A 15-minute investment in creativity

Despite the allure of the Newton’s apple story (Apple falls, and presto, change-o: an idea is born), creativity doesn’t fall from trees. On the contrary, the kind of creative thinking that drives true innovation takes nurturing. And by nurturing, I mean an honest and consistent commitment to exploration and out-of-the-box thinking in the form of time, resources, and space.

Because, here’s the thing: as product-design company Zurb aptly puts it, “People struggle to be creative when it’s not part of the culture.” Companies may tout “Innovation!” as their driving goal, but that proclamation means nothing if there isn’t infrastructure to support true creative thinking day-to-day.

Which leads me back to Zurb and a simple little practice called Friday 15. On Fridays, their team dedicates, you guessed it, 15 minutes, to some kind of creative exercise. They do this for team-building, fun, and to inspire a creative culture. Here’s a taste of the brain-ticklers they’ve explored together:

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SF Design Week: Cooper Pulls Back the Curtain

What: Cooper’s Open House during AIGA’s SF Design Week Studio Crawl
When: Wednesday, June 26th from 6pm-9pm
Where: Cooper’s Loft Studio, 85 2nd St, 8th Floor, San Francisco, CA

Each summer during San Francisco’s Design Week we celebrate our craft with events and open studios. This year Cooper is especially excited to open its doors and welcome friends and colleagues to its brand new loft space in one of San Francisco’s coolest landmark buildings.

Drop by our studio to share drinks and eats, and explore our new space. See how Cooper is using walls, windows and screens to innovate — play on our white boards, and maybe even win a prize for your sketch or idea as we riff on the topic of Designing the Future. There has never been a more exciting — or imperative — time to create new designs that improve our world. Be a part of the conversation about how you, Cooper, and the rest of our industry will influence the next decade of design.

The Drawing Board: Lyrical Travel


Here at Cooper, we find that looking at the world from the perspective of people and their goals causes us to notice a lot of bad interactions in our daily lives. We can’t help but pick up a whiteboard marker to scribble out a better idea. We put together “The Drawing Board“, a series of narrated videos, to showcase some of this thinking. These aren’t meant to be slick, highly-produced demos—just some ideas we’ve thrown up on the board to stimulate thought and discussion. So enjoy. Discuss. Design.


This Drawing Board was inspired by Experimental Travel, also called Latourex, in which travelers play “games” that determine what they do and how they might do it while on the road. We are enamored of this idea, and wondered how it would translate to a service design with a mobile experience.


Nobody likes to feel like a tourist. When we look for guidance from typical sources, it can feel like we’re all working off the same script and we’re still not connecting to the real place. In this episode, we explore how people can use chance to find inspiration and authentic experiences when they travel.

The Drawing Board Episode 10: Lyrical Travel from Cooper on Vimeo.

Credits: Chris Noessel, Christina Worsing, Greg Schuler

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Asymmetric design arrives

2012 will be the year “asymmetric gaming” entered the interaction design conversation.

Say what?

Introduced by Nintendo this year, asymmetric gaming is poised to shake up video-game design forever. The concept is bound to resonate beyond the game industry, through consumer electronics and interaction design in general. Why now? As core technologies like wireless video streaming and tablets have become cheap and commonplace, the market is ripe for a change in the way we interact in play and work. This is a strong indication that interaction designers should begin considering the vast array of innovative possibilities in asymmetric solutions

Asymmetric gameplay goes mainstream

Nintendo properly unveiled their new ‘asymmetric gameplay’ console, the awkwardly named “Wii U,” at this year’s E3 Expo. The concept is old, but Nintendo hopes to breathe new life into it with a new kind of gamepad, sporting both traditional controls and a 7-inch touchscreen.

Wii U gamepad

The Wii U controller is loaded with sensors and cool tech: accelerometer, gyroscope, speakers and mic, front-facing camera, IR sensor, touchscreen, analog joystick, stylus input, face and trigger buttons, bluetooth and NFC connectivity.

So what is asymmetric gaming, anyway? Well, it’s hard to describe without sounding technical, but the gist of it is providing players different control schemes and specialized objectives in the same game scenario. This is a departure from traditional console game mechanics. Most current games involve a discrete set of roles and strategies, and these are enabled and governed by a single (symmetrical) set of controllers. By introducing a new kind of controller and screen into this mix, Wii U opens up the possibilities for new roles and perspectives, and therefore new kinds of gameplay – asymmetric in nature

Here’s a an example of a Wii U asymmetric game:

Nintendo Land

In this 5 player mini-game, one player holds the tablet controller while the other 4 players run around with standard Wiimotes. Each team has different goals and perspective of the same game world. This kind of mechanism is different because it does not assume a parallel relationship between the game and the gamer(s). Nintendo hopes it will inspire game developers to break the mold of traditional design and pave the way for true multi-platform experiences.

The concept (originally previewed a year ago) certainly caught the attention of competitors like Sony, Microsoft, and even Apple, all of which heavily bet on similar technologies. Microsoft announced Xbox SmartGlass, a software platform to control the Xbox with a phone or tablet. Sony advertised the Playstation Vita’s (Sony’s latest portable console) ability to play the same games as the Playstation 3. Apple is working hard on embedding its AirPlay video streaming technology to all its devices. In fact, it seems very likely that the much-anticipated Apple TV set will use a combination of iPad and Siri as its main control schemes.

Extending asymmetric concepts beyond games

Asymmetric interaction paradigms have clear relevance in non-game contexts as well. For example, a group of users might collaborate and communicate in real-time to accomplish a common task, using interfaces specifically tailored to their individual role.

Television and space launch control rooms, remote controlled camera rigs and remote surgery installations are all examples of asymmetric systems. In these cases, users will tackle a common problem from radically distinct angles and specialized control schemes, while physically together.

One could argue that any group of connected people with different roles, different user interfaces and common goals technically form ad hoc asymmetric systems. Those systems do not fit the definition I am proposing. 

For instance, co-workers co-editing a Google Doc are not interacting asymmetrically. In this case, the technology is used as a crutch to overcome constraints like distance, and the tool itself is does not change to support the role and/or context of the user. True asymmetric tools should enhance the individual capabilities of a group of people who are physically together, resulting in outstanding performance. Simply put, asymmetric systems should embody the 1+1=3 principle.

The high price of asymmetric design

The problems with asymmetric interface systems are predictable: they are expensive and technically complex to implement. They also may suffer inevitable issues of latency, performance, and hardware and software compatibility. On the design end, crafting specialized UIs on different platforms results in increased development time and resources. In effect, only highly technical and high-stakes projects requiring a lot of actors and perfect choreography would justify their existence.

The smaller problems, the ones we design for in our regular practice, usually don’t qualify. Consequently, most design solutions out there are symmetrical, and interaction designers eventually accept it as a formal standard: the user asks the interface to do something; the interface does its job and gives the user feedback; the user processes that feedback and issues a new order… and so forth, in a never-ending –hopefully virtuous — dialogue.

Now is the time for asymmetric solutions

There is a true need for easily implementable and cheap asymmetric design solutions. The good news is, the technology required for asymmetric systems is becoming more accessible. Instantaneous and wireless exchange of rich information between portable devices and cheap hardware make it possible to design asymmetric systems and not worry about implementation as much. Look back at what happened when the Wii and the Kinect came out. Tinkerers and MIT geeks immediately embraced it and beautiful applications quickly surfaced, some with powerful real-world potential.

Think about the innovative possibilities. Start thinking asymmetrically as an exercise when crafting highly specialized systems. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on a Wii U, and to start experimenting.