the living doc of designing for play

We don’t design for enough play in our world.

In a world driven by data, KPIs, efficiency, and (imo) the bare minimum — I often think about the little things that make something really special. Often, I find these little things have very little direct impact on any metric of success (or as my corporate colleagues might say, they don’t “move the needle” in the organization). It’s almost like putting a number on experience. Or a value on “good” design. It just doesn’t happen often, because we live in a world run and made by numbers.

This thought actually came to me while watching HGTV: all of these homes featured and designed all look the same. The same white wash. The same mid-century furniture. But, they televise so much emotion that it connects with people as basic as I am. They truly show that while furniture makes a house, the intangible and sentimental make it a home.

In my opinion, that’s the ethos of “designing for play”. How do you create an experience that just sparks, well, this kind of un-designed moment:

Ad Astra
Ad Astra, Nuit Blanche Toronto (2013) - for me, the project (and specifically, this image) that started it all.

And as I watch TV, as I jump between gigs, as I walk through the city; I’m constantly learning and re-thinking the way I operate and design the next thing. This living document serves to try to untangle what’s in my head in public, and spark new ways of seeing the world. I encourage you to join me on my journey into my inner curiosity, as I look at the world and reflect on my experiences.

Here’s how I see the world.


Designing with heroic transformation in mind.

A new mindset for designing for impact, transformation, and meaning. Here’s my take on “HCD” — hero-centered design. What if the world was designed like theme parks? How might we re-imagine our everyday experiences, with the same level of impact that entertainment attractions aim to have? Here are six ways to start thinking with your hero (your transformed humans) in mind.

Principles of Hero-Centered Design:

  1. The Hero’s Journey: Holistic Transformation
  2. The Sidekick: A Safety Net
  3. The Establishing Shot: Setting a Tone
  4. The Magic Circle: Inviting Agency
  5. The Defining Moment: Celebrating Progress
  6. The Surprise Twist: Keeping it Fresh

  • Stopping your research when you only know functional needs and expectations
  • Only thinking about the solo experience, sheltered from simultaneous factors
  • Creating seamless experiences for the sake of seamlessness
  • Ask yourself about the subtle emotions you’re designing for (feelings of belonging, comfort, celebration, anticipation)
  • Consider the bigger picture: what happens for the user before your design? After?
  • Design for adjacent users as part of your core user’s journey
  • Creating moments of interaction is one thing: how do you make it overly expressive?

Designing for surprise, to keep repeatability fresh and impactful.

What does it take to keep it fresh? Here are some elements of surprise that can help make the repeatability factor a reality, in large and small ways.

The Elements of Surprise:

  1. Shareable Cuteness 🥺
  2. Unexpected Romance 💙
  3. Excessively Expressive ✨
  4. Random Acts of Ridiculousness 😱

  • Expecting repeatability to mean massive, expensive, or complicated change
  • Minimalism because it’s trendy or easy
  • How might you make small moments of interaction, unexpectedly joyful, cute, romantic, or ridiculous?
  • Think beyond the solo transaction — how can you adjust one small element to invite expression and sharing?
  • Make “campy” design all the rage: what’s the story you’re telling, and how do you amplify it in every detail?

Last updated: @November 15, 2021

Next up...


designing with surprise to be WFH ready
October 3, 2021
hero-centered design
August 8, 2021
a letter to 2023
January 1, 2023
reflecting on a dinner for one 🍽️
August 7, 2022
the creativity happy hour
May 5, 2017