"If you need to attach a sign that says push this button, the idea is flawed" I am in the offices of the Future Cities Catapult, with the other Playable City judges to interview and select the winner of our third Playable City Award. We are sharing thoughts on interaction design, what makes a good Playable City project and how we ensure that the winner is as accessible and engaging to a wide audience as our previous year's winners. Every year the project we choose develops and shapes our thinking about interaction and play in the city - so the pressure feels very much on.
We have a very strong, international shortlist of seven - honed down from the 197 entries we received from 60 countries. The projects vary hugely - from event-based spectacular projects to quieter, more ambient installations. Across the board though, the standard is high.
We see Playable City as a framework to think differently about the city and its citizens - a c£100k budget cannot provide direct solutions to specific urban problems, but it can unlock social dialogue, either between people and their city (as in Hello Lamp Post's sentient street furniture) or between people and each other (as with Shadowing's invitation to walk into the light from a streetlamp and play).
Playable City projects transform city spaces into places of unexpected interaction. They generate ideas that prompt citizens to connect and to think differently. Whilst they cannot be expected to provide specific solutions to city challenges, we have found they act as powerful conversation starters - supporting and catalysing the change that people want to see in their city. As the international interest in Playable City has grown (its pace taking us a little by surprise), we have worked with partners like Picnic from Madrid, to clarify the vision for what we are trying to achieve.
So this year, despite having seven great projects to interview, a clear idea of the Playable City values, helps inform the 2015 choice: In September 2015, Urbanimals, a playful pack of wild beasts, will inhabit the forgotten corners and unloved passageways of the city of Bristol.
Created by award-winning Polish architects LAX, the Urbanimals will live in the grimy, unnoticed parts of the city, inviting you to jump, race, sneak and play with them - riffing off the built environment in ways we have never experienced before.
This magically interactive project (which will be created using projectors and sensors) will stretch across the whole city (rather than just the centre), allowing a wide audience to enjoy the pleasure of playing and engaging others to notice their city in new ways.
As part of Watershed's wider Playable City programme, we are also developing work in Tokyo, in partnership with British Council Japan and will be traveling with the LAX team to attend Mori's Innovative City Forum in the autumn. I hope Urbanimals' intuitive interaction and origami-style animation will ensure the project receives a warm response in Japan, like Hello Lamp Post did in April.
Of course now the project has been selected the real fun starts - the LAX team will be in Bristol from mid-June to begin exploring sites for the project, rethinking some of the interaction, testing, testing and more testing. The launch will be in Bristol, UK in September 2015. I can't wait to see what emerges.
Image credits: Urbanimals by LAX laboratory for architectural experiments (Anna Grajper, Sebastian Dobiesz), Shadowing by Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier, Hello Lamp Post Tokyo by PAN Studio.