Monday, July 7

Design is in the Details

Paul Bennett: Design is in the Details
From 2005 TED Talk Conference

I really enjoyed this presentation. Paul Bennett is a creative director for IDEO, a design consultancy. The ideas he presents in this video are nothing short of genius. Bennett covers a menagerie of ideas, and I think many of them pertain to game design. From 5:30 to 7:00, Bennett discusses "looking with your peripheral vision." Cliffy B once said that the games industry is too "insular," that we are too inwardly focused and don't draw ideas enough from other sources.

Both Cliffy and Bennett have good points. Design is like life: the more diverse your interests or experiences, the more dynamic and enriching will be your life and ideas. Paint, build cars, sweep and scull, play games, and each individual experience will be better, for experience will enrich the others. Diversifying yourself lends you multiple perspectives of everything you do. Just like design. If we only play games, only read about them, only design them, then our games will suffer from, we will be drawing ideas from what is a very anemic pool. Bennett asks us to our peripheral vision. And part of using our peripheral vision has to do with taking initiative, seeking out new experiences and learning from them; then we will have a bigger pool of ideas, an array of perspectives that we can use to conceptualize and perceive our designs.

From 7:00 to 8:30, Bennett discusses a single design challenge, which is a two-handed input-device for nurses. Again, what Bennett has to say is directly applicable to game design, mainly, I believe, objective player observation and prototyping. Our ideas may not pan out exactly how we would like them. I know prototyping is nothing new for game development, but there is no harm in stressing the matter. Bennett is saying that we need to objectively and attentively observe our players, and their use of our design systems, before we charge headlong into something that, in the end, may not work as well as we had planned. Even before prototyping, we need to pause in our design process to review what we have done so far, and reassess the value and contribution of each design aspect.

At 9:20, Bennett is discussing how we use the world around us, specifically how, for convenience, we "wrap the tea bag string around the cup handle." Bennett says: "We're sort of using the world around us to create our own design solutions. . . . This is people designing their own experiences, you can draw from this." He continues about how we "co-opt our environment," how we take advantage of the environment itself or objects therein for our personal use and benefit. We want to take advantage of these observations, to use natural human responses to create better game experiences. I'm sorry, I don't have any specific examples. Part of a comfortable gameplay experience is ease, natural understanding of functions. We aren't making virtual reality, not yet. Players are kind of two steps removed from video games, separated by the screen and the controller. We need to work with these steps, so instead of barriers they become tools. Is a person more connected to nails with a hammer or with bare hands?

Another aspect of this topic is player expectations. Players, having lived in the real world, have expectations about how their in-game worlds should function. In a recent interview with GameTrailers, Will Wright discussed Grand Theft Auto IV, specifically the AI: "The behavior of the people is so lame compared to the graphics. You know, thats the weakest link by far. We have these people that look like fairly reasonable humans, but they act like staplers." I actually think we've made admirable leaps in expectations over the past few years, for example, with Oblivion or Mass Effect. Aside from NPC AI, however, simple things like menus are expected to function a certain way. The best way to find out how people expect these to function is to playtest, adjust, and playtest some more.

Part three, and the most important part, of Bennett's presentation is "unthinking situations." Essentially, Bennett talks about designing for your audience, not what you assume your audience to be. To discover who your audience really is, Bennett says, "put yourself in their shoes." He says its good to "re-frame the ordinary," or innovate." Innovation starts with an objective view of the intended design, or, a subjective view, as long as that view is from the eyes of your audience. I think sometimes its easy to forget about the players. Its so easy to think about how we're going to play the game, maybe we even describe well how the game will be played. But if from the get-go we didn't think, in a sort of selfless manner, of the other players, the ones who will be playing the game, then we the design may fail where we were so confident it would succeed. We need to remember that a human is behind the controller. We must take them into account: their emotions, their mind, their reasoning, the dexterity of their fingers. The game was designed well when players think that its so easy to play, it must have been easy to make.

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