Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Why play is important in the brand experiences we build: excerpts from Playful 09

Last Friday I went Conway Hall to attend Playful 09, an event that brought together a mix of developers, designers, artists, bloggers and thinkers. With speakers from companies from Channel 4 to interactive agencies, the topic for the day was the role of playfulness in media, be it interactive games or the way we effect social change.

Play, and playfulness doesn’t immediately seem an important topic. As the day progressed two things became apparent, 1. The level investment in ‘playful’ media is significant enough to take notice and 2. We underestimate play as a motivator, this is particularly important for creating valuable social experiences which so many brands are striving for.

So, as with the Seth Godin talk earlier this year, I thought I’d share a few points from the day I found useful. Enjoy.

Fun motivates and changes our behaviour

With more marketing campaigns incorporating a social aspect, a big challenge for this medium is answering the question ‘why should a user or customer get involved’, ‘what is in it for them’?

Fun provides an answer to motivating a user. Some examples from Playful 09 were poignant, some bizarre but some showed real results - my two favourite examples being Volkswagen’s ‘Arcade Bottle Bank’ which showed encouraging adoption and shows you recycle more when it’s fun...

...and the Sidekick Studios Voicebox robot, which aims to catch the attention of MP’s by being placed in the upper waiting gallery of the House of Commons, writing out messages on social issues submitted online

The Voicebot pt II from sidekick studios on Vimeo.

Both these cases show taking a playful slant can change behaviour for important topics, and turn mundane tasks into games.

Interactive devices + augmented reality = new opportunities

Chris o’Shea gave a entertaining talk through some of his projects which focus on interactivity and playfulness. The example below is the well publicised augmented reality piece “A Hand From Above” which was staged in Liverpool recently....

Hand from Above from Chris O'Shea on Vimeo.

... but I was more impressed with the less famous, but more powerful “Beacon” installation. Both examples show what great experiences can be created using interactive technologies which marketers should explore for their brands.

Beacon at Lightwave 2009 from Cinimod Studio & Chris O'Shea on Vimeo.

Making an experience fun AND useable is hard

As the piano stairs example from Volkswagen shows, making something fun AND usable is a challenge – the discussion at Playful highlighted that the usability of the stairs would decrease as novelty decreases (and annoyance increases).

Play is great then. It can be an important asset to an experience. How to integrate it within our projects though?

Prototyping to find the fun

- Playfulness is elusive, so a major lesson from the day was that you find the fun and playfulness through learning from prototypes in a process where you’re not afraid to try alternatives.

Awesomeness is important not innovation

- One speaker referenced Umair Haques greatest recent post on The Awesome Manifesto – Umair reasons that what is important today is how awesome a product, experience, service is (in contrast to how innovative it is). Playfulness and Awesomeness seemed good companions.

The role of a high score

- The day showed that if you’re designing a playful experience consider whether there is a role for scoring – what will motivate users to engage with the experience or game, and how using scoring can change behaviour.