Humans don’t usually play unless they feel safe where they are. But even if you are in an unknown city, if you play you become convinced of your safety.
This observation, one of many generously shared by game designer, Holly Gramazio, provided a particularly lovely insight into the human brain in the urban environment at Made by Many’s recent Small Talks event.
Holly’s presentation was one of three at Small Talks; alongside Claire Mookerjee from the UK Government funded, Future Cities Catapult project and Applied’s very own, Tim Fendley. The connecting thread was cities and, specifically, humans within them.
You should know first that Holly designs playful games for the real and digital worlds, not console games (although she did create the block pushing computer game Pornography for Beginners, but that’s another story).
Holly creates games to be played on individual, group and mass levels. She knows people like playing, and believes it’s not something we grow out of.
As an example, she cited Lobby Lud, a circulation-boosting game invented in 1927 by the now defunct Westminster Gazette newspaper. The paper sent employees to a town or city, told readers where ‘Lobby Lud’ would be and gave visual clues to his appearance.
Whoever was carrying a copy of the newspaper and spotted him could say a pre-publicised phrase and claim a cash prize. One of the phrases has passed into popular collective memory: “You are <insert name> and I claim my £5.”
Well, tens of thousands of people would set off in search of Lobby Lud in a mass game of hide and seek. Special trains were laid on. Given newspapers’ struggles with print circulation, we’re surprised the game has not been resurrected. Perhaps it will be.
Holly explained that playing in cities is particularly potent because players see their surroundings in a new light and with new perspectives.
After snowfall, the humble gutter, she said, becomes a valuable treasure trove of fresh snow – a reservoir of material to be scooped up for snowballs.
Holly played a spot of ‘show & tell’ with images of game installations from around the world. Our favourite was the musical swings in Montreal – a line of 21 oversized (so adults would be encouraged to participate) swings, each playing a different musical note. Think of the toy store’s stand-on piano keyboard in the movie Big.
You could play cooperatively if you want to, but you didn’t have to. And there were enough not to feel pressured to ‘let someone else have a turn’.
Encouraging adults to be playful, not just children, is a challenge. Adults often step aside to let the kids play, particularly if there is equipment involved. But it’s not like typical children are short of opportunities or play time. Typically, adults are.
Cities could and should incorporate many more opportunities and invitations to play. But, as Holly said, remember that you can’t force it. If it’s mandatory, it ain’t play.
Holly’s talk harmoniously chimed with Tim’s exploration of how the Legible London wayfinding system helps walkers to navigate and discover the city at street level.
Tim shared with the group how Legible London came to be, the challenges and triumphs, and the design process behind such an undertaking. He delved into the intricacies of wayfinding, drumming up giggles at his compilation of bad signage, and hums of sudden realisation at his explanation of how walkable London, and cities in general, can be.
Made by Many brought together a great audience full of lovers of great design. It was made obvious the crowd included some mapping aficionados as Tim’s sneak preview of London’s digital map solicited an “It’s so beautiful.” from the audience.
Also striking a chord, Claire surveyed the human scale in cities – the tension between how cities are designed from above but lived in at ground level.
A believer in Jan Gehl’s theories on public space, Claire advocated for a new way of thinking about the city, considering the human in the design process. Claire explained that the process of making cities should be changed to involve the methodologies of design, something that city makers today do not consider.
Visibly passionate about the topic, Claire described humans as being “stuck in their professional silos” and new urban developments as lacking in social sustainability. She promoted the importance of the relationship between urban form and social life and that new developments should reflect just that.
Claire finished off her talk by sharing the work that Future Cities Catapult have undertaken. The organisation endeavours to help cities in today’s increasingly urbanised world. Their objective is to support businesses that are developing products and services that will help solve social problems in the city. With Claire on their team, they will no doubt succeed in changing the way we all view the city.
A different perspective at solving urban challenges that’s for sure, Claire gave the audience something to think about as they went on to the local pub to discuss the urban form.
A sold out event for obvious reasons, in case you missed this edition of Made by Many’s Small Talks, all three talks can be listened to on their blog.
A big thanks to all three speakers and to Made by Many for curating and hosting. And for the pizza.