Each year Mudlark hosts Playful; our one-day conference about games, play, design, interaction and behaviour. Each year we give the conference a new look to reflect that year’s theme, keeping things new and exciting.

Last year we focused on DIY, attempting to inspire people to do things themselves, and so the design was very texture heavy—influenced by the photocopied sleeves of punk 7 inches and worn paint. This year, looking at the things we were interested in—the trends that were bubbling up and the work Mudlark have been doing—we soon realised that the nature of things was central.

We settled on “playing with form” as a broad theme, to look at approaches, materials, and using them differently—creatively and playfully. Changing direction from last year, we flipped the design on its head by employing strong colour, geometry and angles peppered with some cutting-edge browser technologies.

Design in its broadest terms is central to everything we do at Mudlark, from designing the interactions and behaviours around our latest project, the Perceptive Radio, to the wordmark laser-etched into its fascia. From the process that takes a user from A to B in the best and most enjoyable way, as in our work for Ravensbourne university, to social impact game design with Half the Sky.

In a way the design for Playful is a very selfish exercise—one that lets me design to my own brief, to try things or techniques that maybe aren’t quite ready for client consumption. It’s a way of flexing my creative muscles and, really, to show off.

Playing with Form

Greg and I set up a Pinterest board to gather and share visual inspiration and to generate a direction. As things began to develop we saw some fun coming out of using illusions. We liked the idea of messing with people almost to the point of annoyance in a fun way.

Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion cover art: a popular application of a visual illusion.

Some early experiments explored pure typography and layout, whilst followed a more rigid and straightforward style with some animated elements; but overall came across a bit too sedate for my own ‘visuals that fuck with people’ remit. I had to get back on track, shake things up a bit.

I was inspired by Siggi Eggertsson when thinking about visual ways of showing form. Eggertsson uses his own geometric grid to create wonderful designs and in some pieces uses contrast to create form between the segments. Initially I thought this could be a route to explore—using subtle contrast and shadows between shapes or images to show form.


A New Year by Siggi Eggertsson: Showing form though a grid, colour and subtle contrast.

A visual trick I eventually developed—the moiré background pattern—became the showpiece of the final design. Using this method I applied different colour combinations and pattern sizes for different sections of the site. I set some of the text at the same obtuse angles making for a playful and unusual layout.

This year’s design has had a very favourable reaction on Twitter and has made its way onto—signs that it has made an impression on people. We pat ourselves on the back at this knowing we’ve done what we set out to do, but also knowing that we have to top it next year.

The moiré pattern made interactive by scrolling: the showpiece of the Playful design.

In Closing

At Mudlark we’re in our element when we get to push the envelope with projects. If you have a design problem then we’d love to hear from you.

Playful 2013 will take place at Conway Hall in London on the 25th of October.

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