Thursday, August 7, 2014

Instant Artifact — design, film and board games

Last night we watched a documentary film titled "Time Zero: the last year of Polaroid film." As you might guess it's a film about the end of Polaroid film — specifically integral instant film. Like most things I enjoy, this documentary got me thinking. With my roots being in visual design and having done a lot of design for print and advertising I have a great love for the physical artifacts that we create as designers and as human beings. There is something special about the interaction that we have with the made artifacts in our physical environment. To some large and rapidly accelerating degree we are loosing these experiences as they are replaced with the digital spaces where we spend our time. 

I don't completely sympathize with the points of view expressed in the film. But, the thought of leaving behind such a cherished technology is a little heartbreaking. I have spent a significant part of my life working and interacting with artists who use this technology (not to mention the fact that my daughter is a professional photographer/artist). So... much of this documentary struck some pretty deep emotions within me. Integral, instant, Polaroid film is magical even today, so many years after it's invention. This is repeatedly brought home in this film. A Poloroid is a moment capture, a work of art... literally a one of a kind instant artifact that engages all of the senses... you hear the camera's unique series of sounds as it clicks, whirs and ejects the item of interest. You can smell a faint whiff of chemicals as you hold the blank frame in your hand and the photo slowly reveals itself. 

Part way into the documentary the film makers interview an employee of Polaroid. This man was involved at some high level with sales and marketing of their instant film product line. He describes the withering sales that were recorded over many years as consumers slowly embraced newer technologies. In 2005 they decided it was time to end production and phase out instant film. They put together a 5 year plan with a forcast of sales. They built up their stock of the product and pulled the plug on production to initiate their 5 year plan. What happened surprised them — sales leveled off and began to rebound. But, the company stuck the plan and so Polaroid instant film was ended.

It may come as no surprise that as I watch this film my thoughts turned towards board games. Some of you may find it intriguing that the sales of board games has increased by 10-20% every year for the last 10 years. What could explain such a trend? Why is it that I find designed physical artifacts so compelling? Is there some school of psychology to explain this? If it were explained in such a way that I understood it in some rational way would the magic die? I suspect not. In fact I believe that I would find all of it even more compelling.


  1. Nice work and thought provoking. I am glad that board games are coming back. If only they didn't take so long to play.

    1. Laurie - how long is too long? We could make some good suggestions for reasonably quick family games :)