The Little Things

Interesting philosophy and design insights behind the makers of Cranium. They intentionally tried to create something of a less combative and adversarial nature, towards something more communal and fun. No losers, everyone shines.

Also amazing is the design rationale, the spirit, and the philosophy embodied in everyday things. I'll have to redouble my efforts when looking at ordinary things.

That proved unexpectedly tricky with Balloon Lagoon, the game for kindergarten-age kids. The designers developed four activities that touched on children's different intelligences -- like the frog flipping, a test of dexterity, or spelling with the letters fished out of the word pond, a linguistic challenge. Each player had 30 seconds to try each activity, to maximize the chance that every child would win -- ''shine'' -- at least once. They set up a sand timer to count down the 30 seconds.

But the timer caused unexpected friction, as Alexander recalls: ''One kid would take on the self-appointed task of being the sand-time watcher. And they'd be sitting there tapping the timer and going: 'Time's almost up! Time's almost up!' The trash-talking would start as soon as the timer went on.'' He watched kids sassing one another in a play-test one day and came out shaking his head. ''I said to the team, 'Well, we've done a great job of making the Your Time Is Almost Up game.'''

Then a designer had a breakthrough idea. If the timekeeping was the problem, he reasoned, then they had to ''hide the time'' -- by making the timekeeping invisible. They got rid of the sand timer and replaced it with a music box that plays a tune for 30 seconds, like musical chairs. Each child would play until the song ends and then stop. It was a neat bit of social engineering: with no clock to watch, the kids shifted allegiance and began rooting for each player as he or she vied to complete the task in 30 seconds. ''It transformed it from this schoolmarmish situation to one where they're all cheering each other on,'' Alexander says, ''and high-fiving.''


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