Look up!

When we walk down a city block, we are surrounded by signs, landmarks, buildings, and infrastructure — each element provides context to our journey. Whether we notice them or not, many of them leave indelible and memorable marks on our mental maps: that uneven sidewalk, this neon sign, that old-timey storefront. But when we ride the subway, all context between point A and point B disappears.

Ian Callendar, an incoming student at Columbia University’s Master in Architecture program, took the challenge to insert context into the subway ride and hacked an elegant, Media Architecture Biennial award-winning project: Uptown Underground — the opposite of a glass-bottomed boat!

Playfinding at SXSW 2019

Happy to announce that we’ll be hosting a playfinding session at SXSW 2019 entitled “Mummies to Manet: Immersive Experiments in Museums.” Please join us in Austin in March for an engaging conversation with Dia Felix of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Andrea Montiel De Shuman of Detroit Institute of Arts and Jennifer Snyder of The Art Institute of Chicago. Take a minute to check out all the other great sessions in SXSW’s Experiential Storytelling Track.



Enlivening Magritte’s Landscapes

René Magritte’s mission was to imbue prosaic things like men in bowler hats with surreal effects. frog design and SFMOMA take that mission a step further by enlivening his paintings in an immersive gallery as part of the show “René Magritte: The Fifth Season” on view May 19–October 28, 2018. Check out this video and Mashable’s article on the exhibit, in which Chad Coerver, SFMOMA’s chief content officer, said:

“These kinds of wordless, playful experiences can have tremendous impact… It somehow serves to cement the experiences and bring them closer to the artwork in ways that words can’t.”

Lumin enlightens at The Detroit Institute of Art

The Detroit Institute of Arts partnered with Google and mobile developer GuidiGO to create Lumin, an augmented reality experience within its Middle Eastern collections. This is the first public demonstration of Google’s Project Tango real-time 3D mapping platform. Visitors follow a borrowed Android smartphone to navigate to seven stops on this tour, revealing X-ray imagery and color restorations when they pan the smartphone screen over the objects. Read Marina Gross-Hoy’s thoughtful review of the experience on her blog, Imaginibus.

Pokéstops in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Pokemon in the Ninth Ward

Since Pokémon Go started clogging my neighborhood sidewalks and my twitter feed, I’ve been most curious about its Pokéstops—real-world landmarks geo-located within the game’s world. I’ve only dabbled in Pokémon Go in an area dense with significant physical landmarks (Lower Manhattan) and wondered what it’s like to play (and play-find) in more expansive less touristy landscapes.

Journalist Rob Walker took the game for a spin (literally: on his morning bike rides) through his neighborhood, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. His thoughtful essay explores the game’s tenuous connection to the real world in a place where ruin, rebuilding, and change have already augmented reality far more than a game could.

Read Pokémon Go in the Lower Ninth Ward by Rob Walker

Turning the airport dash into an Olympic sprint

Check out how Tokyo-based creative lab PARTY uncoiled a carpeted running track in the newest terminal of Narita Airport. A playful nod to Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics, the running track directs travelers toward their gates (blue lanes) and to baggage claim (red lanes.)

What a delightful—and inexpensive—way to guide visitors with a knowing wink that both acknowledges the frantic pace of travel and celebrates the upcoming Olympic festivities.

See more at Visual News and Spoon and Tango.

Early Lessons from Disney’s MagicBands


Disney launched MagicBands—RFID wristbands—at its Orlando parks in 2013. They were developed to replace ticketing and hotel room keys, to enhance and personalize experiences at the parks and, of course to make it easier to spend money on Disney property.

Disney shared a few of their observations about how people use the wearable technology in an article entitled A Billion-Dollar Bracelet Is the Key to a Disney Park. We can learn a lot from their comments:

1. When you launch a new technology for visitors, training staff is critical. Disney’s 70,000 employees had to be trained on the smartband system — the pilot was extended partially to complete training.

2. You can learn a lot from pilot tests. Disney launched this project with a “test-and-adjust” phase which they had to extend to learn as much as they could from the initial visitor interaction. First, only selected visitors who stayed at Disney resorts were able to opt in to the Magic Bands—now all visitors to Disney World can use them. Over the course of the pilot, about 3.5 million visitors used the technology.

3. Visitors prefer smartphones to kiosks in this case. “A faster-than-expected consumer shift to mobile devices had actually saved Disney money; most guests are using their smartphones to gain access to the system while inside the parks, reducing the need for Disney to install costly kiosks.”

4. It is very difficult to pinpoint return on investment on technology that improves the visitor experience. “we’re still trying to figure out how to measure the return on what is a rather large investment. That’s where the frustration is.” While they know that the system allowed 3,000 more visitors to enter the Magic Kingdom (frictionless entry to the park), they do not know the overall impact of the system.

Birdman: The Ride

What does the film Birdman have to do with playfinding? Playfinding, as defined here, is the concept of transforming the taxing and often austere act of navigating into a delightful, enchanting experience. Or, to repeat a Chinese proverb: “the journey is the reward.” Alejandro González…

Take a swing

Eric Howeler and Meejin Yoon of the Boston firm Howeler and Yoon Architecture have transformed a temporary park in South Boston into a delightful surprise — glowing swings beckon old and young to curl up and sway in purple orbits. Meejin Yoon has a playful perspective on the public realm, and thrilled Xlab 2013 audiences. Please join us for Xlab 2014 on November 6.

Read more at Atlantic Cities:
Wait Your Turn for the Swings at Boston’s Adult Playground

Taptic/Haptic Feedback

applewatchdemo1How will game developers and navigation app developers use the Apple Watch’s Taptic Engine? At the launch on September 9th, Apple’s Kevin Lynch explained that the watch will tap you on the wrist to tell you whether to turn left or right as you follow a route on Apple Maps.

Soon we will able to literally (and gently) nudge visitors toward their destination—a real improvement over squinting at maps or obeying Siri’s commands…

How might the Apple Watch making traveling easier? The New York Times weighs in…