Femke Snelting: I think Peter Lunenfeld demonstrated quite clearly that when you want to talk about the history of the web you can’t start off with looking at design portfolios. You have to try and include everything else that’s happening out there. So I won’t make this long because we need time to discuss and hear your thoughts. We have three speakers lined up this afternoon, that in their own way address this idea of how is design for the web distributed? How is it shared between millions of users that work on it day-by-day-by-day, for ten years now.
So we’ll start with Hayo Wagenaar who’s from Amsterdam, he was trained in Utrectht as an interactive designer, since then he has become the art director of the Amsterdam based design company Ijsfontein. Since he discovered interactivity I think he’s been churning out interesting projects mostly for children and, well… Hayo
Hayo Wagenaar: Thank you. The question is, what do we think of amateurs getting involved in web design? It feels like getting stuck on the highway behind a caravan. It is ugly, it slows you down and sometimes it is also funny. Back to the question. Surfing on the web you see the most extraordinary things, not only in design/style but also in content. The question is however: Is our design-quest about improving the web or about something else? For this I like to explain the basis from which we work, at Ijsfontein.
First a very personal view. In 1974, Long before I had seen any computer, my first inspiration was reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Roald Dahl, as my all time favorite children’s book. It inspired me to build my own chocolatefactory in our first project. Another inspiration was the toolbox of my grandfather, giving me the possibility to create my own machines: A log of wood with all kinds of nails, lights and buttons attached to it. And I even sold one to a friend for 10 guilders.
Secondly the view from IJsfontein. IJsfontein foresees a future in which computers will occupy an increasingly central role in daily life, as an extension of human capacity and as a component in various forms of communication. The boundaries between people and computers are becoming blurred. The computer will begin to support, reinforce and replace certain aspects of human thinking, feeling and interaction. In the context of such a future, IJsfontein believes in developing products linked to and supporting these exclusively human processes. IJsfontein considers a computer as a tool to enhance and support all mental processes, rational and emotional.
This vision of the future affects IJsfontein products in two important ways. First, it influences the content of the products themselves. IJsfontein makes products that support or reinforce the development of the child’s mental processes. There is of course plenty of educational software available to teach children spelling or arithmetic. But computers can also play a role in less obvious processes. Interactivity helps children create things via the computer and thereby aids in the development of creativity itself. The enormous connecting power of email and the internet can encourage children to work together and teach them to communicate clearly.
The infinite potential of the virtual world directly engages the imagination. No longer restricted to daily reality, children can build and experience each other’s imaginary worlds.
Bearing all these possibilities in mind, IJsfontein defines three basic activities “playing, learning and discovering” – and builds magical worlds that invite children’s participation. It is the combination of poetry and tools that is guiding the way for IJsfontein. The IJsfontein motto is “function to feeling” and the search for this combination began in 1997 with the making of Masters of the Elements.
Is our design-quest about improving the web or about something else?
I want to show you the timeline that upgraded our workarea from story to tool, virtual to physical, physical to individual and socially.
In 1997 we made “Masters of the Elements” this schoolproject-turned-into-a-worldwide-translated game started out as an excercise in building behaviour into a children’s adventuregame. We took playing in the garden and introduced it into the computer. Playful elements that kids know from their actual surroundings were copied and translated into virtual games. Suddenly kids could flip a pancake, juggle or play with matches. We actually played these real events ourselves over and over again to know how to build them. We took playful ideas out of real life, romanticized it, and translated it into the computer. We played around with things like tactile delusion, I can give you a demonstration later if you just come to me.
In 1999 we made “Typotoons”. “Typotoons” was a combination of TV, web and multiplayer gaming: Play together, learn together, explore together. Kids could playfully make stories together with other children assisted by a childrensbook writer these stories were translated into a tv show once a week. Computer leaked out of the box, met tv and played a role in mental processes of playing, creation and social engagement. I think it was one of the first mulituser games that had collaboration as a goal. “Typotoons” was a big succes in Holland and had about 100.000 kids watching the show each sunday morning.
In 2001 we did “Noodstop” here the computer really entered the fysical world and gave kids the possibility to do something virtual giving fysical input. Blowing a balloon and pulling handles made a character fly through a computergame The fysical toy becomes smart.
In 2004 we made “Sketchmaker of Klokhuis”; A tool for creating stories by kids.
At this moment we are working on “Face Your World”. The computer slowly comes out of the grey box and dissolves into the real world inthis case the actual Slotervaart area in Amsterdam. The computer is used to enhance the involvement of people with real life processes and real life objects. We want children to move, to be creative and to be inspired to solve problems in a creative, human and, sometimes, even an aesthetical way. We aim to move all people to become engaged in their personal environment and have the tools to change their world. Latest example for this is the project “Face Your World” from Jeanne van Heeswijk. Together with Marco Christis IJsfontein is building the software tools that involve kids to create their personal urban environment in reality.
It became so real that last night they tried to break in and, well people really get involved. Well we kept the computers, we stayed up all night and the computers are now not in this container but at our office. Sixteen computers being tested and they will try and start the project on Monday or Tuesday afternoon.
Okay another computer out of the box project we are making for the Postbank right now. This will be finished in March. I think the Postbank took a daring step, but I can’t show you anything more but please keep your eyes open it will be published in March.
For us, we consider aesthetics not the only goal of design. We consider design to be the organized creative proces of serving human needs and problems. It is in the understanding of the creative process that designers could play key roles in creating new solutions to problems of the future. Society could be depending on a designers capability to create new solutions to specific problems and human needs. With other words: design is to improve life. As a design company, IJsfontein likes to become part of the up-front thinking and strategic portion of complex problem situations. This requires first an understanding of the abstract implications of needs, problems and design. Secondly it requires people that get engaged and help to create shared solutions. Last implies the first. We are aiming at both. The idea of people spontaneously cooperating on the same thing is such a powerful way of development, it helps you to overcome the limits of your own skills and imagination.
We are loosing grip on some of the design that is being made by the users of our products.
It seems logical: Every human has unlimited creative potential. At IJsfontein we believe we can build tools to enhance the mental processes of creative thinking for people. We want to make a mark and make innovative thinking and innovative processes open to more people. This way design as an abstract tool dissolves into society and becomes a way of approaching any problem.
Solutions do not have to be computerized only. Innovative thinking or design should be tought as a general knowledge subject in schools. In the end, what IJsfontein does is all about creating shared and open languages for children to communicate and to express themselves. We believe in open but we do not believe in anarchy. Languages do follow shared rules and common agreements. IJsfontein believes the creative process is the result of a beautiful clash of inspiration and rules. We not only create our products within these borders, but as well our projects are sets of design rules for people to be able to feel free to play around. Users must feel in control. The use of different skills and imagination’s other people can add will drive the multiprocessing designers-force of a shared group of creators to help overcome all kinds of problems and challenges, At the same time we tackle lack of responsibility for shared ownership and civic engagement.
The results of a creative process well designed can be very rich, beautiful and above all: very effective. Every “owner” of a problem is a specialist in his own field. This person is also most likely to be the best person to solve the problem. We just have to share our knowledge of design processes and tools so people can become better problemsolvers themselves. There is a two way benefit from this. People become owners of problems and solutions so they become engaged members of society. Like “Face Your World”, and solutions are made to fit.
Back to the question, how do we feel about amateurs getting involved in web design? I think these amateur designs can be cluttering, distractive and slowing down searches on the web, as well as terribly ugly, but to us design is not specifically about improving the web. In a more abstract way IJsfontein thinks design should be to improve life. And for this we aim to move children. What all these amateurs have in common is the engagement to design their personal environment. And that is very good.
Femke Snelting: Is there any questions straight up? You want to ask?
Josephine Bosma: Yeah, your point of view on amateurs is very unclear because it seemed very negative all the time, then in you last sentence you were kind of patting them on the head again. I was really confused especially in the beginning when you were talking about caravans, campers I think it’s called in English, but I don’t think that amateurs are the campers on the highway. It’s that web designers are the campers on the highway really. Because I get really annoyed when I’m surfing and I get trapped in a flash movie or whatever. And all the information on the site is trapped in that movie. And I cannot open several pages or I have to open a… I have to do it in quite complicated ways and stuff like that. So I really disagree with you on this amateur thing.
Hayo Wagenaar: (?)
Josephine Bosma: No it was just a comment. I was really annoyed.
Hayo Wagenaar: I can respond to it, because I… well I showed some examples of what you think of as amateur web design because its ugly, it’s homemade, and whatever. But I guess… Sorry?
Josephine Bosma: (?)… You can also.
Hayo Wagenaar: Yeah, that’s true. It’s the same thing you can say about a caravan. It’s not always ugly, it can be cute as well… Sorry?
Hayo Wagenaar: Well I end up sometimes on a web site searching… Okay, okay.
Femke Snelting: Anyone else have a question? Anything pressing to ask now? Okay. I think we have the network working again. So