Experience Design & Strategy
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Urban Kinect Playgrounds

As part of my thesis project at University of Toronto, I worked on a proposal for an interconnected network of digital playgrounds in Toronto's PATH system using Kinect (a controller-free gaming technology) . The playgrounds inject play into everyday lives of busy citizens while helping pedestrians navigate and get contextual information about retail services inside the PATH. 

The original design was a synthesis of a range of theories and discourses I was inspired by at the time of my education: play studies, situationists, homo ludens and psychogeography. 

In my continuing curiosity for how space facilitates play for the modern man, I am working on iterating these playgrounds based on my findings from a parallel on-going project, Measuring Urban Playability. 

Play is important

Play is important

While play has an important role in shaping our brains and keeping us healthy, as grown ups we think of it as a waste of time, a childish need. The purposelessness nature of play makes us feel guilty as we try to be productive and responsible adults. But play is an essential ingredient for building communities and keeping a healthy society. 

... and ambiguous.

... and ambiguous.

Brian Sutton-Smith in his book The Ambiguity of Play explains how scholars have defined play in various historical contexts and systems of value. One of my favourite definitions is from the book Homo Ludens: 

"A free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being not serious, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action, mirth and relaxation follow."  - Huizinga, 1938

     

 

 

But we don't play enough, because we think we don't have time.

But we don't play enough, because we think we don't have time.

As adults when we think of play we think of children, playgrounds and games. In our minds, play is a destination outside of our everyday life. We don't see it as a state of mind.  

The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” (Brian Sutton-Smith)

We definitely take play seriously when it comes to the healthy development of a child, but the benefit of a play regime in our grown up lives is not as obvious to us as the benefit of a fitness regime or a healthy diet or regular meditation.

We can't blame people for the lack of play in their lives, but as human centred designers we can design and facilitate play in our everyday environment.

...and it's difficult for people to take a break from everyday life.

...and it's difficult for people to take a break from everyday life.

Leisure activities and playful entertainment don't necessarily help us play more often. We still need to take a break, plan and find time to travel to these destinations but only when we're convinced that we are not wasting our time! 

We need a human-centred solution that integrates play into everyday life.

We need a human-centred solution that integrates play into everyday life.

A human centred design solution should observe the everyday lives of a society and inject moments of extraordinary into existing ordinary paths. 

I chose Toronto's PATH network to experiment designing for play.

I chose Toronto's PATH network to experiment designing for play.

PATH is an underground network in downtown Toronto facilitating pedestrian's access to public transit and connecting 30 kilometres of shopping, services and entertainment. 

The walkway connects 50 office towers on the street level and accommodates more than 200,000 business-day commuters, and thousands of additional tourists and residents on route to sports and cultural events. 

It's challenging to engage adults in playful activities.

It's challenging to engage adults in playful activities.

Children don't need a lot of motivation and trigger to engage in playful activities, but it's a lot more difficult to convince adults to play! 

But if they are motivated and you make it easy for them, the engagement rate will be higher!

But if they are motivated and you make it easy for them, the engagement rate will be higher!

So I watched people in PATH and found a strong motivation: wayfinding!

So I watched people in PATH and found a strong motivation: wayfinding!

A lot of people get lost in PATH on a daily basis...

A lot of people get lost in PATH on a daily basis...

PATH doesn't follow the grid patterns of the streets above so wayfinding is a major issue for people who want to explore and go out of their everyday routes. There are more than 125 grade level access points and 60 decision points where a pedestrian has to decide between turning left or right, or continuing straight on. 

Although there are signages and maps in PATH but people continue to experience wayfinding issues. 

This problem is an opportunity to be a motivation to engage adults with play. 

We need to make it easy to play and design the trigger.

We need to make it easy to play and design the trigger.

There are many forms of play like imaginative play which is dreams and daydreams. Solitary play like hobbies and collecting things. There is social play which is when we party, travel or have dinner with someone. There is audience play like television and movies and festivals and a lot more other types of play that is beyond this project.

What I was most interested in was the type of body play that is intuitive in children and all animals and how we gradually lose it as we grow up. I was curious to see if I can analyze these movements and develop them into their adult's version. 

What if a bouncy castle could help you navigate?

What if a bouncy castle could help you navigate?

Here is an example of the evolution of the playful activities: Starting with a bouncy castle and thinking how it might help one find their way around PATH? 

But obviously you can't dig a hole in the middle of the street. That's just stupid!

But obviously you can't dig a hole in the middle of the street. That's just stupid!

As the player jumps up and down in the bouncy castle a projection of the street above is displayed on the sides allowing the pedestrian to orient themselves according to the street grid above. 

But if we are projecting, why not use the walls?

But if we are projecting, why not use the walls?

....and get rid of the trampoline?

....and get rid of the trampoline?

The Kinect technology can mimic the trampoline.

The Kinect technology can mimic the trampoline.

Here is how it works:

Here is a concept video sketch I created by pretending to interact with the wall (you can see the surprised looks on people passing by wondering what the heck I'm doing!)  I then played a scene from a game called Grand Theft Auto where the entire Manhattan area is 3d modelled in the game. I stole a helicopter (yep you can do that in the game) and played different scenes that I then recorded and rendered on top of the original video in after effects. It was a lot of fun ! 

How the game works: a 3D model of Toronto downtown area will be implemented into the design, and using Kinect (a controller free gaming technology) the player interact with the Toronto model through screens installed inside public corridors of PATH. Depending on the game and the corridor the screens could be installed within walls, floors or ceilings. They only activate when the player starts interacting with the game by their body movements. 

For the See-Jump, the player starts the game by jumping in front of a marked wall . The screen activates and the player can see a live video of whats immediately in front of them . As they keep jumping , the height of the view rises to reach the street level. The sensors stimulate a trampoline where the player can control their eye level. The stronger the player jumps, the higher the view goes. Once the player stops, the view drops down to its original position at the PATH level and the wall is deactivated.

There is more...

There is more...

These proposals are just the beginning of an exploration, as I'm learning more about people and their desire for play, I'm working on developing more ideas for interactive playgrounds for adults.

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