On Doodling: Software with Margins?

Gettin some serious work done here.

I was sitting in class. Most everyone uses a laptop. During a break in the lecture action, my eyes fell on the keyboard of the laptop a row ahead of me. The owner was mindlessly hitting the arrow keys, bouncing the cursor back and forth. I’ve done that. And it dawned on me…

How does one doodle on a computer?

Sure. Drawing tablets or multitouch computers like the iPad certainly allow for free-form sketching. But with these, that sketching is made possible through an application dedicated to sketching and finger or stylus input. I’m not talking about that.

Paper has margins. Invariably, as one thinks through a problem, daydreams, or momentarily jumps to a tangential thought, that margin gets well used. Who knows what may end up in that margin. Often it’s fun doodles.

Most non-gaming software is basically some form of productivity software. But here’s the thing. Productivity with a computer is as much about creativity as it is about merely capturing input and displaying output. Writing. Spreadsheeting. Designing. Arting. Databasing. Searching. Programming. All these require thought and that thought involves creativity. Yet the software that enables all this productivity does little to actively encourage or enhance or receive the requisite creativity.

Doodling is playful. Play is intimately connected to exploration and creativity. I’ll go so far as to argue that doodling is strongly linked to processing information, thinking, and working out problems on paper.

Because of the highly structured nature of computers and the inherent expense of crafting software, applications tend to be highly structured toward their purpose. As such, there’s little extra “room” outside the bounds of an application for anything other than its specific purpose. Yet, seen more broadly, that extra room might well be essential to the larger aims of the application — supporting the creativity fueling productivity and workflows. Further, input mechanisms also tend to naturally constrain a user’s interactions. That is, a keyboard and mouse will naturally motivate a user to type and mouse. These do not motivate doodling. (However, even the iPad with its finger-based input does not spawn applications with space to doodle apart from the task at hand.)

So how do we add “margins” to technology so we can doodle? What a great question.


(Image: Friday-doodle 2/2 by Niklas Pivic under Creative Commons license)


Misfit of Computer Science

My new business cards came in today. They foolishly let me fill out the order form without anyone checking before the cards were printed.

And, yes, I’m at a game lab even though I’m trying to work on play apart from games. I’ve got — shall we say — some leeway. Besides, if I can get away with these business cards, what else can I get away with, right?

I got to give my very first business card to Drew Davidson, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. My advisor brought him in as part of a speaking series. Drew gave a great overview of the ETC and spoke on creativity’s need for constraints: “The Best Playground (with an Electric Fence).” I’m fairly certain he gets all kinds of cool points from his students.



[1] Misfits of Science:

The adventures of a team of misfit superheroes who fight crime for a scientific think tank. [TV Series, 1985-86]


More Toys for Grownups

I squish you.There’s a heavy equipment playground near Las Vegas called Dig This® where grownups can use real construction equipment in a giant sandbox!

[article with video & slide show]

I’ve written some already about big people toys and their significance. Dig This is further demonstration that adults know how to play, want to play, and maybe even need to play.

My goal is to introduce high-tech into play — in a larger sense than only gaming. Now that I’m off at grad school, I’m just now starting to delve into the topics I hope will get us there.


Train Station, meet Playground

Okay. So not exactly high tech. Who cares. Wheeeeeee!

Slide To The Train:

It’s officially called a “transfer accelerator” by Dutch railway maintenance company ProRail, but everyone else would say it’s a slide. An awesome slide. Installed next to a stairway at the newly renovated railway station Overvecht in the city of Utrecht, the slide offers travellers [sic] the opportunity to quickly reach the railway tracks when they’re in a hurry. But above all, the slide is a great instrument to make the city more playful.

[An embedded video in the linked source above takes you down the slide.]

The original post goes on to explain that “such a playful urban intervention can generate large-scale positive spin-off for a disadvantaged neighborhood like Overvecht.” I agree. I think playful spaces could be a whole new driver of urban economic development. If designed well (still figuring out what that means), a playful space making good use of technology could be endlessly playful and not merely a novelty.

A previous post on the topic: Playful Technologies for Urban Economic Development.

(via Dan Pink)


Can your robot come out and play?

Cynthia Breazeal founded the Personal Robots Group at MIT’s Media Lab. Her research focuses on socially intelligent robots.

Earlier this year Breazeal presented the Rise of Personal Robots [TED talk video].

Her central idea was that robots equal social technology. She believes robots embody a form and level of interactivity that can engage humans in a uniquely human manner — not only as utilitarian servants.

Playtime Computing: shared play media space

In her talk Breazeal puts forward many examples of robots as social technology. Two relate specifically to play.

In the first scenario [6:55 in the video], Breazeal introduces robots as a distance play technology. Specifically, she paints the picture of her young boys playing across long distances with their grandparents (“Grandma-bot”). Interestingly, she makes no mention of playing games or introducing her boys and her mother to online virtual gaming spaces. Rather, she envisions free play together with toys as well as storytelling and fantasy play.

In the second scenario [10:55 in the video], Breazeal talks about her vision for the future of children’s media. She’s primarily motivated to move kids away from only consuming media from screens and developing “playtime computing.” This type of computing is very spatially involved and utilizes telepresence and mixed reality. She speaks of kids building their imaginations and projecting ideas into a shared space where other kids can interact and build upon those ideas. She believes all this will develop creativity and innovation and foster learning. I love it. I hope someday soon to bring something together that similarly engages adults in shared spaces albeit in slightly different contexts. 

Take the time to watch the TED Talk video to see the really cool projects Breazeal and her students are building in the lab.

(See also context-aware toys I wrote about some time ago.)