Mise en Place in the Design Lab

The column of energy

Originally uploaded by anselm23

When kids arrived for Design Lab: Game Studio on Friday, I was already there, cutting out paper shapes to assemble e Platonic solids shown here (you’re looking toward the northwest corner of the design lab with the library and the 3D printer in the background).

The first kid to arrive said, “that’s cool… Can I do that?” and I said,

“Sure… The templates are in the right filing cabinet, the scissors are on the tool shelves in the green box, and the glue sticks are just below or above the scissors.”

The second kid helped guide the first kid into this little game. The third kid learned from the first two. And the others just followed easily into the exercise. I just instructed the first one, and the others fell into the pattern.

And then the “new kid” showed up. This is the one who’s just joined our group this week, who has never attended a design lab event before. And I said, “have you taken the tour?”

A little frightened, he said no. So I said, “folks we have a new member of the studio. Someone take him on the tour.”

So, as I watched kids working with scissors and glue sticks, while pretending to make my own Platonic solids, a couple of kids took our newest class member on the tour. “here’s the graphic design station. Here’s the 3D printer, and the stencil cutter. Here’s the sewing machine … You need special training to use it, so ask Mr. Watt before you start sewing. Here’s the tools. You can use anything in a green-labeled box without asking…. Yellow labels, ask first. Red labels, let Mr. Watt do it.” and so it went, with them explaining the difference between an ‘ooops’ and a genuine error that damages work… And how we atone for that… And the design library… Here’s the materials library. Heres the filing cabinets, which have our swipe files and template files and prior work archives… And that’s the tour.

And then we lined up, and we shook his hand, and welcomed him to the team.

When you come to a new workplace, you have to take the tour. You’ve done it, I’ve done it. It is assumed you know how to work the photocopier, and that you can search a clearly-labeled filing cabinet, and that you can learn to work specialty equipment. And so I’ve designed the tour, with an eye to the idea that this is how we bring people into the experience of participating in the Design Lab.

And it worked. The kid became a member of the studio. In a short while, he was making Platonic solids just like the rest of us (the filing cabinet was empty, but thereafter we moved on to designing possible boards for our board game. And he was a member of the team. He knew where stuff was. He’d been shown around the firm, he knew where the office supplies were, and he could fend for himself. I was really pleased by what he contributed.

But it wouldn’t have been possible without mise en place —that bit of French culinary tradition which gets translated into American design culture as “mess in place” — know where your tools and materials are, designate their locations, and then train other people to know where stuff goes, and where it goes back. The result is that it was much easier to normalize the process of welcoming a new class member, and much easier to normalize the process of “starting work.” at the start of class — I was doing something cool, so everyone else felt that it was ok to be working on that too. The new kid got shown around, and welcomed to the program. The fact that we’d made parts which may become the basis of our game design was an added bonus.

Plus they’re really cool. Stacked at right, they’re not quite in the traditional energetic order of the Platonic Solids (the dodecahedron should be one place up, the icosahedron one place down), they’re a representation of the classical forces of the Universe: earth, spirit, water, air and fire.

One of the things that came up during our opening design process was the concept that in games, simple actions reveal growing complexity. The Platonic solids revealed that underlying complexity as glue, tape and scissors brought flat paper into complex shapes by means of human interaction with tools. I’m hoping that the game that kids design will have a deep underlying complexity… But really I don’t have to hope.

Because they’re all, already, manifesting complex behaviors from simple actions. They’ve taken the tour. They’re giving the tour. They’ve constructed the polygons. The mess is coming into place.

One of the signs with a quotation on it, on the walls of the Design Lab, says “When you build it in the world, you build it in your mind.”

Via Flickr:
You’re looking at a column of the five Platonic solids built out of paper and glue, rising on one of the tables in the design lab. When kids came to design class on Friday, I was already there, cutting out the paper shapes and gluing them together. I already had two or three made.

I don’t know how many kids joined in the game of making them, but quite a lot did. And we now have a dozen such shapes made.

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