Play Literacy

…yes, that term sounds a little dumb, but it’s an idea I think will be important in the future. A deliberate spin on computer literacy, I think play will not only be important to designers to support creativity and innovation, it will be important simply to get along in an electronic world.

In the past I’ve argued that software tools will continue to be created much faster than we can possibly design quality interfaces for them. So consumers who can and are willing to play with a device to figure it out may be more successful.

I had this thought today while driving and navigating with the Google Maps iPhone app (I know, I know). The iPhone is slick, and the app is slick, but for so few functions it ain’t easy to use. But the slickness, the playfulness, of it all helps me overcome this. The desirability of the device and the experience make me want to overcome the usability. As designers, we can build playfulness in to help people, and, cynically, playfulness might be a sexier product development approach to sell than usability.

Update: Only tangentially related is how receive serious political ideas from comedians

In one “astounding half-hour” of television, Stewart viewers saw “more trenchant talk of the financial crisis and the responsibility of the networks than you’d find on any news channel, all the more surprising in that it aired on Comedy Central.”

Not surprising, really, in that comedians like Lenny Bruce did this long ago. It’s just another place where we like to coat our serious work with a bit a humor and fun to make it palatable.


  1. Probably just a small detail, but one question. What do you mean on slide 23? Are you saying designers are bad at setting and communicating constraints, or we’re bad at following the rules?

  2. Hi Michael,

    The latter, according to their research. They watched designers define their own constraints at the beginning of a project, and then during a project the designers would ignore many of those constraints. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a commentary on how design guidelines are followed, or not.

    My point there was that if we really want the rules to be followed, we could build them into the way tools work.

  3. Thanks. We definitely struggle with creating constraints that designers will follow. Our current practice is usually to create more constraints than we think we need, understanding that people will not be able to follow them all. Not sure if this is the best approach, but it works. Another important part is for designers to become self-aware of their inability to follow these rules.

  4. Bravo. That’s all I have to say. Well, obviously I’ve already said more than I had to say. Because there’s more that I want to say. Like, even though I everso fully agree with your statement that “playfulness might be a sexier product development approach to sell than usability.” I would even suggest that playfulness, as an approach to design, and as a central characteristic of the design itself. But that’s me.

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