, breaking
the illusion of seamlessness between adjoining pieces. Cleaning up,
sorting, and storing Tylo is a constant reminder of the impediments
inherent in a physical toy.
The digital vector tiles and Tylo app provided its own set of possibilities
and limitations. As an illustrator file, it was very easy to select a small
group of tiles, and make multiples of that selection to quickly create a
large scale design. In the app, players, can easily select a tile to switch
or rotate its orientation. Changing the color schemes added to the
design and play experience. The randomize function allowed players
to quickly iterate and find an inspiring pattern to expand and develop. Saving designs makes it easier for players to document favorite
patterns and share them with others. However, the app limits players
to playing with less than 30 tiles, constrained to the proportion of the
phone screen. The small scale makes the design more manageable,
but may become more of a limiting factor for players wanting more
freedom and higher resolution on the canvas.
As a creative system, Tylo is an excellent case study in exploring how
simple rules can build into complex interactions. Tylo is a simple system
of pieces that are all compatible with each other, which decreases the
risk of a faulty or confusing interaction. The beauty in this system is that
any combination of tiles makes something cohesive and connected,
regardless of whether that combination was intentional or not. The
physical system allowed for more freedom to design in three dimensional space, while the digital system succeeded in enforcing organization and customization. Playing with Tylo, I challenged myself to design
new compositions given the constraints of the system and the medium.
While the constraints can be seen as limiting factors to creativity, I
learned that abiding by these restrictions leads to a deeper interest in
exploring the intricacies of the system.
Chapter 1
“The beauty in this
system is that any
combination of tiles
makes something
cohesive and
connected, regardless
of whether that
combination was
intentional or not.”
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
The temporary lifespan of any given painting encourages quick interactions and more exploration. The disposability of one painting speaks to
the larger collection of attempts to try new compositions, patterns, and
movements. Because they shapes are abstract and geometric, players
do not feel the need to make a painting that resembles something in
real life. As a result, players have more freedom to explore how different body motions can create various patterns with different shapes.
Through Motion Paint, I explored how one module is not special, but
the layering and collection of multiple shapes can build an engaging
painting. Exercising restraint in the design of Motion Paint led to users
playing with the system with more curiosity, in order to see how far
movements translate to the digital canvas.
Motion Paint is a Processing sketch that turns a player’s movements into
abstract patterns on a screen. Motion Paint tracks movement from a
camera and translates moving pixels into halos, lines, dots, and colored
circles. It invites users to use their full range of motion to design a
digital painting. If it senses movement near the upper left corner of the
screen, the program saves the painting and refreshes the canvas.
This project was a final assignment for my Elements of Media studio
my first year of DMI, and I wanted to design an installation that delights
passersby into interacting with their environment in a harmonious way.
The patterns are designed to be very light, so as more people interact
with it, it creates a layering effect that maps movement over time.
When users realize that they can easily create visually beautiful patterns
just by moving, their curiosity leads them to play more.
A sole user controls one
shape with their body.
A group can collectively
create a masterpiece...
or a mess if you don’t
understand art.
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
I was inspired by the structure of molecules, and how the simplicity of
their connections built up to more complex and beautiful systems. Take
water for example. As a liquid, H2O molecules are simple: two hydrogens attached to one oxygen atom, attracted to each other slightly by
polarization, but not enough to form a structure. Under the right conditions, these uniform water molecules freeze into place, creating unique
ice crystals. The way these molecules fit together is always consistent,
but the output is always different, as seen in snowflakes. I wanted to
design a simple set of modules that can be connected to each other in
multiple configurations.
Modulus is a surface modeling construction set, consisting of only 6
pieces square and triangular pieces joinable by velcro. Players develop their three dimensional thinking and form development through
adaptively constructing geometric forms. The shapes can vary in
complexity, from simple cubes to sprawling structures. Included are
remote controlled light bulbs to put inside and illuminate the designs.
Modulus was developed as a studio project at RISD. We were tasked
with designing a product that would inspire mindfulness within a
middle school art class curriculum. In observing the class, I saw that
the students were taught traditional art lessons, such as still lifes, clay
sculpting, and water coloring. As a designer, I felt that there was little
opportunity for the students to experiment with modern modeling and
design tools. I wanted to design a 3D modeling tool that is intuitive to
use, cheap to manufacture, and easy to clean up.
Chapter 4 - Creative Systems
The first iteration of Modulus was made of museum board cut into 1.5”
squares and triangles, joined together by drafting dots. When I tested
the first prototypes with middle schoolers, they made simple cubes,
pyramids, and balls without having to plan their designs ahead of time.
Some of the students started to play together using Modulus to create
a variation of bowling. The clean up was also a bit tedious because
while the modules were reusable, the drafting dots were not. Players
had to peel the dots off each piece before packing everything up.
For the second version, I scaled the modules up to 6” per side, and
cut them out of corrugated plastic, which is cleaner and more durable.
I experimented with the way the modules connected, from rubber
bands, to magnets, to tape, and I settled on velcro patches because
they were intuitive to new users and reusable. After several play tests,
I realized there was never really an objective that players can work
towards. I designed it to be this way purposefully, fearing that showing
pre-made examples would limit the possibilities for play. However,
without a goal, it is harder for players to start playing in the first place!
I had a couple of remote controlled LED’s in my room while I was
photographing a Modulus model, and I decided to throw on inside and
see if there was a change in lighting. Because I used a mix of white and
transparent coroplast, the whole model glowed beautifully in the dark.
In the next play test, I presented Modulus with the objective of making
your own lamp shades, which I felt provided a prompt that encourages
making while also being open enough for personal interpretation.
The challenge in balancing a creative system is reconciling open-ended free play, which gives the most freedom to a fault, with guided
instruction, which can be seen as diminishing creativity by dictating
how a final product should look. In the Modulus project, the guided
instruction is almost embedded in the limited pieces and the ways
they attach to each other. The free play comes in how these pieces are
joined, and what the structure looks like in the end.
A student shows off his
Modulus Pac Man. He was
later issued a cease and
desist from Atari Corp.
Volunteers at Boston
Children’s Museum
tinker with a super-sized
Modulus set. Or are they
just tiny people playing
with normal sized pieces?
Chapter 1
“Play is a balance
between rigidity and
fluidity: acting within
a system while also
pushing the boundaries to discover new
Chapter 1
I believe that through the process
of making, we impart our essence
in the final outcome. The projects
in this section are intended to be
channels for self expression and
making sharing something personal
with others.
YouNits is a toy and digital platform designed to encourage people to
share their toys and subsequently a part of the lives with their friends.
The Laugh Booth uses laughter to incentivize sharing personal stories
and ideas with a group of people. The Blob Squad is a character
creation toy that stimulates improvised stories and creative writing.
By making it easier for others to be genuine and share their unique
perspectives, my hope is to foster more inclusive and creative communities.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Why do parents hang mediocre art on their refrigerator? Chances
are, it’s because they know the artist. My parents taught me and my
siblings to be proud of the things we accomplished. I believe we like
to be proud of our accomplishments. We attach more significance to
the things we actively partake in than the things we can buy or passively experience. Watching home videos brings me more joy than any
viral cat video, because I was an actor and I know the cast and crew
intimately. Experiences are more satisfying when we contribute to their
creation. Anything we make creatively is a reflection of past experiences concentrated and exported via our bodies. We create poetry,
drawings, pasta, as a way to answer a question. That question may be
“Why do I feel this way?” or “How can I get rid of these foods before
they expire?” We search for an answer through the process of making
and experimenting with the building blocks we have gathered, whether they are memories, pictures, or moldy onions. The final product is
judged initially by ourselves, the creator, by using past experiences
as criteria for a successful experience. We make things to express our
thoughts and feelings, to learn more about our place in the world.
As selfish beings, we don’t
care about things that
don’t personally affect
us. Now if you told me
this triangle was a slice of
pizza, I would stay awake
during class.
At the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT, they promote Projects
and Peers as two of the four P’s of creative learning. Creative thinking happens more frequently when we have a personal stake in the
creative process, because we work harder on projects that we care
about. Homework during grade school was a serious drag, because
I felt no connection between my personal life and the length of line
segment AB if line AC = 12 and BC = 5. We retain knowledge better
when it is put into context, and if the subject matter matters to us.
We must be open to sharing ideas and feedback as well in order to
progress creatively; without the personal exchanges, our projects can
become one-sided and therefore less effective.
The fridge is often our
first gallery showing that
serves cheese and wine at
the reception.
In improv, we build something together and explore personal truths.
Improvisers are taught to play off the top of their intelligence, to
think like the person they are playing, in order to bring out the most
realistic reactions. The best comedy (and drama) comes from being
honest because it is the easiest way to connect with each other. Charna
Halpern, co-founder and former director of the ImprovOlympic, writes
about honesty in the book Truth in Comedy.
Anchorman stays funny
because of the commitment to the ridiculous
If we look past the silly
facade, we can see a seed
of truth that fuels the
narrative. Ron Burgundy
(Will Ferrell) is a humorous
depiction of manliness
in the midst of a shifting
social climate.
“The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better
than contrived invention...real humor does not come from sacrificing
the reality of a moment in order to crack a cheap joke, but in finding
the joke in the reality of the moment…” [Halpern, 9]
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
In order for comedians and storytellers to connect to their audience,
their fantastical and silly stories need to be anchored by a commitment
to conveying a universal truth. Anchorman is an absurd comedy about
a news anchor and the over-the-top shenanigans he and his team get
into to be the best news channel in San Diego. It is a silly premise, but
looking deeper into the story, you find a relatable caricature of a man
who has to balance his relationship and career in a rapidly changing
culture. We may not relate to the back alley news team brawls, or the
jazz flute montages, but we can connect with Ron Burgundy’s internal
struggle between prioritizing his friendships or career. This underlying
truth anchors the wackiness in some form of reality, and the comedy
bursts from the tension between silly characters faced with serious
tion had to take the MSA’s or the Maryland State Assessment. For the
geometry test, I remember having to bring a protractor, compass, ruler,
pencils, and calculator, nothing else was allowed. After finishing each
section, I would have nothing else to do except to close my eyes or
stare off into space. I started to play around with my math tools: starting with idly twirling my ruler on the tip of a pencil, and ending with
constructing a tower using all of the available pieces deconstructed
and jammed into each other. As I looked around the classroom, I saw
my classmates rolling their pencils on paper half pipes, drawing circular
patterns with the compass, and typing random numbers into their
calculators. The various ways we use the same objects illustrate how we
play is unique, and that toys are objects for us to develop our creativity,
in our own way.
Our true selves: our natural abilities, affinities, and tendencies are
reflected in how we play. Dr. Stuart Brown has broken down the different ways we play based on our innate disposition, which he calls our
Play Personality. Some people enjoy collecting, traveling, socializing, or
being active as their primary source of finding joy. As individuals, our
play personalities are usually composed of multiple categories. Play
is a balance between discovering and constructing our own identities,
while interacting with others doing the same.
In previous sections, I talked about how play appropriates objects and
spaces. How these things are appropriated depend on the player’s
personality and interests. In middle school, the whole student populaTeacher: Use these tools
to construct a monument
of your worst nightmare
Me: Got it.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
dynamic media experience inspired by the idea of a perfect human.
We were shown a 1967 short film titled The Perfect Human, directed by
Jorgen Leth. The film depicts a man and a woman in an all white room,
performing mundane tasks such as jumping, eating, and dancing while
a narrator describes their actions and bodies in a detached manner.
A selection of The Perfect
Human’s dance moves:
“Standing by the Grill”
“Passing Gas at a Museum”
“Reverse Moonwalk”
YouNits are a collection of connected figurines, aimed at encouraging
players to trade parts of their YouNit
with others in order to share experiences and make new memories.
The YouNit figure is composed of seven parts, a head, torso, waist, and
four limbs. Each piece contains digital data such as GPS location and
the original owner, which is accessed via the YouNit App. The app itself
is a portal to visualize the journey each YouNit piece has traveled and
allows users to chat with whoever they trade parts with.
In our Design Studio II class, we were assigned a project to design a
I was struck by how the narrator described the humans in the scene.
Labeling them perfect in even the most modest of activities seems
to imply that humans on display were the epitome of humanity and
physicality. However, they were at most slightly above average in
their dancing ability. In calling a particular body part or action perfect,
without referring to any standard in which the viewer can compare, the
narrator humorously becomes the expert on humans. But as human
viewers, we know that there are more ideal humans that can jump
higher, dance better, or eat food that is more universal. As a result, the
film seems to say that the particularities and imperfections in each of is
what make us perfectly who we are.
I began to think about what would make us more perfect and ideal as
humans. There are many stories and descriptions of utopian societies:
devoid of violence, discrimination, sickness, and ignorance. I thought
about the current events that were happening around the world:
police shootings, the refugee crisis, water contamination. People
were being treated as sub-human, less than equal to others with more
power and influence. Personally, I believe that in order for these issues
to be resolved, empathy and community need to be reestablished
as the foundation for a better society. I find that a key to building a
relationship with someone is to know more about his/her background,
and celebrate the ways they are different from myself.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
My idea of a perfect human is one that shares and builds with others
to make a better community. Sharing ourselves with our community builds us into individuals also. The phrases “lending a hand” and
“walking in someone’s shoes” became themes that I revisited in designing a concept for this project. These ideas revolve around building and
understanding relationships between two or more individuals. I think
that the action of helping and getting to know someone else is crucial
to break the habit of thinking selfishly. By insulating ourselves from
each other, we inevitably lose touch with issues that do not directly
affect us; it becomes harder to empathize with people who encounter
different problems from our own. Building relationships with diverse
people helps foster a community that understands life from another
perspective, and celebrates the differences that make us unique.
I started to wonder how these ideas of sharing skills and ideas can
be illustrated in a fun way. I find it easier to tackle heavy topics such
as the essence of humanity and constructing utopias when they are
approached from a playful and open-ended point of view. Because my
interests lie in the potential of toys and play, I thought it would be a fun
challenge to try to convey my ideas of the perfect human in the form of
a Dynamic Media Toy.
I started to draw a web of words (feelings, actions, characteristics) that
I felt made us distinctly human. I thought about our prized intelligence,
branching off into sentience, empathy, morality, and invention. Perseverance, love, sacrifice, and trust come from our evolved social skills
and our need to collaborate in order to survive. Communication, storytelling, curiosity, abstract thinking allow us to share information and
question if there is more to what we already know. On the other side of
the paper, I jotted down more terms that I felt were a negative twist to
these attributes.
Self-awareness and intelligence can lead to selfishness and arrogance.
We can spread lies and propaganda in the same way we convey the
truth and good news. Curiosity can lead to fear, trust can turn into
manipulation, and love can sour into obsession. This exercise helped
me see the darker side to our strengths, and we are able to bond and
commiserate over mutual struggles. What is seen as a weakness that
can separate us from each other can also be a rallying point for us to
encourage one another to improve. Admitting that we are not perfect
is one of the first steps to becoming more perfect.
I then drew a word map of what we as individuals can do with our own
bodies, as well as how are body parts are put together and connected. As a whole, we have the ability to play, learn, create, dance, dream,
remember, share, organize, and teach. But as individuals, our skill sets
are limited (some more than others). The same can be said about the
capabilities of our own bodies: we are designed to live with a head,
two arms, two legs, and a torso, but some have less than what we
perceive as the standard.
The themes of sharing skills and experiences turned into the idea of a
modular human, or essentially a human figurine with 7 interchangeable
body parts: a head, chest, waist, two legs, and two arms. I named the
figures YouNits, which is a combination of the words ‘You’ and ‘Unit,’
seeing as that each body part is a module that can be swapped and
rearranged to represent us as individuals.
After our bodies and
minds, miscellaneous
head wear is the defining
factor that separates man
from beast.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
I wanted to weave the experience of my conceptual search into the
story of the toy itself. I started to form a personality for YouNits, so users
can form an emotional connection and jump-start their own stories. To
me, YouNits are curious about the outside world; they love to travel,
but need help traversing unknown terrain. Their color comes in a wide
variety of colors and patterns, inspired by nature, technology, art, and
culture. They are inherently social beings, once several of them meet
in one place, they love to swap memories and tell stories through
switching out parts. Assembling and disassembling, their individuality
is constantly in flux, their being is a collection of diverse and unique
experiences. Their identity thrives on sharing and exploring. Ultimately,
these YouNits are a reflection of their owner, so I wanted to design a
character that is relatable and willing to share.
Physical Design
The first sketches featured a male and female figurine, colored as blue
and pink, respectively. In the margins, I made thumbnail sketches of
how these two figures can mix their bodies together. For example, a
body blue head can be built with a pink torso and blue waist, or a pink
torso with all blue limbs. I even included a human body with two torsos,
three arms, two heads and one leg.
Experimenting with drawing the possibilities made me realize that this
can also be a medium for expressing our individual physical identity,
along with our place within a community. Someone may not think of
him/herself as entirely male or female, and so they are fully capable of
designing a figurine that can represent their image more accurately.
In this way, the idea of a perfect human is one that is also confident in
showing who they are, with the community ready to accept them as is.
The first prototype I made was out of Sculpey, with Lego tube connectors to join the body parts together. The pieces fit loosely, but it was
a good enough representation of how one can swap and move parts
to make weird rearranged figures, like a teleporter experiment gone
The Sculpey model that
was almost too life-like to
enjoy removing its head
and replacing it with its
The second prototypes were designed in OnShape and 3D printed.
The figurines share the same sized arms and legs, but the heads, torsos,
and waists were designed differently to differentiate the gender. The
male figurine had a large cubed head, V-shaped torso, and a smaller
waist, while the female counterpart had an A-shaped chest, wider waist,
and trapezoid head (to represent abstracted long hair). There were
sockets to connect parts to each other in the traditional human form,
but I also wanted to create more opportunities for experimentation. I
put holes on all sides of the head, the back and front of the torso, on
the sides and ends of the limbs. My hope was that these extra connection points would encourage more people to create shapes that were
expressly non-human. I found myself trying to make weird forms that
could balance in different ways.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Opposite: The 3D printed
forms were fun to mix and
match. A YouNit Party
The mobile companion
allows users to track
where each YouNit piece
travels,and creates a
pipeline to communicate
with those that share
traded parts.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Integrated Interaction
The digital experience is in the form of a mobile app that can remember locations where your YouNit pieces have visited, which pieces users
have traded, and pictures of YouNits that contain at least one of your
parts. Ideally, each part would contain an RFID chip or visual marker
that can be scanned by the mobile device, which can remember the
type of body part, the original owner, current owner, and geolocation.
All of the computing is done through the mobile device, so there are
no electronics or batteries needed in the actual toy.
The experience would begin with a consumer buying a YouNit set
online or at their local toy store. Upon assembling, they link their
figurine to the YouNit app by snapping a photo and naming it. From
there, whenever users travel with their YouNit and scan it with their
phone, the app starts to form a map of where it has gone. If two YouNit
users meet, they can trade one or more parts, and the next time they
scan their figurine, it would recognize the traded part and its original
owner. A user can also see where their original traded part has traveled.
Who would you pick if you
can only have 6 Facebook
friends or followers?
Once a trade occurs, the NitChat feature becomes available. This
allows users to chat with each other as long as their YouNits contain a
part from the other person. The NitChat allows for a close-knit social
network with no more than 6 other people, which is the maximum
number of parts you can trade without completely disowning a YouNit
figure. Limiting the number of people you can interact with at a given
time is a departure from traditional social media, where the number
of contacts, friends, and followers is almost always growing. I would
liken the social interactions to that of a pen pal, as opposed to a sea of
The pictures users take of their YouNit with the app is stored in their
YouNit’s memories, which gives other users access to browse on the
app when they trade parts. Other YouNit’s memories can only be seen
when a YouNit has their part.
YouNits allow users to tell their stories with an intimate group of people
through sharing physical, social, and digital experiences.
Throughout the process of designing YouNits, I was constantly reminded that we are a collection of experiences shared with others. I wanted
to reflect that sentiment in the YouNit figurines through modularity,
which encourages the swapping and rearranging of limbs with friends.
The traded parts serve as a reminder that our lives intersect and affect
the lives of our friends, and those memories are inextricably linked.
By choosing who to share our experiences (i.e. through our YouNit
parts), we are essentially building an experiential and relational model
of ourselves with the YouNit toy. If I shared parts with my family, I would
trade a head with my dad because he taught me to observe and appreciate the calm everyday. I would trade arms with my sister and brother
because they are always by my side. I would trade my legs with my
mom because she showed me how to dance. I would trade my chest
with Diana because she has my heart. After all the trades, my YouNit toy
is a version of myself that celebrates my unique collection of relationships.
There were some challenges in designing the CAD models, such as
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
reshaping the torsos, waists, and head so the limbs of both genders
can fit at the correct angles. The 3D prints were not the best quality, so
the tube connectors were jammed from excess material in the sockets.
The figurines were actually printed larger than I expected, originally
my estimates were to design 6 inch figures, but they turned out to be
around 8 inches.
My hope for this project is to foster empathy in players through sharing
their belongings, and providing a window into each other’s lives by
witnessing where those shared pieces travel with other YouNits. I think
this project has helped me change at how I look at our bodies and
experiences. YouNits is poised to frame our lives as interchangeable
(aka relatable), but unique. The YouNits themselves are more than
figurines, but also construction toys, where players can break down the
body to build it into something more than human. The extra holes add
more opportunities to connect pieces in different ways. The ease in
which players assemble and disassemble the parts makes it conducive
to play and creative experimentation.
In the future, I would like to design more shapes that represent a wider
range of how the human body looks. I wanted to represent bodies that
are not normally depicted in toy figures: slimmer and wider frames with
different form factors, such as an organic and soft design or an angular
and sleek silhouette. The form factors are meant to display a personality metaphorically: users can choose how they feel their personality
would look in a physical form. The soft and organic body may come
across as more friendly and relaxed, while the angular and sleek form
may feel more focused and clean. The faces are currently simple smiles,
similar to the original LEGO mini-figure. I would like to also design a
wider range of facial expressions in order to convey more emotions
than general happiness.
I have learned how to think about keeping a conceptual message clear
across digital and physical media. I think it is important to balance the
interactions between the mobile interface and the actual toy. There are
inherent specialties for each medium. The app can keep track of data
and images over long distances and periods of time, while the toy can
be felt, carried, and transformed by the user. Although there are differences in the way we interact with each medium, the two should work
together to make a cohesive and seamless experience. I was surprised
by all the possibilities in mixing just two figures together, it makes me
excited to see what others could do with a community of a couple
hundred figurines.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
The Science of Laughter
The Laugh Booth Project aims to use laughter as an incentive to talk
more and feel less self conscious about speaking up. This hypothesis mainly comes from an academic study called The Evolution and
Functions of Laughter and Humor: A Synthetic Approach (2005), by
Matthew Gervais and David Wilson at Binghamton University. This
paper explores the concepts of humor and laughter through a biological and psychological lens, arguing that it was a necessary tool to
facilitate collaboration and stress relief in primitive humans. They
define the foundation of humor as “non-serious social incongruity,”
or to put it simply: something weird happening within a safe social
context. If an occurrence is too weird, it can be seen as unsafe, if it is
not weird enough, it is simply boring. Humor is found in the sweet spot
of unexpectedness and comfortability. After interpreting something as
funny or humorous, our body reacts through laughter as a way to break
the tension of encountering the unexpected event.
The Laugh Booth is an interactive installation that asks selected
questions for participants to talk
about with each other.
When the volume of the conversation hits a certain point, a laugh track
is activated and played out loud. The canned laughter in the Laugh
Booth is used to get participants to drop their guard momentarily, and
more willing to collaborate. Players are allowed to deviate from the
initial line of questions, and they can step on the footpad to change the
conversation starter for another random one.
A graph depicting how
we perceive and assess
social situations. Often
times, dissecting humor
makes me feel less funny
because it removes the
spontaneity from real life,
putting this caption in the
‘Boring Zone.’
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Or think nervous laughter
as a response to diffusing
social tension.
Back in the day (2 to 4 million years ago), ancestors of humans lived in
stressful times. Nomadic, they hunted and foraged for food, traveling
in groups to increase their chances of survival. Before we developed
language, laughter existed to communicate a positive emotional
message (safety/playfulness) throughout groups, along with crying
(pain, sadness), and growling (anger, fear). Laughter being contagious
is not a myth, our brains are wired to respond to laughter with laughter.
In this way, our ancestors were able to swiftly communicate that their
surroundings are safe and they can relax. If we were not able to spread
the message of safety, members of the group would be more consistently stressed and irritable, leading to decreased collaboration and
shorter lifespans. There are two types of laughter: Duchenne laughter
is genuine laughter and elicits a strong positive feeling in those that
experience it, and Non-Duchenne laughter, which is forced laughter
resulting in a weaker emotional response (think used-car salesman
laughing to get customers to relax).
In studies of primate and human play, scientists observed a universal
laughing face: the eyes and mouth are open, and the body is relaxed.
This body language signals a playful attitude to peers, inviting them to
engage in play activities. Laughter is used to facilitate groups of people
into a state of play and relaxation, bringing them into a more collaborative mental state. Jokes are an effective tool to get groups of unfamiliar
people to feel more comfortable because the laughter alleviates the
stress of unfamiliarity.
There is a universal body
language to spread
playfulness and friendliness. This friendly picture
changes its message if the
kids have angry, crying, or
stoic expressions.
Upon reading this study, I asked myself, “If I could say anything and
get a positive response, what would I say?” This can be a tricky subject,
considering the proliferation of hate speech on social media. As a
designer, I have to be aware of the negative repercussions of my
system. I implemented a visual interface of discussion topics to give
structure to interacting with the Laugh Booth.
The conversation starters in this project lay down an initial direction in
which conversations can move. I wanted the topics to be open ended,
in that each participant is expected to have varying responses. While
users discuss their ideal meals or thoughts on the election, the laughter
validates their ideas, encouraging them to share more.
An early doodle depicting the Laugh Booth.
Anybody can say anything
and the Laugh Booth will
laugh. What would you
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Early prototype using
Processing for conversation starters and Pure
Data for handling the
laugh tracks.
I retrofitted an old soundboard Processing Sketch from Elements of
Media to play laugh tracks instead of drum beats. Here, I can press a
number on my keyboard and the program would play a different laugh,
from a slight chuckle to a large round of cheering and applause. For
good measure, I included an awkward cough and a crowd booing. I
had tested this version doing monologues with a partner who would
erratically press buttons at odd intervals to mimic a random laugh track.
Monologues aside, the results were hilarious on their own, and I found
myself laughing at the laugh track laughing during the strangest times.
Frank Wolflink helped me build the next iteration on Pure Data Extended, which uses the computer’s internal microphone to trigger the laugh
tracks past a certain volume level. At first, the laughs coming from
the speakers would set off another round laughs, creating a feedback
loop of cackling that never stopped. Because of this, we programmed
the microphone to not register any sound up to 1500 milliseconds
after any laugh track is played, to reduce the chances of a chain
reaction. There is also an option to toggle the negative feedback tracks
(awkward cough, crickets, booing, offended gasps) and the positive
tracks, so players can choose their reactions before playing. I constructed a large square button to replace the space bar and simplify the
interaction with the program.
I used Processing to build the conversation starter interface. Originally, users would tap the space bar and a preprogrammed question
flashed on the screen. To complement the meandering journey of a
conversation, I designed the text to fade out into the background as a
temporary stimulus. This puts the focus on the evolving conversation
as opposed to the initial question. The questions I chose are intended
to elicit personal responses from participants, ranging from “When
was the last time you cried?” to “What is your corniest joke?” These
conversation starters are meant to encourage people to tell stories and
provide opportunities to explain their responses, leading to understanding and empathy.
Initially, the Laugh Booth was intended for one person to monologue,
and adapt to the random responses they received. After testing it with
myself, I found it awkward to sustain a one sided conversation. I would
tell personal stories, but they did not mean anything since I was telling
them to a computer that was listening, but not remembering. After
bringing a couple of DMI’ers to interact with the Laugh Booth together,
I found that it was much easier to talk with multiple people, and the
laughter was used to fill in the gaps between the conversation.
Testing the latest version:
“Would you rather fight a
horse-sized duck, or ten
duck-sized horses?”
The second test for the Laugh Booth was with a student improv group
at Northeastern University. The participants were used to performing, so when given a question, they would put on a character and talk
constantly. Without any breaks, the program did not have a chance to
laugh because of the programmed delay to prevent chain reactions.
Here, I realized the importance for natural breaks in conversations,
to allow time for the laughter to trigger. The volume threshold was
also raised so only the louder parts would set off a laugh track, as
opposed to every sound being registered as a trigger. After adjusting
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
the threshold and asking the group to converse normally at a regular
pace, the laugh tracks were timed better and the participants seemed
more relaxed. They spent a while discussing what they would do in a
potential zombie apocalypse, taking time to ask clarifying questions
and justifying their answers with past experiences. All the while, they
were conscious of the laughing and booing that would respond to their
The Laugh Booth was play tested with volunteers at the Boston
Children’s Museum. Participants played for around 20 minutes, sharing
what they do in their free time. It turns out, most of the group loved to
go to used book stores and shared their favorites in the New England
area. The volume of the Laugh Booth was turned down, so the laughter
did not seem to interrupt the conversation, if it was heard at all. This
play test seemed to show that the conversation topics mattered more
to creating conversation than the laughter, if the people in the group
were already comfortable with each other.
“What is your plan for the
zombie apocalypse?”
“How do you waste time?”
Conversation Starters
“Talk about your family.”
“Talk about your worst day.”
“Tell your corniest joke.”
“Talk about Christmas.”
“Who is your least favorite
“What do you enjoy that no one else
seems to like?”
“What would be your famous last
“Favorite scene from a movie.”
“Talk about your last
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Changing the Space of Conversation
Holding a conversation within the space of the Laugh Booth turns
something ordinary extraordinary. Anything users say can be met with
uproarious laughter or dead silence, so they become more aware of
the words they use. Upon saying something and hearing the laugh
response, users reflect and connect their words with the laughter and
in turn laugh at the social incongruity of the programmed laughter.
On the other hand, when users would expect laughter after saying
something, an awkward silence can cause a similar social incongruity,
resulting in laughter to break the tension.
The purpose of the Laugh Booth is not to laugh at each other’s ideas,
although it is welcomed; it is to use laughter as a social lubricant in
order to lower the pressure of judgment from voicing opinions. Using
random laugh tracks as a response to volume allows for users to
appropriate the system for other uses. I, for example, use it to get wild
applause for my whistling. The Laugh Booth is a space that facilitates
sharing ideas between participants, no matter how good or bad those
ideas are.
In play tests, participants would talk about the conversation topics for
longer periods of time, and ask more in depth questions about their
partners’ stories to receive a laughter response. Expecting laughter in
the conversation heightens our awareness of what others are saying,
and receiving laughter lowers the anxiety of being judged. These two
factors create a space for expressing personal stories and interests, and
to help us enjoy the differences that make us special.
The applications of the Laugh Booth go beyond entertainment, there
can be practical applications as well, such as public speaking. The
laughter can help ease the tension in users with stage fright, and
adding boos to the interaction can help experienced speakers adapt to
negative feedback.
An ideal depiction of how
users would interact with
the Laugh Booth. Hearing
laughter and applause
after sharing something
personal can be empower
users to share more.
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
Designer toys are sometimes classified as “affordable sculpture,” in that
the consumer is paying for the emotional and artistic statement, rather
than the entertainment value of a traditional toy. The artists and designers express themselves through making these figurines: and we are
attracted to buy into their aesthetic message. This emotional connection to our objects justifies its importance, rather than a practical value.
I am a huge fan of vinyl toys, and what gets me excited about art toys
is their character and individuality. Neither good nor bad, like a typical
action figure, these figurines exhibited an attitude that was reflective of
how I viewed myself: quirky, unique, and a little misunderstood. Similar
to me: they stand around quietly, trying to look cool. They don’t make
our lives easier, but they do make them more interesting.
However, the novelty fades away and I start to look for newer and
cooler figurines to add to my collection. These figures are static, they
never change expressions, and maybe sometimes you can move their
arms. As a creative consumer of art and media, I always had an itch for
drawing and making my own fun. I began to think: how can I include
myself in this movement? Are there opportunities for me to express
myself through toys?
Blob Squad is a character creation
toy, consisting of a cast resin body
and a malleable clay head.
Players adaptively shape the clay into whatever form they want, and
attach it to the body to create a new head for the figurine. After creating a new identity, players write a short blurb elaborating their character’s origin story, likes and dislikes, hobbies, favorite food, and a space
to draw their character’s head.
Designer toys became
a medium for artists to
design and sell “affordable sculpture” to
everyday folk in limited
runs. Even though one
figurine maintains a single
expression, a collection
can display a spectrum of
Chapter 5 - Building Ourselves
I decided to design an art toy figurine that was fixed to one expression or character, but opened itself up to infinite identities and back
stories. I decided to stick with only a moldable head because it is the
fastest way to create an identity. Players may grow frustrated and tired
of sculpting a standing body every time, so I removed that option from
the toy, focusing on just the head. The nondescript body language
allows for open interpretation of what the stance is saying: it can be
smug, shy, relaxed, or impatient. The open ended body echoes the
personality in the character’s face.
Gator (left) actually likes
waiting tables because of
the leftover french fries.
Maggie (right) was the
original Gerber Baby’s
stunt double turned
I tested the Blob Squad with middle schoolers in an art class setting. In
a group of four or five students, I gave each one a figurine ad told them
they have 3 minutes to make any character they wanted. After the time
was up, I gave each student an index card and asked them to write
down bits of information to give their character more personality. We
presented each character to the group, giving time to ask questions.
In later rounds of testing, I brought the characters together and asked
the group to collectively build a story around their creations. I became
the mediator for creating the network of stories, asking questions like
“How do these guys know each other?”, “Why don’t they like about the
other?”, “How do they resolve these issues in order to stay friends?”
I found that whatever stories the students told, parts of their personal
history and viewpoints leeched into their character. Some characters
were very much based off their creator, as seen in their liking of pizza,
and dislike of school. Other stories were fantastical and wacky: secret
agent cats, scarred faces, and eyes that only saw the color orange. It
did not matter if the stories and sculpts met a standard of quality, what
mattered was that the creators were given a chance to easily explore
and express their creative thinking. Blob squad helped form the basis
of my thesis explorations in DMI, and I see it as a project with a lot of
potential in developing different play personalities, depending on how
you play with it. Some students liked to focus on the clay sculpting
aspect (kinesthetic/active play), while others flourished when it came to
writing back stories (imaginative play).
Blob Squad Lineup (from
left to right):
Tim Can, Fried Potato
Head, Hot Dog Head,
Norman (left) takes his
driver’s test every year
and no one can convince
him otherwise.
Chapter 1
“Play is a balance
between discovering
and constructing our
own identities, while
interacting with others
doing the same.”
Chapter 1
During my time at the Dynamic
Media Institute I have focused on
designing and researching playful
interactions that encourage people
to expressively share and think
I believe that play is central in the creative process, and engaging
with the world in a playful way allows people to make meaningful and
lasting connections. Drawing from my experience in improv comedy
and my interests in toy design, I designed, tested, and analyzed ten
projects that investigate the connections between the systems we play
with and the creative results we can produce through playing within the
system. Here are some things I have learned in the past two years…
Throughout this thesis process, I worked to clarify for myself what it
means to be creative, to try and crack the code to unlock my creative
potential. It turns out that creativity is as much a combination of external factors as it is an intrinsic skill that we can cultivate. A creative
environment can vary depending on the situation, from the materials
we have to play with, to the time we are given on a project, to whether
there is any project at all.
It feels good to know that
I can be creative without
trying, but pursuing and
making the ideas real
takes dedicated work.
Chapter 6 - Conclusion
There is no shortcut to hack a creative brain, all it needs is perseverance, and an environment conducive to creative thinking. People don’t
like to mess up, and so if we make it harder to fail and easier to start
over, people are more willing to make decisions and take creative risks.
The objects and experiences I have designed attempt to lower the
barrier to entry into a creative environment, by providing materials and
systems that players can use to develop their own creative ideas.
Owning running shoes does not make you healthier, but they are
designed to make running a more comfortable experience. In the same
vein, my projects are designed to make creative thinking more accessible and the making process more enjoyable, but players need to use
them regularly in order to build their creativity.
This idea was inspired by
Boston comedian Baron
Vaughn on his podcast
‘Deep Shit’
However, creativity as a skill can be exercised in all environments,
regardless of their limiting factors. I see creativity as the ability to make
something new given the things we already have. Even though my
whole thesis dealt with designing for creativity, developing a creative
thinking mindset starts with a change from within. Through my experience in comedy and design, I have noticed common skills that have
helped shape fulfilling creative endeavors. Design and comedy are
beautiful disciplines that strive to combine unlike topics into an intuitive and elegant delivery. Finding this delivery takes a lot of tinkering,
experimenting, and testing, often performed through the act of play.
An effective creative is willing to
Without a natural sense of curiosity, we would not evolve as a culture or
species. Exercising our curiosity fuels creative exploration. A successful
designer requires a lot of research to support their design decisions,
and a successful comedian needs to be observant and open minded to
find the humor that relates to the audience. Being open to new ideas
jump starts the creative process, especially when it is combined with
the things we already know. When we are curious, everything becomes
an opportunity for exploration and play.
An effective creative is willing to
In the creative field, work is carried out through researching, iterating,
and refining our product until it satisfies an objective. Experimentation
and testing can be defined as play; in that the creative imagines new
possibilities within the existing system, and pushes the boundaries of
their design. Work becomes play when we fully embrace the system
and lose ourselves in the activity we partake in. Play allows us to take
ridiculous things seriously, which is an important attribute for those
whose function is to create things that do not yet exist. When we play,
we are allowing ourselves to fully commit to the game, and we often
find ourselves in unexpected situations after being carried away by
our imagination. This aspect of play is a double-edged sword when it
comes to executing projects in a timely manner.
Setting constraints for our work helps to focus our creative efforts, by
reducing the risk of distraction and increasing our mastery over the
system we implement. Play prospers within the right balance of rules,
and we enjoy submitting to these rules if it gives all the players a fair
chance at fun. Breaking the rules, or simply working without guidelines
can lead to a shallow or disappointing experience. I have had projects
where I applied hardly any structure and flimsy creative direction; the
final result consisted of disparate concepts that weakened the composition as a whole. An improv scene falls apart when the players do not
support the overall direction of the scene, or when players’ intentions
are not communicated clearly. Creating realistic goals for ourselves
enables us to quantify our efforts, and we are then able to compare
new work to what we have already achieved.
An effective creative is willing to
Ideas always sound better inside our heads, but in order to evolve, they
must be realized and tested in the world. Sharing ideas with others
accelerates the creative process because we are introduced to new
perspectives that inform and refine our creations. On the receiving end
of ideas, we need to be critical yet supportive of the creator’s endeavor,
in order to elevate their design and propel them to improve. Comedians constantly refine their practice to be as clear and funny as possible, which is achievable only by sharing their work with an audience.
Sometimes the potential merits of an idea are not recognized until an
outside perspective points it out. In a scene, improvisers work together
Chapter 6 - Conclusion
to share ideas with the audience, and if someone blunders, the team
rushes in to justify that action as if it were intentional. Naturally, playing
with others teaches us how to socialize and empathize with our fellow
playmates. A network of observing others, sharing ideas, and encouraging creation over time builds trust and empathy, essential characteristics of a creative community. An effective creative team is one where
all members freely share and freely trust each other.
Good play design facilitates the novelty/mastery continuum. We
engage with a play system for its novelty, and through repetition
we master a certain activity. After the novelty wears off, the player is
allowed to test what they mastered in new situations to produce more
novelty, and the mastery of a new system commences. The novelty/
mastery continuum is how we naturally learn, observed in activities
such as throwing a frisbee, stacking blocks, or testing out a strategy in
chess. Play is a balance between finding something new and appreciating the familiar, which allows us to adapt the things we already know to
things we just discovered.
Play is a cycle, play is the process.
When we start to think about the benefits of play, it is easy to typecast
play as the newest trend in increasing productivity in the classroom
and workplace. However, play is more than a tool for entertainment
and self-indulgence. I am arguing for a critical consumption of interactive media, that players should have more say in what they choose
to make or do with the things they consume. We engage in playful
behaviors because they are fun, but through consuming and experiencing the fun, we should be aware of the reasons why we engage in
the consumption. Periods of play and creation are naturally followed by
periods of rest and reflection. But lately, I find that rest and reflection
are being replaced by feelings of restlessness and distraction, spurred
by interactions that celebrate amusement over appreciation. Ideally,
playing with anything should bring a newfound appreciation for it. But
in reality, we treat play as a way to save ourselves from an awkward
silence, or melancholy boredom.
The creative potential in play comes from our desire to see everything
as a building block when we play. Play is the great equalizer, playing
with ideas, objects, or people suspends their preconceptions. Once
these things are separated from their respective contexts, they can be
viewed as a collection of equally important features, with their own
potential for unlocking new realities. A brick becomes a doorstop, a
couch is transformed into a cushion fort, a stock image turns into an
internet meme. When everything is treated as an equally important
module for experimentation, we can more easily conceptualize new
forms that challenge convention. Play celebrates all aspects of an
object or system, not just the functional parts.
As players, we are able to separate ourselves from the context of everyday life, and sacrifice our judgment in order to become a part of the
play activity. Play is selfless, we give ourselves up to play and we enjoy
doing it. Being selfish or ironic hinders our ability to be playful, because
we value our image or status over the shared experience of participating in something bigger. In order to play with others and fully engage
with the world, we need to contribute our time, energy, and ego. Team
sports and improv groups are made up of individuals committing
themselves to playing modular roles in order to accomplish a larger
collective goal.
Chapter 6 - Conclusion
Every project has a bit of each section embedded with it, showing
that these categories are not really divisions, but in actuality they are
different frames to approach the nebulous concept of play. As much as
the Doodle Maker utilized unexpectedness to generate creative ideas,
there was a creative system implemented to allow for these random
shapes to work together. What players drew on top of the shapes was
entirely up to their personal expression. Each section of this book puts
a spotlight on specific aspects of play that I felt spurred creative thinking: Unexpected Fun, Creative Systems, and Building Ourselves.
Out of the ten concepts in this thesis, four were digital experiences, four had physical and digital components, and two were analog
products. Designing for physical and digital interactions comes with its
own set of challenges and opportunities. Physical objects are always
‘on,’ they provide immediate feedback and appeal to our sense of
touch, sight, sound, and smell. It was easier for players to share and
observe physical toys, and because they existed in three dimensions,
they formed a connection with their surroundings, transforming the
space into a playful arena. Projects like Blob Squad and Modulus
brought players together to interact and share pieces, and encouraged
using the room as another variable in changing the ecology of play.
Digital toys like Doodle Maker and TwitterBot use computation to
randomize and accelerate idea generation. Virtual connectedness takes
advantage of the web to instantly distribute information to the public,
and the digital byproducts of these interactions are readily available
to share online. Because the play components are contained within
a screen, the play activity tends to disconnect from its surroundings,
enveloping only the players involved. Tylo converts an analog puzzle
into a digital experience that is more personal and portable than the
original. Digital toys are not as dependent on context because it is
easier to reset, relocate, and revisit experiences than their physical
When designing an integrated experience, I wanted to take the depth
of physical play and blend it with the wide breadth of digital interaction. The Random Inventor Game and YouNits merge the rich tangibility
of the handmade with the complex variability of the digital program.
The RIG app keeps a history of our drawn ideas while offering opportunities to design new products. YouNits take the action figure and the
doll, and turns them into tools for representing our complex identities
and relationships. The Motion Paint project translates our physical
motions into beautiful patterns, challenging us to move differently.
Players are brought together by a shared physical space, and the
digital play allows them to experience their world in different ways.
I hope that these projects establish the foundation of my exploration
into designing creative tools. Although each product can stand alone
as a commercial toy, I envision them to be just as useful in an office
or classroom as they are in a domestic setting. The role of toys is not
limited to children at home, they can be modified to exercise creativity and gather diverse perspectives in various settings. Especially in
a digital age, the creative environment is mobile: we can create new
possibilities within the devices we carry everywhere. I see my products
as proto-prototypes: platforms for developing new ideas and systems,
an auxiliary brain to organize and randomize the bits of information we
input. Play is a necessary element in creative work, it allows unrelated
things to bump elbows, and turns mistakes into opportunities. We need
play to stay both flexible and sharp, and digital toys help us understand
our own abilities to affect change in a digital landscape. My projects are
all about how we can make it easier for others to make something. Just
as we use a hammer, screwdriver, wrench to build or fix our surroundings, we need digital literacy and interactive tools to navigate the
digital world.
I look forward to practicing more improv comedy as a way to keep my
mind elastic, and to help me not take life so seriously. As a designer,
I will continue to use play as an integral part of my creative process,
and to develop new frameworks that question how we think. As new
technology opens up new worlds to explore, I aim to find new ways
for others to express themselves by making new things, to reveal our
evolving humanity through play and creativity.
“Design and comedy
are beautiful
disciplines that
strive to combine
unlike topics into
an intuitive and
elegant delivery.“
Chapter 7 - Appendix
AppendixDigital Analogs
This paper details the transition of construction toys from their analog
forms to expanding into the digital dimension. I felt that the subject
matter is relevant to my thesis writing: construction toys of the times
reflected how we valued creativity in our children, and the different
materials these toys were made out of afforded different systems of
construction. Structure, play, creativity, and the designer consumer
relationship all evolved in tandem with new manufacturing and dynamic media innovation. The research I conducted for this paper helped
me clarify the relationship between toys, creativity, and play in a historical context.
Anthropologist Brian Sutton Smith
says this about play: “[Play] schematizes life, it alludes to life, it does not
imitate it in any very strict sense.”
(Fanning, Mir, 2014). Creativity has been a highly prized trait in individuals, indicative of insightfulness, originality, and inventiveness. Children
are recognized to be exceptionally and naturally creative; creating and
adapting in their play activities are signs of a productive personality.
Educators, parents, and children themselves have seen the potential in play as a learning experience, and have used this activity to
develop more effective learning environments (Ogata, 2013). Parents
wanted their children to believe they were capable of growing up to
be an engineer, designer, or creative thinker. As a result, they bought
their children toys that playfully developed skills required to be a
well-equipped individual. Toys are not a direct translation of reality, yet
we can see society’s evolving attitudes about learning and creativity
through the different types of construction toys through the past 180
years (Lauwaert, 2009).
The purpose of this paper is to track the history of construction toys
from analog to digital form, and to map out the underlying philosophies of creativity and learning that reflect these objects. Construction
toys enable users to exercise their creativity and develop a deeper
understanding of their physical world, through playful acts of assembly,
disassembly, and experimentation.
Each new technology provides new ways to build and create. Construction toys are tools that channel and amplify our curiosity and creativity;
they give users the power to affect the space they occupy, be it physical or digital.
Construction toys have always brought about a sense of empowerment and agency over the space in which they inhabited. The shift
from problem solving to creative thinking signaled a change in educational attitudes, especially in America and Europe during the years of
the Cold War (Ogata, 2013). Embedding a creative thinking mindset
as opposed to a rigid problem solving state of mind reflects the Free
World’s ideas of individuality being a core tenet of Democracy. This
Chapter 7 - Appendix
mindset recently reemerged when Richard Florida classified the
“Creative Class” as a socioeconomic group that requires filtering large
amounts of diverse information in order to complete their jobs (Ogata,
What Is a Construction Toy?
In its initial commercialization in the early 1900’s, construction toys
were defined in a more narrow sense, comprising of wooden, metal,
and or plastic units replicating architectural and mechanical elements
so as to recreate those structures on a smaller scale (Lauwaert, 2009).
This emphasis on a more literal view of construction limited these toy
sets to scaled down versions of buildings and vehicles, rarely venturing
into an imaginary realm.
Top: Mouse Trap uses
construction as part of the
play, but is considered a
game because of the rules
Below: A model is made
of different parts, but the
product is not taken apart
after completion.
Broadly speaking, a construction toy consists of smaller modules that
can be assembled into a larger system, where the act of play is in
constructing, exploring and deconstructing. This has been the foundation of what defines a construction toy, and the objects that will be
discussed in this paper are in line with this basic principle. There is a
strong emphasis on the process of creation and open exploration, and
playing with a finished product is only a part of the play cycle. The idea
of the user being self sufficient, even in constructing their own entertainment is self evident in this movement.
Firstly, a construction toy is not a game. Games come with a predetermined set of rules associated with the play, where there is usually
a definitive end resulting in a ‘win’ or ‘loss.’ The gameplay is defined
by the rules, which was made by the creator of the game. A toy on the
other hand, stands as an open-ended product, with the play interaction
being defined by the user. The user can establish his or her own rules
with their toy to make a game, but it is important to note that these
rules do not completely define the play. A construction toy contains
its own rules of connecting to other modules, but invites users to
assemble those rules into their own arrangements. A core element of
construction toys is giving the user the ability to use the toys to conduct
their own experiments and aid discovery.
Secondly, a construction toy is not a toy model. While a model is
similar to a construction toy, in that it comes with pieces to be assembled into a larger object, it comes with a limited outcome of creation.
Model pieces serve one or few functions, leading to an end product
that functions with limited results. Once the model is built, it stays
built. However, construction modules are created with multiple points
of connection, and it is encouraged to reuse the pieces and create
something beyond the instruction manual.
Thirdly, a construction toy is not a puzzle. Although these also come
with smaller pieces needing to be put together or taken apart, the goal
and challenge of puzzles is in finding the correct way to arrange or
deconstruct the pieces. Puzzle pieces are made to fit into specific and
limited arrangements, purposely made to challenge the user in decoding the construction. Construction toy modules are intuitive in their
connections, and should connect with most other pieces in the same
friendly way. Construction toys are intended to facilitate many different iterations using the same pieces, and the play act is in rearranging
Constructivist Theory
Constructivism emerged in the late 19th to 20th century, and held
that “the child explores and adopts to the environment by coping
with everyday challenges” (Hoorn, 2015). Constructivism is a theory of
child development that states the child is an active force in teaching
themselves about their world, effectively capable of influencing both
nature and nurture. According to Jean Piaget, children learn about the
world through “assimilation and accommodation”. Assimilation occurs
when the child incorporates new information into their mental models
of the world. Accommodation is when the child changes their mental
models in light of new information. In the act of play, both processes
are used in a fluid cycle, which develops a healthy and active mind.
Lev Vygostky was another constructivist thinker who came up with the
idea of a Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. He wrote “children
performed beyond their usual level of functioning when engaged
in the social and cognitive collaborations through with this zone”
(Hoorn, 2015). The ZPD is essentially an area of heightened learning
and shared reality, co-constructed by the players and sustained by
established rules. Vygotsky argues that the best learning experiences
are achieved in the ZPD, where the play environment strikes a unique
balance between challenging yet engaging (Hoorn, 2015). Assimilation, Accommodation, and ZPD’s are observed through all phases of
construction toy play, although with varying levels of utility.
Parlor Puzzles are made
to fit in a certain way,
and the intention is for
players to construct and
deconstruct the pieces in
order to ‘solve’ the puzzle.
We create ZPD’s when we
perform improv, calling it
a Group Mind.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
Rigid Connections
From 1830 to before World War II, construction toys are still in their
infancy, and their creators had a narrow view of the purpose for a
construction toy. An adherence to a learning curriculum and a more
literal translation of construction gives the title for this period: Rigid
Connections. For example, in the British toy trailers magazine games
and toys from July 1914 we find the article Construction Toys of Merit
senses to gain a fuller understanding of concepts. Adult supervision
was in a guiding role, rather than a teaching role, as in Froebel’s system.
She developed her own set of building blocks for the classroom
(Fanning, Mir, 2014).
On the commercial end of construction toys, building sets such as
Meccano, Erector, Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs became widely popular
in Europe and America starting in the beginning of the 20th century.However, “most construction toys center [at this time] on urban
design: building houses, bridges and other architectural constructions” (Lauwaert, 2009). The more complex Erector and Meccano sets
contained motors and gear trains to make moving parts for cranes and
automobiles. All of these sets rarely ventured outside the bounds of
the mechanical and civil engineering idea bin, with the exception of a
sci-fi robot or rocket ship.
While the Froebel gifts and Montessori toys encouraged children to
use their imaginations and explore abstract concepts, the commercial
building toys were seen more as teaching tools for engineering and
not entirely billed as “creative toys,” as seen in the next section.
This shows the emphasis placed on advancing educational learning,
rather than developing creativity.
Wooden Blocks were
an important part of
Froebel’s teachings.
Friedrich Froebel was credited with starting kindergarten in the late
1830’s, integrating toys into his curriculum to systematically expose
young children to different aspects of the physical world. He referred
to his toys as “gifts.” The first gifts comprised of simple wooden cubes,
spheres and cylinders, so that they can learn how they look and feel.
As the children grew older, they are given more complex gifts to show
more complicated and abstract processes. Eight small cubes can be
stacked together to make a larger cube, a basic illustration of smaller
pieces combining to form a large whole. Froebel believed that children
should form their own questions about the world and encouraged
them to explore through playing with his toys (Fanning, Mir, 2014).
Maria Montessori was an Italian educator in the 1920’s, who also
devised a progressive curriculum based on object-learning and full
immersion for a richer learning environment. She believed that the
best way to learn is to actively engage in activities, using multiple
The slogan “Engineering
for Boys” did not age well.
Play should be inclusive,
and toys should be
accessible all genders
and backgrounds.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
Plastic Creativity
In both Europe and North America larger efforts to restore domestic
tranquility informed the widespread study of ‘good toys.’ The idea
of a “good toy” is one that leaves a positive impression on the player,
improving a useful trait or skill such as creativity or dexterity. Designers
and psychologists alike believed abstraction and simplicity in children’s
things encouraged the child’s imaginative powers, qualities similar
to the simple wooden blocks of the past period (Fanning, Mir, 2014).
After World War II, many of the factories that were used to create
munitions and other accessories of war converted to making domestic
and consumer goods with new material innovations, mainly plastic.
Because plastic does not need to be harvested or sanded like wood,
and comes at a fraction of the weight and cost of metal, it became an
ideal material for making toys. The ease in which different shapes could
be made with plastic brought about another toy revolution, bringing
innovative ways to connect pieces, past merely stacking wooden
blocks or meticulously fastening metal struts with nuts and bolts.
The creators of toys such as LEGO and the Eames Toy employed
colorful plastic and embraced the idea of creativity to bring construction toys into its golden age. The popularity of construction toys was
such that it transcended the bounds of the classroom curriculum, and
the importance of developing creativity in children became widely
accepted in American and European markets. Ole Christiansen originally developed the plastic LEGO brick in 1949, which was relegated to
making houses (Robertson, Breen, 2013). Once LEGO developed the
iconic automatic binding brick that held pieces together more securely
than before (figure 2), a whole new variety of ways to attach the bricks
led to an explosion of different forms that could not have been built
before. In 1955, LEGO introduced their “System of Play” which encouraged users to mix their sets and create new ideas that went beyond the
box illustrations (Lauwaert, 2009).
Charles and Ray Eames were industrial designers and architects that
purposely designed construction toys to not resemble everyday
objects, instead placing the focus more on the process of creating,
as seen through their aptly named “Toy” and “House of Cards” and
“Do-Nothing Machine.” By removing the need for these products to
resemble real-life counterparts, these toys eliminated a “right” or
“wrong” mindset when comes to building (Ogata, 2013). Because plastic
was so light, larger structures could be built and handled by children
with little assistance. Whereas the building toys of the past period repli-
Using only three Lego
pieces, you can create
dozens of unique designs
representing vastly different ideas. Thanks Plastic!
“Take your pleasure
Ray Eames constructs
a tower using the aptly
named Toy.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
cated scaled down versions of buildings, the Eames Toy facilitated the
building of structures larger than the user. This development brought
the user into another level of immersion in construction play, instead
of merely imagining themselves inside the environment of the toy. This
level of immersive play becomes increasingly important in the digital
The construction process itself was the product of these toys. Brightly
colored, easy to assemble, and beautiful in all configurations made
the building process all the more accessible to children and parents
alike. Instead of focusing on building to strengthen engineering skills,
these construction toys emphasized experimentation and reiteration to
develop creativity in a domestic setting. A guide to architectural toys in
the magazine Progressive Architecture argued,
A focus on the process
and experimentation is
essential for developing
a creative drive. Imagination was needed because
play activities leaned
more to Indoor settings.
It was the common belief that although not all children are built to
grow up into engineers or scientists, they were capable of using
creativity, whatever career path they choose (Ogata, 2013).
Digital Dimensions
Historians of childhood and children’s toys have argued that the toy
industry in the latter half of the 20th century gradually moved away
from the class of creative playthings that appeal to parental notions of
tradition and educational value.
By the year 1980, personal computers were a common household
item. Analogue technologies were increasingly being digitized, and
games and toys were no different. These new digital construction
toys introduced a new dimension of assembly, namely using time and
programmed actions as units of creation along with digitized shapes
and blocks. One of the first digital construction toys was the Pinball
Construction Set (1983), which allowed users to make and play with
their own pinball table configuration. Using a simple drag and drop
interface, players can arrange bumpers, flippers, and ramps, as well as
assign sound effects to different parts to make a unique pinball game.
Bill Budge, the creator of the Pinball Construction Set, also created
video games where you can create your own dungeons to explore
and quests to fulfill. Most of the play cycle happens in the construction
phase of environment, and the playing of the actual game is seen more
as testing and refining the user’s creation. The idea of success in this
toy is not winning the game the user created, but in constructing and
learning from a new experience.
The Pinball Construction
Set by Bill Budge (1983).
Chapter 7 - Appendix
In 1989, Will Wright created the first SimCity, which he himself calls
a digital toy rather than a video game. In this program, users build
a computer simulated city, with roads, buildings, and terrain as the
building blocks. While a lot of players try to build a city that is deemed
successful in reality, in that it has low crime rates, a healthy populus,
and sustained economy, the idea of a successful project is up to
the creator (Lauwaert, 2009). Some may want to build a prosperous
metropolis, while others find enjoyment in destroying one. All players
are able to construct their creations in a way that fits their own creative
style and facilitates creative experimentation. Will Wright cites using
time as an important element in changing the way users see the world
through playing with his programs. By giving users time as another
element to control, they are able to experiment in ways that could not
have been accomplished with purely physical construction toys (Wright,
Minecraft is an increasingly popular digital toy where users mine blocks
of material to craft and create different tools and building structures
in their vast unlimited environment. A large appeal to Minecraft is its
Free Play mode, where users are free to build whatever they like with
unlimited resources and unlimited space. A large appeal to Minecraft
is the unlimited space in the virtual world, so there is no limit financially and physically to how big are these creations can be. Users pay a
flat fee for unlimited virtual space, which is very unlike the normal toy
market, where bigger toys cost more money and take up more space.
Minecraft has multi user capabilities, which allows students to chat and
build simultaneously, facilitate collaborative construction of knowledge.
Such multi-user capabilities allowed teachers to build educational
experiences that incorporate critical thinking, group problem solving,
creativity and conflict resolution skills. Beyond the confines of the virtual world, social learning activity has evolved in response to the game
itself - within the communities that have formed around it, the plethora
of instructional websites and the sharing of build resources (Fanning,
Mir, 2014).
The use of Minecraft as an educational tool brings to mind Vygotsky’s
zone of proximal development, where users are established in the
shared space in a shared reality and abide by the same rules to cover
the same challenges. A big difference though, is that in Minecraft the
shared environment is not imaginary, but entirely virtual and up to
the program and facilitator to develop that space. This established
shared space does help with facilitating collaboration, exploration
and standardizing the experiences that all players receive in the virtual
world. (Fanning, Mir, 2014).
Sim City (1989) allows
players to build a city, and
watch how the program
changes it over time.
Minecraft (2010) creates
an open world where
players can mine
elements from the
environment to build new
tools, buildings, and food.
littleBits (2011) are
modular electronics that
make it easy for players to
design their own circuits.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
While digital toys like Pinball Construction Set, SimCity, Spore, and
Minecraft exist solely in the digital realm, there are also construction
toys that integrate physical and digital parts, such as LEGO Mindstorm
and LittleBits. Mindstorm sets contain a ‘smartbrick,’ which is a 32 bit
minicomputer and motor that computes information from a controller or sensor and performs actions based on certain feedback. The
programming language reflects the concept of a physical LEGO brick,
in that blocks of code can be attached to each other to build a more
complex digital program, which is carried out by the Mindstorm robot
(figure 6). LEGO Mindstorm attracted a strong following in older LEGO
fans, most notably known as the AFOL, or Adult Fans Of LEGO. AFOLs
became a tight knit community through their sharing of ideas and
creations on LEGO web-based forums and chatrooms. These AFOLs
were important in helping LEGO reset their priorities and principles
in the late 1990’s, by sharing with company directors what they loved
about LEGO and what they expect to see LEGO do for them as loyal
customers (Robertson, Breen, 2013). This is a prime example of how a
strong relationship with the customer can decide a product’s success.
The internet is a powerful tool in maintaining that bond (Lauwaert,
As these toys shifted into the digital realm, the internet provided
avenues for users to become more vocal in the product development process, as well as more social in the networks of play. The
internet provided an incredible platform that fundamentally changed
the relationship between makers and consumers of construction
toys, bringing users into the same product development cycle as the
creators. The importance of the power of many grew exponentially
to the point where the periphery of consumers could not be ignored.
Developers became increasingly aware of passionate and vocal fan
groups online, sharing ideas, and creating their own modifications to
the product. The increased socialization allowed for more opportunities for collaborations in both the physical and digital space (Lauwaert,
Open Source and Accessible
The idea of open source is having an open dialogue where anyone
can contribute to the development of a product, through appropriating source material and adapting it to unique interests. The original
developers have to sacrifice autonomy over the project and have faith
that passionate users can generate innovative developments to further
interest within the periphery of users (Lauwaert, 2013).
Extending beyond the realm of play and toys, open-source technology
and strong networks of passionate users helped to bring about a new
hobbyist revolution in the form of the Maker Movement. Within the
Maker Movement, passionate crafters, engineers, and artists convene
in a shared workshop, where they learn how to use tools, share ideas,
offer feedback, and socialize with fellow makers. Many of the core
principles of the Maker Movement are very similar to the values held
by construction toy developers and constructivist thinkers, such as
the importance of making, sharing what was made, learning through
making, playing and discovering, and embracing change (Hatch, 2014).
Creating a shared space where users were given the freedom and
power to shape their immediate environment is a fundamental principle of both Makerspaces and construction toys. Although Makerspaces
are guided by principles of play and socialization, they do not necessarily involve the use of toys in the creative process. Open exploration
may be used in the creative process, but makers usually have specific projects they want to accomplish with the help of a Makerspace
(Hatch, 2014). I would argue that a Makerspace is an evolved form of
a construction play space, where the creativity and imagination developed in the latter contribute to more effective practices and projects in
the former.
A maker space brings
together a diverse group
of people, tools, and
projects. Accessibility,
diversity, and passion
make it a creative space.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
Traditional product development models were disrupted and inverted
by the use of the internet by product consumers. The users were no
longer relegated to merely playing with the toys, but were elevated to
the level of actual toy developer. The power of many minds building
and sharing far outmuscled the minds of the creators, and the internet
became a powerful tool in garnering user feedback and fostering an
open source environment of user generated content in the play cycle
as well as the product development cycle (Lauwaert, 2009). Many
programs were offered richer experiences through open-source development and modifications. By having their feedback not only heard
but also used in future releases validated the fans’ time and energy
spent on those programs. The idea of sharing and socializing through
the web revolutionized the way players interacted with these toys. Not
only were they player/consumers, but also designers/engineers in their
own right (Lauwaert, 2009). Through the internet, every user has the
platform to have their voice heard and their creations shared.
The way in which creators interacted with users also changed through
the internet. Developers used data mining to gather large amounts
of information about user sentiment and how the toy is actually being
used. The periphery of users became increasingly important to developers as they were being increasingly vocal about their feelings on the
products they used. What once took months and years to develop a
new toy through research, development, testing and distribution now
takes days and weeks for a digital program. Finding feedback is as
simple as logging onto a forum, development and testing is accomplished through thousands of users contributing modifications and
patches, and distribution is limited only by the strength of an internet
connection (Robertson, Breen, 2013).
Even though play is generally thought of as a social activity, construction toys were known to isolate users in their own houses. Because the
small pieces could get damaged and dirty outside, construction toys
became primarily indoor toys.
When the outdoors were deemed too dangerous for children’s play,
indoor toys became a popular alternative to capture a child’s attention.
Children playing video games before the internet also suffered from
this isolation. However, socialization had always been a core value of
encouraging play in early childhood development. The socializing
associated with digital construction toys as seen through Minecraft
signals a resurgence positive collaboration in a digital space. Players
are able to communicate and build simultaneously in a shared space,
even if the players themselves are miles away.
Technology adds new layers of building when it comes to construction
toys, by adding new dimensions to play with, as well as facilitating the
imagination of complex concepts. Regardless of the technology, all
construction toys are used as tools to exercise a user’s creativity, facilitate in exploring their interests, and sharing their discoveries. Presently,
there is a spectrum of physical and digital construction toys on the
market, catering to a variety of interests, from engineering robots to
designing abstract sculptures. This goes to show the general public still
believes developing creativity is of utmost importance no matter what
age the user is.
There are many ways
digital and physical
toys can coexist, and be
used as tools to develop
creative confidence in
players of all ages.
Chapter 7 - Appendix
This timeline depicts
important developments
and notable figures in the
history of construction
toys. The three sections
of this paper are shown
as three divisions in the
Chapter 7 - Appendix
Garrelts, Nate, Colin Fanning, and Rebecca Mir. “Teaching Tools.”
Understanding Minecraft: Essays on Play, Community and Possibilities.
2014. 38-56. Print.
A collection of essays on Minecraft, ranging from its spectatorship on YouTube
to its use in teaching college courses. A particular chapter titled “Teaching Tools”
relates Minecraft to older construction toys from the past century, aligning the
game more as an exploratory toy, than a goal oriented game.
Hatch, Mark. The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in
the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers. 2014. Print.
This book details the history of the modern Maker Movement, as well as discussing
some key tenets of innovation and crafting in a hobbyist environment. It lends
some insight to how elements of play and open ended prototyping leech into
more adult communities, as the movement gains a larger following.
Hoorn, Judith Lieberman. Play at the Center of the Curriculum. 6th ed.
New York: Merrill ;, 2015. Print.
A manual for teachers and educators, explaining different kinds of play, and how
they should integrate these types into curricula to develop mentally, emotionally,
and physically sound children. Important chapter about Vygotsky and Piaget’s
philosophies about Constructivism and play centered development.
Lauwaert, Maaike. The Place of Play Toys and Digital Cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2009. Print.
Looks at the cultural and sociological influence of certain toys, from LEGO to video
games. Notable excerpts on Will Wright, developer of the Sims, and the shift of
user participation in LEGO sets.
Ogata, Amy Fumiko. Designing the Creative Child Playthings and
Places in Midcentury America. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2013. Print.
This book details the history of mid-century american toys, and the cultural
influences that shaped the toy market. Focuses on the toy market aimed at
developing creative children, and the evolution of the educational toy into a
creative one.
Ozer, Ozgur. “The Fountain Magazine - Issue - CONSTRUCTIVISM in
Piaget and Vygotsky.” The Fountain Magazine - Issue - CONSTRUCTIVISM in Piaget and Vygotsky. 1 Oct. 2004. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://>.
A short explanation of Vygotsky and Piaget’s theory of Constructivism.
“Pinball Construction Set (Game).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.
Wiki Article about one of the first popular construction set video games. Notable
inventor Bill Budge.
Robertson, David C., and Bill Breen. Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote
the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. 1st ed.
2013. Print.
History of LEGO and the inner working of its business plans, from inception to
present day. Notes its core values and how they held up or changed according to
the market.
Vale, Brenda, and Robert Vale. Architecture on the Carpet: The Curious
Tale of Construction Toys and the Genesis of Modern Buildings. 2013.
This book draws similarities between architecture and the construction toys that
may have inspired and influenced the designs. Useful for making connections for
how our childhood fascinations may shape our adult occupations.
“Spore, Birth of a Game.” TED: Will Wright. 1 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Dec.
2015. <
TED talk by Will Wright, where he discusses his game Spore and his reasons for
designing digital construction toys.
Chapter 8 - Bibliography
Besser, Matt, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, Joe Wengert, and David
Kantrowitz. The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation
Manual. , 2013. Print.
This book is a roadmap to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade style of comedy improv.
It provides a good breakdown of how good comedy can be made on the fly with
universally important skills such as listening, observing, being honest, being a
team player. I explore certain improv exercises and theories in this book, using
them for inspiration for projects. I am interested in how this book can help in
making the creative/design process more efficient, enjoyable, and rewarding.
Glenn, Joshua, and Elizabeth F. Larsen. Unbored Games: Serious Fun
for Everyone. , 2014. Print.
A fun collection of games that require little to no extra materials in order to have
fun. Many games need objects that are already found around the house, and
provide variations on the rules for extra challenges or for inclusivity. I am reading
this book for inspiration on resourceful ways to engage groups of people to play.
Games are divided into different categories, such as indoor, outdoor, mental,
sports, etc.
Halpern, Charna, Del Close, and Kim Johnson. Truth in Comedy: The
Manual of Improvisation. Colorado Springs, Colo: Meriwether Pub,
1994. Print.
This book is mostly based on the Harold, which is a classic format for performing
longform (story-based) improv. The Harold specializes in using callbacks, and
subverting patterns to make comedy without specifically making “jokes.” I love
how the 3-scene structure creates a more in-depth narrative that allows the players
to explore and remix characters, relationships, and bricks (ideas). The terminology
of “bricks,” “scaffolding,” and “structure” relate back to building and Constructionist philosophies for learning and playing.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1996. Print.
Creativity is an elusive subject; it is hard to measure and hard to reproduce. Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi interviewed more than ninety creative people about their creative
process and how their thoughts on creativity. He details commonalities in how
certain conditions and mindsets are conducive to producing creative discoveries.
More than the people, their peers and the system in which they work have to be
receptive to new thoughts.
Leski, Kyna, and John Maeda. The Storm of Creativity. , 2016. Print.
This book breaks down the parts of the creative process that all creative people
navigate when they engage in critical thinking and making, from framing a
problem to producing an innovative solution. It is interesting that part of creativity is leaving things up to chance, and allowing zoning out and distractions to
influence new ideas. Traditional strategies for problem solving such as linear
thinking and following preconceptions make way for unlearning and lateral
Bogost, Ian. Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom,
and the Secret of Games. , 2016. Print.
Game Designer Ian Bogost discusses how our culture thinks about fun, play, and
games. He breaks down misconceptions about what fun is, and why having fun all
the time is not necessarily a good thing. He stresses the importance of boredom,
as a backdrop that fun and engagement naturally springs from. He argues that
when we are constantly being entertained, boredom becomes a dead-end instead
of an opportunity for making our own play.
Brown, Stuart L, and Christopher C. Vaughan. Play: How It Shapes the
Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York:
Avery, 2009. Print.
Dr. Stuart Brown writes about the behavioral and psychological affects of play in
biological and social development. He argues that play is necessary for developing
social and cognitive skills humans and animals need to survive. Play is the brain’s
way of keeping itself flexible. Playing creates new neural pathways between different parts of the brain, making it more adaptable to new situations. He discusses
various types of play, like rough and tumble play and role playing, along with
different play personalities, from the jokester to the director.
Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters. , 2014. Print.
Miguel Sicart writes about how play is created in an ecostystem of people, objects,
spaces, and technology. Sicart focuses on emerging technologies shifting the
function of play in our lives. He writes that computers are primed for play, in that
we appropriate the hardware and software for our own experimentation and
expression. He makes a distinction between ‘play’ and ‘playfulness;’ the former is
an act of engagement, the latter as an attitude attached to non-play activities.
That’s All Folks!
What are you still doing here? Go Home!
k Bye.
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