Why Play?

Human beings are playful creatures.  If we are to understand human design and intention we must understand the process of play.  The professional designer is in some way paid to retain the plasticity and playfulness of the childlike mind, to be able to play with ideas and forms in ways that most adults have long forgotten, but for which they long.

Professional designers normally have to work at being playful, at moving from being sober and serious to being able to explore the space of ideas around a project.  Having achieved playfulness (delight), of course, the professional designer then also needs to guide their playfulness to solve the problems of design, that is, to guide the perceptions of the user in some way.

Some designers also discuss the process of play as the process of allowing one's subconscious or one's “intuition” to take over and work from the gut on a project.[1]  By releasing tension and concern about a project, a designer is able to explore ideas “laterally”, that is, to avoid reductive thinking and explore the problem space more expansively, discovering ideas which are not already understood.  As much of design is a process of choosing among otherwise equal-seeming approaches, the ability to move beyond a “stable” solution to find other possible solutions allows the mind to avoid gridlocking in a design.  The process of play allows one to avoid “local minima” in solutions.

Within the perceptual system, play seems to be a mechanism to allow one to explore the alternate models or approaches which would otherwise be suppressed by our current model of the world. Playfulness allows us to discount potentially negative outcomes so that we can try approaches which would otherwise be immediately rejected as being “silly”, as we understand the “Safe Space” of play to avoid the negative effects.

[1] David Carson, TED Talk “Design Discovery and Humour”, 2003


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