Looking back on 2012

06 January 2013

2012, then. I thought, having seen James’ round-up of his (excellent) year, I should note down a few things about last year on a personal and professional level.

There was a good series of talks at a variety of events: the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Death, the Design of Understanding, LIFT, Brighton Mini Maker Faire, and dConstruct. And, importantly for me, they were all different, all new material (with one exception). I don’t like repeating myself if I can help it, if I only because I’ve usually changed my position on a topic!

Of these, I was especially proud of dConstruct: it’s always a great conference, and I’ve been going for years – so to be asked to talk, and ultimately becoming James Burke’s warmup man, was a real privilege. I’m also very proud of that talk: it condenses a lot of things I’ve been thinking about for most of my life into a thread, and shows Actual Work rather than just handwaving.

There was one more talk to end the year: a recorded talk for Radio 4′s Four Thought (mp3 here). I include this separately if only because its a different beast to a conference talk. A new subject area for me, but a heartfelt one – the changing shape of technology education. If dConstruct was a response to being the son of an amateur toymaker, then this was surely informed by being the child of teachers. Very proud to have been given is opportunity – and I’m also really proud of how the talk turned out. The response to it had been very flattering.

I did more than shoot my mouth off this year, though; there was work, too. For me, probably the biggest achievement at Hide&Seek was The Building Is… – our huge installation piece as part of the Gaîté Lyrique’s show Joue Le Jeu. Game design, software, electronics, hardware; all came together over at least six months of work. The team assembled – both internal and external contractors – was exceptional, and a joy to work with. I learned a lot about the nature of gallery installs, hardware builds, and game design for public space; furthered many technical skills; and, ultimately, got to watch people have fun with a thing we’d made. This project also led to living in Paris for a month in the summer. All told: really quite an experience.

In October, I left Hide&Seek to explore my own path – and became freelance. Since then, the most obvious “headline” project was my work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, making software and designing output formats to visualise motion on stage in print and wood. But there’s also been other work, too: rapid prototyping for a charity; interaction design for startup a and small firms; assisting Alex in workshops. And, towards the end of the year, entering (and being short-listed for) the Playable City award alongside PAN. Which, for less than three months of self-employment, feels like a reasonable start.

And then, of course, there were the personal projects, which varied in their daftness. Markov-chain deived descriptions of imaginary chocolates; books to collect my copious links in annual volumes; animated raindrops for Bus Tops; a ghost version of me, trapped a year in the past, on Foursquare; a hardware intervalometer for my SLR; various Kinect toys, including the Radio Roundabout visualiser. Glad I managed to both keep tinkering throughout the year, and also finish that tinkering.

Some travel: a trip to New York at the end of the year to visit friends, see the sights, and empty my head; a holiday in the Languedoc; the aforementioned Paris work; and Geneva for LIFT (including a trip to CERN). Good. There might be some more travel in 2013, I hope.

So what’s next for 2013? There’ll be some work with Caper in the spring, which I’ll be able to talk about by the summer. Some talks are slowly lining up. And, of course, I’m starting the meetings about client work and projects. There are a few on the horizon, encompassing design, web, and hardware work – but, as ever, I’m interested in new opportunities, so do get in touch.

In many ways, a roller coaster of a year, but one that ended more up than down, I think. Here’s to 2013.

(I nearly illustrated this post with the same picture James did. I’d forgotten that moment for a while, and seeing it again is a really, really happy moment. Myself, James, Ben, and Kars, looking out over Lake Geneva, one afternoon during a break at LIFT. Great to be surrounded by such great peers; a great view; great people to stare into the future with, shoulder to shoulder, and the right, Janus-like image for such a post. Pipped to it, though, eh.)

  • "Finish Weekend helps you get it done. Come finish those projects you've put off to the side. Maybe you just need a bit of web help, a logo, or some code written. We'll help you finish." Heartily approve. I could do with a lot of these.
  • "We've seen this all before… [but] these Smule globes seem strangely different and much more interesting, largely I think because you hold the phone in your hand instead of the laptop or monitor on your desk. It's a more personal, touched engagement with the screen that makes visualizing an earth-spanning army of phone lighters and flute blowers more physically personal."
  • "But succeed or fail, my awareness of game design is omnipresent, and I like it that way. It enriches my experience of playing. The in-world experience remains my first thought, but my second thought is nearly always focused on the system, especially when that system demonstrates originality or beautiful execution. I don't think I'm the only gamer who behaves this way." No, but it requires a certain degree of awareness of the medium to think about the second; the first is much more immediate, and the second is about an engagements with games, rather than a particular game.
  • "If I only have so many hours in the day to devote to genuinely insightful things, Gladwell’s track record screams at me to ignore Outliers. At least for now. At least until I’m stuck on a cross-country flight, liquored up, and ready for a good fight." Jack Shedd is bored of anecdotes.
  • "This is a lexicon of terms relating to John Horton Conway's Game of Life." Very comprehensive, with lots of examples.
  • Ignoring the background music and a lot of Trajan, I really like this series of pictures from Brooks Reynolds; particularly, his use of lighting and depth of field. I'm a big fan of concept-series; they tend to be more than a sum of their parts.
  • I don't care that it's not playing the game or anything, there is no way in the world that this is anything less than super-awesome.