What if the people who design and build our technological future included members of radically diverse groups, instead of the comparatively like-minded research scientists and product designers who typically drive the work in these fields? What new directions might we open up, and what kinds of beneficial use cases might we discover? The Digital Future Lab (DFL) at the University of Washington Bothell approaches creative and speculative projects from a radically diverse team perspective, where radical means expanding our common notions of diversity to include neurodiversity and other kinds of differences. Our teams aren't just diverse, they're radically diverse.
The below video includes gameplay footage from our original interactive game Corrupted. The experience was initially designed in the service of a National Science Foundation grant to develop simple game-based teaching materials to support introductory programming classes, but we discovered that as we added more diversity to the team — pushing beyond what conventional wisdom would consider practical limitations — the creative process took remarkably unexpected turns, and the game began to feel like something unique and compelling. Also unexpected was the level of quality our largely undergraduate team was able to reach: Corrupted meets or exceeds audio, visual, and gameplay production standards for similar retail titles, and succeeded in securing investment funding to explore a full commercial release.
The DFL is a unique environment — we’re a design slam, mixing research, social justice, performance, speculative design, commercial game development, gender studies, art history and any other discipline we can include to make objects with meaning, both physical and virtual. We seek to demonstrate how radically diverse teams are both capable of achieving novel insights and, contrary to conventional wisdom, how they can also become exceptionally productive and efficient.
In addition to exploring diversity, the DFL is particularly interested in understanding how our deepening relationship with the digital world is influencing physical world design, and how we might avoid bringing some of the more regressive qualities of the physical world into our virtual spaces. The below is an excerpt from the DFL’s first short film Virtually Physical, created to help articulate our interests and focus areas.
The lab views interactive media as a broad palette that can dazzle and delight our senses as it enriches and uplifts us, or even as it just helps us perform the tasks of daily living. We started the lab to create work with meaning while supporting a new generation of excellent design thinkers with skills built on a foundation of fearless and passionate exploration, and a profound appreciation for those different from themselves.
Another project that began as an NSF-funded educational tool has grown into the lab’s second commercial project, a logical relationship game code-named Ghostlight. Drawing on the DFL’s increasing ability to deliver high production quality, we began using the game to test a variety of assumptions about how visual design supports (or hinders) comprehension of concepts, the number of behaviors users can recall with and without prompting, and other interaction design questions. As with many of our projects, Ghostlight serves a wide variety of research purposes, and will also be the lab’s first major retail release (targeting Halloween 2015). The below video showcases level designs from our tech demo, which can be downloaded from our project site
DFL has 50 (and growing) participating students, staff and faculty from virtually every background and circumstance (UW Bothell is the most diverse campus in the state), and we’re currently working on projects spanning speculative interface design, prison reform, sex trafficking awareness and advocacy, bullying interventions and education, game-based education, gender and sexuality, grassroots community activism, installation art, entertainment game development and transmedia narratives.