Why Play? What Being a Designer Means to Me.

I’ve been on quite the journey in the 8 years since I committed to learning the tools of being a Designer, and in figuring out exactly what that role meant. Since reading Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters while completing my Masters research, I’ve seen play in a lot of different ways, and in a lot of different perspectives. Reflecting on my past as we enter 2017, I’ve realized that the word ‘play’ strangely — but almost perfectly — describes what I do professionally, and believe in as a Designer.

Here’s why ‘play’ sits at the core of my beliefs:

I design with, and for, play.

I currently work in the Creative Studio at FORREC Ltd, an entertainment design company that specializes in theme parks, visitor attractions, and retail environments. At FORREC, I literally design with play! I’m fortunate to work on projects that have play components, attractions, or simply embody ‘playfulness’. However, beyond theme parks and museums, I believe that play is integral in the built environment as it fosters creativity, curiosity, and story-making in every day life. Growing up in Toronto, where condo towers and high-rise development are prevalent amongst an architectural culture known for ubiquity, uniformity, and ‘condominiumization’ [1], an injection of play into the streetscape can do a thing or two for Toronto urbanism.

As a kid, I used to imagine alternate worlds to role play with my brother. Yes, we were those types of kids: storytelling at a young age, and in a way, we still kind of do. We spent many, many holidays at the Royal Ontario Museum, playing Dungeons and Dragons in their kids’ programming (of which he now teaches). This type of play growing up has informed a lot of my work today, and is why I find designing theme parks so interesting, as they inspire visitors to create their own stories within a built “other” world.

Play has an inherent ability to foster story-telling and story-making, and can be used as a tool for connecting people with other people, with brands, and with shared beliefs and cultures. It made the bond between myself and my brother — and I’m sure many other young creatives — even greater. It’s pretty darn exciting to see this happen — in all honesty, I see “designing for play” almost synonymously as “designing for people” that doesn’t define itself by any medium (physical, digital, systems, etc). Designing for play often entails inspiring an active engagement with a space or thing, rules meant to be broken, stories meant to be re-interpreted: so why wouldn’t this be a goal as a Designer to achieve this level of human connection?

I design through play.

I believe that design is incredibly broad and wide-reaching, and interesting design (aka creative thinking and innovation) grows out of playful thinking. I’m a big believer in working with wonderful weirdoes and aim to think differently through incorporating play into the design process. Prototyping, iterating, and having fun, are the keys to thinking outside of the box! At the office, creative thinking doesn’t stop around 9–5, and oftentimes, the “aha” moments come from serendipity: we’re definitely not afraid to be weird (aka “ourselves”) around each other, and the eccentric jokes and interplay helps keep the creativity alive.

Most of the projects I’m most proud of (this, this, and this) have originated from outside the 9–5 life and with people in very different roles, industries, and disciplines; doing hackathons just for fun, meeting up for competitive board game nights, or just from chatting over coffee! Of course, I owe this type of process to designing through play: playing with ideas outside the technical/office constraints, and playing in spaces where it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, to only uncover the biggest insight into a problem or challenge! In fact, the reason I enjoy being a Designer so much is the process of uncovering solutions with people equally as passionate for creating positive change, and those people don’t necessarily (and most often don’t) have the same experiences as I do!

In my spare time, as a passion project, I try to bring this philosophy of designing through play to Gen Z: the next biggest demographic, and quite the topic for 2017. At Studio Bud, we use the power of play and design thinking to unlock the creative potential of youth, and create a safe place for truly blue-sky ideas to form, foster, and grow. As a team, we come from very different disciplines, but our common interests in simply experimenting with new ideas towards innovation and impact drives my motivations to grow as a Designer. And I really owe it to these three people who are just as open as I am to play.

In all, play is fun. It’s why I love to be a Designer, and why I strive to continue to be part of an industry that inspires curiosity through creation. And I’m damn lucky to be doing what I do, and hope to cross as many other creative’s paths to play with ideas that can potentially change the world.