Category Archives: design fiction

Hacking Monopoly

Ishan Markandeya came over to Sydney and we co-designed a special Futurescouts session for the course I teach for a group of MBAe Business Students at UTS. We flipped Monopoly and asked our students to hack the game further, to prototype resilient business for a time of transition, to experience the commons, to create economic fictions.

Group size: 3 – 6 pax
Playtime: 1-4h

What:
We hacked Monopoly to offer a collaborative game that educates about commons-based business modelling.

How:
The game is played like monopoly, but we changed the properties to ones that are systemically related to the intersection of economics and politics. The community chest contains cards on resiliency and chance cards pose challenges to growth and profit maximisation. There are five currencies, for example, reputation, time, and natural resources. The game is designed to be hacked further by its players, so that new rules  emerge by way of storytelling. The game win is when all properties belong to the commons and the players begin regenerating spaceship earth.

The goal of Polypoly is not to bankrupt your fellow players, but rather to engage in a non-zero sum game to create “steady-state” economic systems. To win Polypoly is to create the highest quality of life for all life through abundance.

That’s not to say you’ll reach it, though – it all depends on players choices.

The conversations and stories that emerge are how we create a healthy dialog about values, economic ideals, and a place for participants to engage in vibrant discussion about 21st century economics, governance and value.

Compete and cooperate to buy properties of an economy. Commoner, Capitalist, Communist, Socialist? There’s ways to play them all. You might be surprised at your own decisions.

Balance multiple currencies for various social and economic advantages. Cash, Time, Reputation, Influence, and Natural Resources all have buying power! How will you manage your resources?

For more information on the game visit polypody.us.
This prototype is an ongoing collaboration with FutureScouts.

Level Up – Resilience and Empathy Card Game

In Bavaria, in not so ancient times, 30 researchers from different faculties at 18 universities got together to develop their field of study through a lens of “resilience”. They worked for a year and came together in groups of 2 or 3 to then design games based on their research. That means, when playing this game, players will learn about resilience and will have to tap their empathy, not to win or gain points but to increase the spirit and joy around the table. 

2016-09-23-09-58-19Group size: 5 – 8 pax
Playtime: 10 mins – 1h

What:
We designed this storytelling card game to aid groups in companies or cooperatives to tap their empathy with each other and solve resiliency problems of their collective behaviours or projects.

How:
The game starts with a shared problem or design question. Then, prompted by either danger or solution cards (based on resilience factors found by the academics), each player takes a turn to tell a part of an emergent story relating to the key word they drew. The prompt will be put on the table, so that all cards lie open in the end. Bit by bit, players draw cards and decide whether they can be matched (“solve a danger”). In rounds, players takes a new card per turn and continues the story, using the keyword they drew and their imagination. The story is built successively around the table, always relating to the project or problem at hand. This way, the group has a conversation that might solve some of the open questions of their problem in a playful way.
To juice up the game, there is a buzzer that can be hit when someone guesses what character trait (empathy) another player projects.
The round ends when all cards are matched on the table. The next round is based on a new problem or design question that relates to the larger topic. The game ends when players decide they have played long enough. 🙂

Here is a play manual pdf: Manual_Level Up_Resilience Empathy Card Game_Full Set

LORE :: Androgyny

Over the course of a few years, I’ll tie different strands that I research together. I use LORE as a term for this package of research; LORE in the sense of “folklore” but also as “body of traditions” or (in)visible cultural norms we abide by. First, because everything I do places itself in storytelling. Also, because I live and die for a good faerytale. And lastly, because I was invited by an indigenous elder to learn with her. In Wirradjirri, the indigenous Australian Dreaming is referred to as LAW/LORE, which opened up a whole new way of thinking about culture and ethics as a way to “law”. The different strands that I collect under LORE are emerging as I evolve. The first theme that came to me was Androgyny, or generally everything that’s in-between.

To get my ethnography going I started a facebook group to start a conversation about the “in between” across many domains: sex (on being both masc/fem as male/female), politics (on binaries and unity), creativity (on being ambidextrous), mind (on reasoning and sensing), culture (on science and art), philosophy (on spirituality and logic). It’s about integration and remix and what it means when it gets jumbled in a body; how it (re)presents itself in the world; and about our agency. Something important is shifting globally and here’s a forum to move beyond binaries.

Soon after I had about 300 group members, I invited those based in Sydney to a local workshop, a playground to explore and make-do. We were about 20, meeting for 3h at Join the Dots, a workshop space in Marrickville. We had queers, cis, mums, dads, singles, Europeans, Australians, freelancers, artists, consultants, yoga teachers, designers, employees, entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, academics, artists, oh dear so many, all between the age of 5 to 50.

The main questions we asked when designing this playground were:
– How can we soften current labels around gender, queerness or heteronormativity?
– How can we soften ubiquitous divisive/competitive language (i.e in Business and Science) to a more androgynous/integrative one?
– How can we play in between binaries and make people comfortable with that fuzziness?

We started with a little identity change. We gave each participant a small tag. On the one side they first estimated their percentage of feminine and masculine traits. For example,  today I feel 70% feminine and 30% masculine in a female body. Then, we turned the tag around and wrote on the other side. This time, we would choose the opposite or a variation that is very alien to me. For example, I would now have a male body and feel 90% and 10% feminine. The idea was to tap into empathy. Once we had our characters, we all pledged to stay in character throughout the workshop. When we did this, Baran played the hang for us. The atmosphere was so joyful, chilled and energised. Loved it. 

Before the workshop we had asked everyone to bring three objects, ne that is masculine, one feminine and one neutral. We laid out a large butcher paper and everyone traced their object and took it away again. Just looking at the outlines, the group walked around and wrote adjectives next to the traces. This way, we collected impressions about shapes and outlines that hint on masculine and feminine, but we also gathered counterintuitive statements. Overall, we figured that objects were divided into fem, neutral or masc according to their function and/or shape. Very interesting was the 5-year-old, who couldn’t identify specific female objects, everything was male or neutral. Overall, we saw that everyone started from a different idea of what Androgyny is.

To go into the next exercise we asked everyone to choose an object and form groups around a certain object. The task was to create a story that incorporates the object and the gender swapped characters we were playing. For the next hour, groups drew story boards, build small objects and wrote various versions of character development. All this work was done on butchers paper.

To share their ideas, each group improvised a 5-minute performance with everyone on stage performing their character in drag. Giving everyone a counterintuitive role, our idea was to help people get into other people’s shoes. But what happened instead was that all our stories poised  at the edge of stereotyping. It was remarkable to see how we all exposed ourselves freely to how little we actually knew about what it really felt like for others. 

While listening to the stories, the audience would make notes on “Triggers and Thresholds”. Whenever they were triggered emotionally by something pleasing they would write down one word. And whenever they felt a reaction to a threshold, or a liminal space, that is threatening to them, they wrote down a keyword that popped up in that moment. All these keyword were noted on post-its.

On the wall we had created a matrix, on which we collected these statements to get an overview about feminine  and masculine gender ideas in the room. After each performance the whole group would run at the wall and place their triggers and thresholds along a horizontal line that ran from feminine to masculine, and a vertical line that ran from trigger to threshold. 

With such a short timeframe there was no more time to drill deeper into areas, such as the “in between”, transgender, orgasms, sexuality, politics, business, language, emancipation of gender, evolution, etc. We left knowing that there was great interest in a series of playgrounds around the topic.
More photos and details are here.

Group size:
Expected size of the group is 15 to 35.

Materials:
Index Cards (6 x 9)
Post-it Notes
Butcher Paper
Masking Tape
Markers (3 different colours)

Room setup
3 tables
2 benches
couches
chairs
floor space and cushions
three walls, one used for projection

Superhero Card Game

Play this game with a group as an icebreaker or as an energizer to make people talk casually and intimately to learn something about themselves and their peers.

GSuperpower card pic by student_croproup size: minimum 10 pax
Playtime: 5 Min intro, played across breaks, 10 min framing, ideally leads into a self-inquiry game (ask us)

What:
The game objective is to give insight into our life journey and empower confidence in our personal capacity and creativity. Learn to be vulnerable and experience others’ openness.

How:
Hand out  one card pp during a break and ask people to swap until they have their favourite. Back in the group ask who is ultimately happy with their card. Usually, a few are, but most are not. It’s an analogy to life. You cultivate talents and skills, but more often than not lose them to market demands. By retrieving our superpowers we can adjust our path as we go, contributing our best to the world.

Played at: University of Technology Sydney, SW/TCH Festival Sydney, re:publica Berlin, This is Not Art Newcastle, Parsons New School of Design NYC, OUI Share Paris

This is Not Art

In October we were inScreenshot 2015-10-25 08.40.40vited to Newcastle to run a two-part game called Be.Poietic.Punks. Our plan was to explore intuitive and associative ways of collaboration. Claire Marshall and I weren’t sure if we could make it to Newcastle that day, so we asked the incredible Maree Lowes if she’d be interested running the show on the day.

Maree had never heard anything about the game and, man, she’s the coolest; just dived in and excelled! To prepare, she ran a game test with friends and revelled in collective joy.

When the actual game day came, she facilitated the game smoothly. I did make it to Newcastle just in time to play and be a participant. It was glorious. The group sparked brightly. Thinking, building, crafting, drawing. The design question was: 2015-10-04 14.04.18“How can we create a city without cars?”

The group was divided into 3 groups: the Future, the storytellers and the designers. Each of the groups worked by themselves but would feed their ideas into the other groups at certain stages throughout the game. So the Future determined that due to rising sea levels the city’s streets will be permanently under water. The designers took on the challenge and came up with a system consisting of floating community hubs, hydroponics, and peddle powered hover crafts. The storytellers developed a wonderful narrative arc that played out across time: There was a scientist in the past – Brett Better -, who has developed the beginnings of a (hovercraft) technology that would run on solar power. He never got it to work, though and was, unfortunately, assassinated by the government, because the technology threatened the wealth of corporations. When the flood hit, the people didn’t know how to organise themselves, because they had no transport and no communication technology. Then – the long lost daughter of our hero Brett Better – Lore Better – appears. She had never really fitted in with the community before, being more interested in drumming and tinkering. But she was pissed off that there was no more transport to get her drums to places, so she teamed up and shared her wisdom. 2015-10-05 21.47.35Turned out that she had completed her father’s invention and they instantly started building it. Also, she had huge influence on how the community started communicating, because she knew the art of jamming. As a musician she knew how to feel others, pick up on cues and respond in a harmonious way. So, while everything seemed to be dire, the people started having a fabulous time, bringing themselves into play.

For day two, we had planned a lose walk-in experience, where we displayed the story and some keywords from day one and gave people post-it notes to draw their associations and place them randomly on a “red carpet”. The whole would assemble as a non-linear visual narrative. A bit like an exquisite corpse meets affinity mapping.

My favourite part was the music. We had asked three musicians to jam to whatever input they’d get from the participants. How’s that for serendipity!? Having an actual jam on day 2 was planned long before drummer Lore Better appeared in the story … !! …

2015-10-04 14.18.33Back in the room, every now and then someone would get up and show the band a drawing. There was hardly any speaking for about 1.5h. All that happened was drawing, placing, showing, jamming, reordering, contemplating. The musicians influenced the mood in the room – and the nature of the drawings – with their pace and rhythm. And the creative expression of the drawings they played altered their rhythm and pace. They had never jammed together and their play was spirited! We danced and I felt many people bonded, stayed longer, and just enjoyed the serene and playful atmosphere everyone created.

So what…
Our non-linear story didn’t really go anywhere apart from us enjoying the various interpretations of it. And our solution will not be developed or implemented by any of us. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that by creating something together we teach each other what we really care about. And that we are the ones that can and should be the change we want to see. And we tested what happens when we create intuitively and associatively. I believe there is a lot of important knowledge in our bodies that we forget to access, because we put so much emphasis on our minds. So we’re playing with empathetic ways of learning and working together.

Screenshot 2015-10-25 08.44.11Lastly, a word on the festival where all this took place: Critical Animals is a creative research symposium held annually as a part of This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle, Australia. It’s a forum for students, researchers, writers, artists, thinkers and curious individuals who are critically engaged with creative and experimental art practices. It’s an opportunity to present papers and ongoing research, as well as to challenge creative practices and work collaboratively with others in the field.

PhD Creativity Unbound

TITLE
Creativity Unbound – An Analysis of Open Collaboration between Experience Design and Poietic Practice

ABSTRACT
This thesis concerns social engagement at the intersection of open design and media technology. The study reflects on the practice of a group of creative entrepreneurs, who seek new methods and contexts for collaboration both online and offline. My case is an international collective called Reboot. They co-produce games, narratives, and workshops that aim at engaging others to become activists for social innovation through experiential learning and applied creativity. I investigate what drives them, what they desire, how they learn, and how they co-create. The core problem is: how does a focus on innovating process shape the way individuals approach work and life? Ethnography forms the central research method. It tracks the exchange and performance values expressed by members of the Reboot collective. I use an experimental enactive research design, which enriches current academic practices in media and design ethnography.

As a theoretical framework, I draw on cultural topology. More specifically, I focus on three characteristics of topology – contiguity, continuity, and poiesis. Headed by these three pillars, my chapters include theories on performativity, affect, and free labour. My data substantiates the workings of these three topological characteristics individually and across chapters. Firstly, in terms of contiguity, I investigate performativity as a theoretical possibility within a topological framework. Reboot offers physical spaces for collaborators to connect. Here, I argue, the group facilitates productive contiguity. I scrutinise their experience of interaction enabled by design in order to make an assessment about performative agency. Secondly, with respect to continuity, I examine affect as a driver of relationships and activity. Reboot facilitates remote collaboration through digital online technology. I show that affective interaction helps to re-establish connection and build relationships to foster further engagement, and that these practices corroborate continuity. Lastly, regarding poiesis, I discuss the notion of free labour against the backdrop of commons-based peer production. I show that collaborators frame their free labour in an emancipatory fashion that reflects high hopes for virtuous behaviour among collaborators and ignores worries of exploitation. I identify this practice as poiesis.

This matters, because these collaborative producers are found to act upon their hopes that they can co-create long term systemic change in society; they experiment with new tools to do so; and they spread their techniques by engaging others. This thesis thus locates itself amongst – and adds insights to – current debates on human passion that drives socio-technical innovation.

CONTENT

1. INTRODUCTION
1.1. A QUESTION OF DEVIANCE AND PASSION?
1.2. CASE OVERVIEW
1.3. APPROACH
1.4. CHAPTER OUTLINES

2. METHODOLOGY: EMERGENT ENACTIVE RESEARCH
2.1. INTRODUCTION
2.1.1. GAINING ACCESS
2.1.2. FROM STUDYING PRACTICE TO STUDYING DESIGN PRACTICE
2.2. ENACTIVE MULTI-SITED RESEARCH
2.2.1. MEETING THE TEAM ONLINE AND IN PERSON – WHAT CHANGED
2.2.2. IN(TER)VENTION AS DATA: LEARN DO SHARE BOOKSPRINTS
2.2.3. DESIGN AS DATA: WISH FOR THE FUTURE OPEN DESIGN GAME
2.2.4. USAGE OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS
2.3. EMERGENT RESEARCH FROM FIELD TO THESIS
2.4. TOPOLOGY: CONNECTING DATA, RESEARCH, AND OUTCOME

3. CONTIGUITY: PERFORMATIVITY IN NARRATIVE CO-DESIGN
3.1. INTRODUCTION
3.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
3.2.1. PERFORMANCE AND PERFORMATIVITY
3.2.2. NARRATIVE DESIGN AS PERFORMATIVE AGENT
3.3. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
3.3.1. IMPERFECTION: INCOMPLETE BY DESIGN
3.3.2. INTERVENTION: HACKING AS METHOD
3.3.3. APPROPRIATION: CONTIGUITY AS CATALYST
3.4. DISPERSED PERFORMATIVITY: WHAT DRIVES TOPOLOGICAL CULTURE?
3.5. CONCLUSION

4. CONTINUITY: AFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT
4.1. INTRODUCTION
4.2. METHOD: AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHIC ENACTIVE RESEARCH
4.3. THEORETICAL PLACEMENT
4.3.1. AFFECT AND EMOTIONS
4.3.2. REASONED AND EMOTIONAL VALUES
4.4. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
4.4.1. PRINCIPLE 1 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: APPRECIATION
4.4.2. PRINCIPLE 2 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: PASSION
4.4.3. PRINCIPLE 3 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: PROMISE
4.5. DEEP, FLEETING, AND ALLURING AFFECT
4.6. CONCLUSION

5. POIESIS: FREE LABOUR AS EMANCIPATORY ACTUALISATION
5.1. INTRODUCTION
5.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
5.2.1. CAPITALISM CRITIQUE
5.2.2. COMMONS-BASED PEER PRODUCTION
5.2.3. CONSIDERING POIESIS
5.3. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
5.3.1. FREE LABOUR AS ENTREPRENEURIAL AGENCY
5.3.2. FREE LABOUR AS ALTRUISM
5.3.3. FREE LABOUR TO BUILD SOMETHING BIGGER
5.3.4. FREE LABOUR AS ENTREPRENEURIAL TRAINING
5.4. A POIETIC NON-LABOUR SYSTEM?
5.4.1. BELONGING TO SOMETHING LARGER THAN YOURSELF – REVOLUTION
5.4.2. KINDNESS AND ALTRUISM – SELF-EXPLOITATION
5.4.3. GIVING LEARNING EXPERIENCES – VIRTUE
5.4.4. EMANCIPATORY AGENCY – ENTREPRENEURSHIP
5.5. THE DO GOODERS
5.5.1. GAINS
5.5.2. LOSSES
5.5.3. TOPOLOGICAL ACTIVATION
5.6. CONCLUSION

6. CONCLUSION
7. BIBLIOGRAPHY

#Monsterproud
Download a copy here
And see a rawer wilder transdisciplinary version here.

The Tech Pentagram

This workshop explores and excavates the landscape of where technological innovation meets established industries such as media, manufacturing, energy and health. It’s a living, thinking event that uses game mechanics and future scenario design to unleash the imagination of its participants while teaching how to integrate concepts in relation to the systems they span.

2015-09-14 12.17.48Group size: 40 – 200 pax
Playtime: 1h

What:
Combined with a futurist talk by Future Crunch, this workshop is designed to remix the use of different technologies. It gives participants a visceral experience of just how quickly small teams of people can come up with world-changing ideas.

How:
We begin by giving a broad overview of the technological intersections and their potential impacts on a specific sector. Then the true fun and creativity starts! Up to 200 people from mixed sectors prototype some potential agents for change. In groups of 2 we dive into a technology of your choice. In groups of 4 we prioritise relevance of different aspects you discussed. In groups of 8 we begin integrating different technologies in order to come up with radical new possibilities. Throughout the workshop – like by magic – you will create a geometric shape containing the peaks of your thinking. Expect spontaneity, bouncing messengers, human knots, inspiration, and mind expanding ideas.

how to…

divider

…engage participants? There are many ways and all throughout 2012 our team had a strong focus on developing story-led design challenges. We developed several models and I wrote a basic manual for two of them.

How to run a StorySprint:
Here’s an article that describes the session.

Download manual [1.1 MB, pdf]
Download templates [3.3 MB, pdf]
Download creative commons tag [0.6 MB, pdf]

Manual for an Open Design Challenge:
1. Find a wish for the future and us it as a design question or theme for the story.
2. Build 3 groups (storytellers, prototypers (designers), and 100% committee)
3. Use the wheels and the cards to guide you through the session. Assume the wheel to be a clock. (see materials)
4. Use the prototype (solution) to trigger the turning point in your story
5. Write down your story including an explanation of the solution, add photos and sent it to collaborate@learndoshare.net.

Download walkthrough
 [1MB, pdf]
Download materials [14 MB, pdf]
Download creative commons tag [0.6 MB, pdf]

to design a purposeful story by many

divider

I recently thought about our recent experiments with open design and story as Purposeful Storytelling. Stories have long been used for the purpose to inform, sell or persuade, but we’re onto something that involves story to ignite action and THEN do all of the above. I mean using storytelling to solve problems, to create a fun experiential learning environment and use it as a tool to covey a complex solution.

Lance Weiler, Jorgen van der Sloot and I played a bit with designs and prototyping sessions, one of which I was invited to run at U.Lab’s Groundbreaker series. Our 60-minute Open Design Challenge (ODC) is a little bit different each time since we’re refining the process with each session. But every time we use storytelling, game mechanics and collaboration to design a solution around a Wish for The Future.

The ODC has three purposes:
1. participants experience what agility & collaboration mean in today’s culture industry
2. we R&D a system to solve problems using collaboration, game mechanics and story
3. we test and refine storytelling as a way to transfer knowledge, create empathy and call to action

Here’s a rundown of what we did.
Start absurd. First, the entire group had 4 minutes to generate 100 wishes around the premise to make the world work for 100% of humanity. Yep. We broke the group down into eight categories (urbanization, economy, education, humanity, culture, health, sustainability, government) to have each group focus on one area. A couple of minute later, we read out the wishes and decided the best wish collectively by cheering. Then – in the same manner – we turned the wish into a design question.

“Attempting the impossible widens the mind. Lateral thinking happens when you can’t possibly imagine an immediate answer to a question.”

Then we broke out into three groups: one would build a prototype that helps solving the design question; the storytellers craft a hero’s journey; the third group were the scribes. Their task was to communicate between the groups and to converge the outcomes on a storyboard. We gave every group a simple template that explained the basics of storytelling, design thinking and scribing.

“It was paramount that everyone had a task in the process to give a sense of agency and accountability.”

 53 minutes left. Imagine everything happening at the same time: Some scribes started planning their storyboard while others chose a target audience aka stakeholders, which we communicated to the two other groups. Within the first 5 minutes the scribes received the main characters from the storytelling group, which they passed on to the prototypers after they had given their first pitch to the scribes (within first 10 minutes).

Generally, nobody was allowed to talk without creating something with their hands at the same time. We provided play-doh, pens, butcher paper, paddlepops and other props. We like doing that because tactile activity enhances creativity by igniting both sides of the brain.

“Mayhem and confusion. The ODC leaves participants partly in the unknown to simulate how reality, too, only unfolds gradually. Chaordic time pressure requires us to adapt to change flexibly and creatively.”

The idea was that prototyping and storytelling group couldn’t communicate directly, only through the scribes aka social media. This way the scribes acted as ‘chinese whisperers’, so information between storytellers and prototypers would be filtered and reinterpreted – like in a collaboration between various teams in a company or a creative collective.

To communicate between groups, we had storytellers and prototypers pitching to the scribes. This was combined with a narrative game, in which the answer could only be ‘yes, no or maybe’. This had the purpose that content had to be anticipated and interpreted: empathy in practice. We made sure that information didn’t always flow clearly in order to imitate real life situations. At certain points we appointed narrators to help clarifying crucial aspects, in case the scribes would get stuck.

“One group ensures the flow of information between scattered teams. They are the connective tissue, the keeper of all knowledge, making sure that all elements come together in the end.”

The 2nd pitch later on would allow the scribes to ask questions but no answers were allowed. This had the effect that the prototypers went back and refined their work according to what was still too complex for an audience to grasp.

After 30 minutes we disrupted the flow asking the groups to include sensor technology, an Arduino or Raspberry Pi into their prototype. After ten more minutes the scribes got another brief to tweak and bend story and prototype into one coherent storyboard.

“The prototype is embedded as the significant object of the story. It’s the narrative spark that marries a solution to a strategy.”

Final pitches: We had the scribes tell how they saw the story play out using what they had gotten from the prototyping group. They pitched using their storyboard, which was a scripted wall, like an RSAnimate. The drawings were AMAZING!! After we had heard their story, the storytellers and prototypers explained their approaches and added to the converged version of the story with annotated drawings on the wall. Groundbreaker attracted such a varied bunch of talented people, we had a fantastic outcome.

“We can simulate collective intelligence by ascribing each group one of the three fundamental human brain functions (cf. Peter Kruse): connect deep knowledge (storytellers) and spontaneous creativity (prototypers) by building new unexpected synapses (scribes).”

The session was developed by Ele Jansen (www.learndoshare.net, Sydney), Lance Weiler (www.rebootstories.com, New York) and Jorgen van der Sloot (www.freedomlab.org, Amsterdam). We’re refining the process further to develop a solid rapid prototyping model for experience design but also for kids as a playful approach to collaborate and to learn creative problem solving skills in conjunction with story. Results will be used on two levels: lessons learned about process feed into Ele’s PhD research and into our design for Lance’s Story Design Lab at Columbia University. They will also be published on www.learndoshare.net. The prototypes that are generated throughout each Open Design Challenge will be featured www.wishforthefuture.com for others to pick up on it and develop it further (launch end of October 2012).

the power of detachment

Do we produce better stories together, or alone? Do we actually know of stories that are created solo? Auteur theory has always neglected the fact that every film is made by a creative pool of producers, writers, directors, actors, designers, programmers, camera person… These established routines are challenged by mass collaboration, audience engagement and immersive storytelling.

I wondered. What does it mean to collaborate with a diverse range of people, from all over the globe, who all bring different skills, cultures and sense of accountability to the table?

To find that out, I immersed myself into the production of Robot Heart Stories, an experiment that was facilitated by 5th-graders as well as among 50+ collaborators from eight countries. My case study of it premiered a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to present my results in an interactive session at DocLab in Auckland. The New Zealand transmedia tribe around the Documentary Edge Film Festival had called for a 3-day incubator to train their finest doc-filmmakers. I combined my talk with an interactive storysprint and connected both thematically, first speaking about my research on collaboration and experience design at Robot Heart Stories. For the second part Jordan Bryon helped me running a 60-minute storysprint that involved everyone’s imagination. The goal was to teach transmedia design and to experience firsthand what it means to collaborate with teams that have different horizons, objectives and pragmatics.

Apart from having tons of fun, we tapped into the power of detachment. To exemplify why detachment is so important for a good story, I’ll describe the workshop briefly. It was the third time we ran the session; and apart from prototyping a multichannel storyworld, we experienced how letting go of ownership and control can benefit a story greatly.

Here’s a rundown of what we did
First the entire group had 4 minutes to generate 100 wishes around the premise to make the world work for 100% of humanity. We broke the group down into eight categories (urbanization, economy, education, humanity, cuture, health, sustainability, government) and with quick cheers we decided which one we would go for. Then – in the same manner – we turned that wish into a theme for a transmedia story. Ours was:

Make art not money.

We then broke out into three groups: the prototypers would build a transmedia structure, choosing platforms and channels; the storytellers would choose characters and trope to design a hero’s journey; the third group was a mix between scribes and social media, let’s call them the storyboarders. We gave every group a simple template that explained the basics of storytelling, media channels and scribing.

Imagine everything happening at the same time: Some storyboarders started planning their scribe wall while others choose a target audience, which we communicated to the two other groups. 

Within the first 5 minutes the storyboarders received the main characters from the storytelling group, which they passed on to the prototypers after they had given their first pitch to the storyboarders (within first 10 minutes).

The idea was that prototyping and storytelling group couldn’t communicate directly, only through two narrators in each group, who could talk to the storyboarders only. This way the storyboarders acted as ‘chinese whisperers’, so information between storytellers and prototypers would be filtered and reinterpreted – like in a collaboration between various teams in a transmedia production. Generally, nobody was allowed to talk without creating something with their hands at the same time. We provided play-doh, pens, butcher paper, paddlepops and other props. Tactile activity enhances creativity because it ignites both sides of the brain.

To communicate between groups, we had storytellers and prototypers pitching to the storyboarders. This was combined with a narrative game, in which the answer could only be ‘yes, no or maybe’. This had the purpose that content had to be anticipated and interpreted, empathy in practice. We made sure that information didn’t always flow freely to imitate real life situations. At certain points the narrators could help clarifying crucial points, in case the storyboarders would get stuck. The 2nd pitch later on would allow the storyboarders to ask questions but no answers were allowed. This had the effect that the prototypers went back and refined their work according to what was still too complex for an audience to grasp.After 30 minutes we disrupted the flow asking the groups to include their audience as collaborators. After ten more minutes the storyboarders got another brief and ten minutes later we merged storytellers and prototypers to converge their work. This way we developed two versions of the same story.

Final pitches: We had the storyboarders tell how they saw the story play out on the very platforms they had gotten from the prototyping group. They pitched using their storyboard, which was a scripted wall. After we had heard their story, one of the storytellers and one prototyper explained their converged version of the story.

The power of detachment
It was electrifying to see the gentle power of collaboration. The storyboarders had merged story and transmedia platforms coherently, dropping some elements, and tweaking others (given they missed out on using some of the transmedia channels proposed). They had no problem to do so, because they weren’t emotionally attached to any of the ideas. This was completely different when storytellers and prototypers came together and tried to merge their work. They were invested in their personal ideas and seemed to struggle to slaughter their darlings. I thought that outcome was a really powerful takeaway.

Thanks to all the participants for all their enthusiasm. I was blown away by the buzz and ideas we co-created! Transmedia activist Lina Srivastava had so much fun that she will integrate parts of the session at the Lincoln Center Film Society’s Convergence Program in New York. Yaysa!

The session was developed in collaboration with Lance Weiler (www.rebootstories.com, New York) and Jorgen van der Sloot (www.freedomlab.org, Amsterdam). After running several 72-hour sessions, we condensed our method, so that teachers can use it with their students in a 60-minute class (www.robotheartstories.com). We’re refining the process further to develop a solid rapid prototyping model for experience design but also for kids as a playful approach to collaborate and to learn creative problem solving skills in conjunction with story. If you have a wish for a better future, post it at www.wishforthefuture.com. We’ll curate and prototype the best ones.