Last Friday I took the day off work to go to Playful 09 at Conway Hall in London – and had a fun and inspiring time.

Playful 09 was billed as “a day of cross disciplinary frolicking“. I liked the look of it when it turned up on my blog feeds – but what really hit home for me was the quote on the booking page from Jonathan Follet’s 2007 article:

Playfulness, like usability, refers to a quality of user experience that can span many disciplines—information architecture, information design, interaction design, and graphic design. In our minds, however, many of us have relegated play to the realms of gaming or kids’ stuff and don’t consider play daily when designing. Though, in the digital space, satisfying the desire to play can be integral in determining the success or failure of a digital product or service. So it’s time for user experience designers to take play seriously. (And stop being so darn boring.)
The idea of playfulness is an essential element of User Experience design that often feels overlooked by both practitioners and those who write about UX. It doesn’t get a look-in on seminal works like Jesse James Garret’s diagram and book, and Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb. These are both excellent models that help us understand the User Experience, but neither discuss playfulness explicitly. Understandings of UX are being extended and adapted to the new social media landscape, and the people-centredness of everything we do in Web 2.0. A common theme I have seen emerging is ‘what we can learn from game design in creating engaging user experiences‘. Rachel Glaves, Jesse James Garret’s colleague at Adaptive Path, writes about it, and it crops up in various forms at conference talks (mp3), slide presentations and articles. Each of these pieces are valid explorations of game design approaches to UX and interface design and make worthwhile listening and reading. But they don’t seem to get to the essence of what it means to include playfulness in your designs. Maybe that’s because play is such an elusive concept not meant for methodologies and models.

Playful 09 was a refreshing approach. It was a satisfyingly irreverent and fun conference with a good amount of interesting stuff presented. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact gems of knowledge that I gained from attending, but I left feeling inspired, notebook full of scribbles, head full of new ideas, new angles on design, and having met an active and exciting community. It really made me feel good.

I agreed with the powers that be at work that I would, in exchange for the day off to attend Playful 09, share my newly gained knowledge with anyone who cares to hear it. So with that in mind I’m looking to compile a summary of it all in the next week or so, and debrief with a few our designers. I will post here too for anyone who cares to read…

Stay tuned.