Needmore Notes
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Needmore Notes

Nintendo’s Labo for Designers

As a designer, not a gamer. I find myself more interested in the user interface than the games themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to extract $50 worth of value from these games when I’ve learned everything I want to about how they work after just a few hours.

He’s unconventional!!

However, Nintendo often doesn’t think like other game and game system makers. Known for their unconventional approaches to entertainment, at their best they can think beyond the traditional confines of gaming. Think of Pokémon (or Pokémon Go), which encouraged and facilitated unique interactions. Or their Wii systems, which seemed to appeal to just about every age group. My wife’s grandmother bought one to play bowling and tennis with friends when they were over, and it helped her to keep active, something video games aren’t exactly known for.

Which is why the idea behind Nintendo’s Labo appealed to me. Given their track record, I thought they could come up with something both interesting and unconventional. I’ll skip the “review” writing–there are a hundred other places to read those–and just give you my thoughts as a designer.

These are my lessons learned from a few days with Labo, as a designer.

“Work” can and should be fun

Games aren’t the only way to have fun. Assembling cardboard “creations” is very enjoyable. It feels like a cross between origami and technology. There is something undeniably gratifying in building something from scratch, and that’s really what this feels like. You know it’s going to take two hours, and at the end, it feels pretty impressive.

The journey is the reward.

You can do creative things with technology besides trying to make “another cardboard VR thing”

I spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about, and working with technology. It’s exciting when all the pieces come together and something really does feel effortless, like it did with the first iPhone. But when it comes to VR, we’re not there yet. Everything that doesn’t reach that point feels like a let-down.

Cardboard is a pretty “known commodity,” and Nintendo gets it just right.

Instructions are important

The Labo software does an excellent job of walking you through the steps of building things. Many have compared it (favorably) to IKEA instructions. You can play it forward or in reverse, or even fast-forward the steps. It pauses while you’re working.

You never feel rushed, and they remind you of when it’s a good time to take a short break.

There’s room to surprise and delight in even the most mundane tasks

When you’re controlling playback speed of the instructions, the delightfully upbeat musical soundtrack works well with your activity. While you’re working, it gets quieter. While you’re playing the video, it gets a bit louder. When you’re rewinding the video, some of the audio is playing backwards (but not all!).

When you complete a larger piece of work, you get a little celebratory animation and some music. When you finish a project, you see a longer animation where your creation takes off like a rocket. It definitely gives you a feeling of greater accomplishment and is rewarding in its own right.

It’s remarkable to see a DIY construction project turned into an addictive game.

Copywriting is super important

I love the tone of the instructions, they’re entertaining and goofy but never condescending or annoying. Siri could learn from this.

There were numerous times during the process that it brought a smile to my face. I can’t remember the last time that happened with instructions. Especially nice when there were a number of repetitive steps, and the writing made light of the monotony.

I also learned that the hexagon is the coolest of shapes.

It doesn’t actually matter much what you’re building

I enjoyed building more than playing with them, but my five year old thought they were amazing, better than any video game.

As a designer, I found the Labo to be a fascinating exercise. As a parent, it was a unique bonding experience. If you are either of these, you should check it out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a motorcycle to build.




Thoughts on design, marketing, media and business, from the folks at Needmore Designs in Portland, Oregon.

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Raymond Brigleb

Raymond Brigleb

Designer in Portland, Oregon. Wife Kandace, daughters Zoë and Greta. Partner at Needmore Designs, and eternal optimist.

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