Homework #1 |
October 2nd, 2022
Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University
Reading Response: Ends in Themselves
For this week's reading I want to respond to Principle 1.15 from Artful Design "Design not only from needs -- but from the values behind them"
Principle 1.15 is focused on the idea of values based design, and during Think 66 I wrote about the Wii’s gamecube reverse compatibility as an example of values based design. This principle I think can also be looked at sort of in reverse, and that by analyzing a design one can see the values of its creator or more importantly, the values the creator may lack. Last time I looked at this principle I was marveling at how values can really increase the usability of a project, but it’s just important to look at the ways where values incorporated into a design harm people. When looking at websites like Twitch and newer mobile games it’s very apparent that the values for lots of designers (or more accurately the values of the people paying the designers) have increasingly shifted towards monetary gain. Twitch has evolved drastically over the years to match its increasing popularity, and at the same time has increased its ability to monetize. Just this week twitch added a feature called elevated chats that have been widely panned across the platform. At a glance it is extremely clear that this feature was designed only to make money, and that the engineers at Twitch did not design the feature to serve its purpose, but instead to make money. The feature allows for a user to pay some sum of money in order to post a special message in the twitch chat.
Now looking at these prices one can see a glaring issue, the 2:30 second message costs 20 times as much as the 30s message despite only being 5 times longer. It’s clear the only value in mind when this feature was created is profit, the feature comes off as incredibly haphazard. Additionally the chat message only pops up when looking at the website in its default browser view. This means that on a mobile device or simply in fullscreen mode this $100 message wouldn’t even appear. Add onto that the fact that the twitch streamer cannot see these messages and you have an incredibly half baked feature. It’s worth noting that this feature is still in beta which is fine, great things take time to make. The value twitch is clearly missing here is empathy for it’s viewers, releasing a half-baked feature is one thing, but releasing a half baked feature and then allowing unsuspecting viewers to spend their money on it is downright scummy. This feature makes it kind of clear that twitch has focused on one value more than the rest, and using a design to find values a designer lacks is extremely applicable in our modern landscape where design is around us in more impactful ways than ever before.
Design Etude 1
Part 1: Taking Notice
1. The Nintendo Wii
3. My Backpack
Part 2: Means and Ends
The Nintendo Wii was a groundbreaking console, it took the world of gaming by storm and currently sits at the fourth highest selling home video game console. From a purely aesthetic perspective the form of the console is quite stunning, it sports a clean white exterior and was the first nintendo console that was intended to be used both vertically and horizontally, making it much easier to fit into tv cabinets. The concept of the Wii overall is one of innovations, and features that are ends-in-themselves. Previous Nintendo consoles improved on the standard video game console formula of sitting on the couch with controllers in hand. The Wii broke the mold, it prioritized motion controls to a never before seen degree, and using sensors in the controllers, they could be used as pointers to interact with menus and games alike adding new functionality to the device. This created a console that emphasized getting up and moving instead of remembering complicated button-combinations and other controls. The Wii became a family console in many households; even older adults could figure out how to point a controller at a screen (which was a large contributor to its overall popularity). These motion controls were an “end-in-itself,” they by no means needed to be there, and traditional games could still be played on the Wii even with these wacky controllers. However these motion controls led to a far easier experience, one anyone could pick up and play. Beyond the hardware of the Wii, the Wii’s operating system is still one widely loved both for it’s simple aesthetics and intuitiveness. The Wii's interface was designed to emulate a CRT Television, each box has a slight curve mirroring the shape of one of these TVs, and instead of having different apps, the Wii had channels, mirroring what adults at the time would be familiar with.
The introduction of Mii’s (Small customizable avatars) as a way to sort save data allowed many users to have their own game progress all attached to a small character that could then be used to play against friends, in an easier to grasp way than previous saving systems like memory cards. Everything down to the menu music was carefully created. For many simply hearing the music played in the Wii’s online shop is enough to evoke childhood nostalgia. There's a reason the Wii still sees use in the retirement home, it oozes usability. The UI is easy to understand and use, the save system is intutive, and the focus on movement controls removes the need for the age old question "What button do I hit?" The Wii was the first video game console that didn’t just focus on being great to play games on, it made sure every second in or out of a game felt tailored and designed and set the standard for all consoles that followed it.
Pokémon is the most successful multimedia franchise of all time, with an estimated total revenue of 109 billion US dollars (Marvel is estimated at about 38 billion dollars for reference). In large part, the franchise owes all of this success to one of the (as of 2022) 898 monsters. Surprisingly enough this wasn’t Pikachu, it was a Pokémon named Mew. Mew’s sprite is that of a small pink floating cat, which on its own is not very interesting. What is interesting is Mew’s effect on the sales of the first Pokémon game. I’m gonna be focusing on Mew’s role as a feature in Pokémon Red and Blue, the gameboy games that started the series. Gameboy cartridges could store a maximum of 1MB of information, and during development part of the storage space had to be allocated to debugging and testing resources. Since Pokémon was one of the most memory intensive gameboy games of the era, with the debugging software still on the cartridge there were 0 bytes left for any additions (leading to a plethora of cut content that would be added later on in the franchise or lost forever). After removing these testing utilities there was just enough space for head developer Satoshi Tajiri to add one last Pokémon, Mew. Mew was not obtainable in the game through normal means because of this, but because of the relative primitive power of the gameboy, these first games had a ton of glitches, and the unobtainable nature of Mew was actually by design. In this era before widespread internet, word of mouth was the only way for video game knowledge to be shared. Many playground rumors of the era were blatantly false, things like running around for 20 hours to get secret items or power ups (Even though Mew is undoubtedly real, fake rumors like using the move cut on the unreachable truck to get Mew have become iconic).
One however was real, as reports of a secret 151st Pokémon exploded through Japan, millions of people flocked to stores to buy their copies to try and find this mythical pokemon for themselves. This Pokémon kept people poring over the games trying to find bugs in the programming to obtain a Mew of their own. The implementation of Mew to me exemplifies the concept of artful design. Mew was intentionally created as a way to generate buzz for a new game by going to the source, instead of simply creating television ads or billboards, they buried a secret into their game and consumers did the rest. The developers knew their game had many bugs and used them to create one of the most artful advertisement methods gaming has ever seen, turning these bugs into a means to the end of marketing. These playground rumors caused these first Pokémon games to be the highest selling in the Pokémon franchise, with a total of 47 million copies sold. To this day they remain the 7th highest selling video games of all time.
In elementary school I got a new backpack every year, a highlight of every summer was choosing the bag I would use for the rest of the next year. The summer before 7th grade was no different. I picked a neon green rectangular backpack made by North Face. Pretty much every backpack is the exact same, a semi rigid back with an opening zipper that starts on one side and goes up and around the rounded top of the main pocket to the other side. This new backpack didn’t work like that though, at first I thought the rectangular shape of the bag was just an aesthetic choice but I quickly realized it wasn’t just for appearances. This rectangular backpack shape was a lot more than an aesthetic and felt more like an end in itself. Virtually everything one would put into a backpack is a rectangle, and this shape was clearly used as a reflection of that, it’s possible to waste almost zero space in this rectangular backpack and, because the top isn’t round, the corners of books don’t dig into the bag if it’s overstuffed. In order to facilitate this the zipper did have to be changed in what seems to be more of a means-to-an-end design decision, the end being the more convenient rectangular shape. Instead of having a zipper that goes all the way down the side of the bag, the bag opens kind of like a box, with one opening flap on the top, which causes the backpack to only be top-loadable. This zipper is less convenient because it’s far more difficult to get to things in the bottom of the bag, requiring you to unload anything above the item you desire. Even with this slight inconvenience this backpack quickly became a favorite of mine, it’s more optimized storage space meant you could fit multiple days worth of clothes into the bag and still have room for school supplies. I have used this same backpack since that fateful day I got it and haven’t looked back since (I actually bought two more recently, as a contingency in case the one I have now breaks). This backpack wasn’t something I thought I needed in any way shape or form, but has changed my life to the point where using any other type of backpack is a chore.
Part 3: Guerilla Design
I decided to add some aesthetics to my command line prompt on the CCRMA server.
The default terminal prompt gets the job done, it shows you the name of the directory you're in and that's kinda it. My terminal prompt does exactly the same thing, except after doing some googling, it also has this nice system of arrows in the next which really please the eyes. Even though I myself did not code up the theme, I spent lots of time going through the zsh theme libraries trying to find the perfect theme. It very much did not work after I followed the tutorial so now I ended up needing to do some light debugging on why the fun arrows didn't arrow. Now with every command I run, and every time my code doesn't compile, I get to smile at the fact that my terminal looks nice at least!
This is a link to my file