Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Board Games and the Future of Graphic Design in a World of Interaction

From very early in their education graphic design students must start thinking about design in terms of interaction, user-experience, and systems.   

The future of design will very likely be centered in digital spaces where these ways of thinking are crucial. I propose that board game design can be a powerful bridge to help beginning students do just that. Designing board games forces students to think in systems without requiring them to be skilled at writing code or using complex software features. Students tasked with designing a board game can use common materials like paper, markers, scissors and found objects. Using such materials students can work unconstrained to develop complex systems of interaction and user-experience.

My research for the last three years has focused on board game designers, their design processes and the artifacts that they create. These designers are often adept at rapidly prototyping complex systems that are represented in a very physical and visual form. In conjunction with this, the designer's primary effort is the creation of a set of rules outlining the behavior of the system — i.e. the function, use and experience of the physical artifact. In other words the board game designer creates a system — 

- the structure of the system is represented in the physical artifact as it is set up on the table AND

- the behavior of the system is described in the rule-set for playing the game.

These two characteristics — the structure and behavior of systems — form a comprehensive (if somewhat basic) framework for thinking, creating and working in systems.

Last semester I incorporated the design of a board game into the curriculum of my “Intro to Graphic Design” course. Students in these classes began by conducting ethnographic research to understand a particular group of people and a space that they frequent. This research was analyzed by the students using visual methodologies. This visual analysis was used to generate a problem statement that then drove the creation and testing of a board game. So, far the results of this course curriculum seem positive. I believe that this use of a visual ethnographic approach and its application in the form of creating a board game provides an accessible entry point for beginning graphic design students to begin thinking and working is ways that prepare them for the future of design.


  1. I think this is a sound approach. I find that my game design work and my professional software / UX analysis work continually reinforce each other. Regardless of the medium, it's all about creating the best possible interactive user experience. (Which is why I get frustrated by all the "theme first / mechanics first" arguments in the board game design community: the answer is "experience first"!)