Narrative Games: Changing Stories By Breaking Rules

“Two innovative recent board games—Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories—make narrative a central feature of their designs,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Every play of a game unfolds differently; unlike in a book or movie, the ending isn’t set … From the players’ decisions evolves a narrative or story, with important choices, dramatic tension, surprises and turning points.”

“Pandemic Legacy is a new incarnation of the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players take on the roles of public-health workers and collaborate to vanquish a set of diseases that have spread across the globe.” After each game, players “open a factory-sealed envelope that reveals instructions on how to modify the game before their next play. The board, pieces, cards and even the rules themselves may change.”

In T.I.M.E. Stories, “players are time-traveling agents who have to enter alternate realities (such as 1920s Paris) and solve mysteries to save the world. Once your team wins, you can’t play again—that’s the end of the story.”

“Traditionally, a game is defined by its rules. If you don’t let pawns turn into queens, you aren’t playing chess, and if you make captures optional, you aren’t playing checkers. The success of Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories shows that this rule itself was made to be broken.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studio: The ‘Ultimate Creative Indulgence’

“On the western edge of the Nike campus there is a glass and steel building that is not like the others,” reports The New York Times. “It is not named after an athlete, like the John McEnroe building, where the executive offices are, or the Tiger Woods, where the conference center is. It is not all blond wood and long corridors, as are the rest of the structures.”

“Rather, it is an airy, loftlike space called Blue Ribbon Design Studio, which opened just a year ago. It is full of bolts of fabric and sewing machines, silk-screen printers and other creative tools, and looks like nothing so much as ‘art school but better,’ according to Ryan Noon, who directs it … The space even has its own scent, which Mr. Noon created and named ‘Freedom of the Creative Mind,’ a combination of canvas, gesso, sawed wood and ‘sexy Nike designer sweat,’ he said. Also its own uniform: graphic light blue and white smocks, ‘like what they wear in couture ateliers.'”

“Blue Ribbon was built, he said, because Nike realized that its designers needed an unstructured space where they could just play around and make things — almost anything they wanted. It is the ultimate creative indulgence.”

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John Maeda: Three Kinds of Design

John Maeda, a design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, highlights three kinds of design, reports Wired: There’s design (‘classical design’), business (‘design thinking’), and technology (‘computational design’).”

“The last two have to do with creating products with empathy for the customer, and keeping pace with current paradigms in technology, respectively. They also tend to have more reach. Where classic design might impact a million active users, design thinking and computational design stand to affect hundreds of millions.”

“What’s more, classic design projects tend to be finite; whether it’s a building or a page layout, once they’re built, they’re done. In business or technology design, the product is always evolving.” Maeda says the three categories “are co-dependent” but that design thinking and computational design are where the growth is.

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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Beds-in-a-Box: The Big Mattress

The Wall Street Journal: “Mattresses were long considered immune to the e-commerce boom. For decades, they have been sold in showrooms full of dozens of styles with dizzying discounts and high-pressure salespeople. But a new breed of upstarts with slick websites has cracked into the $14 billion U.S. mattress industry. The online sellers offer just a few varieties at fixed prices—and ship free to customers’ doors a foam mattress that is compressed into a box the size of a large suitcase.”

“In place of the chance to try out a $5,000 Tempur-Pedic with adjustable base or lie down on a $2,500 Serta iComfort with gel memory foam, they promise free shipping, 100-day guarantees and free returns. It is a process aimed at the often wealthier, younger and busy shoppers who care less about kicking the tires and more about convenience … Compressed mattresses promise high margins because they are cheaper to ship than inner spring mattresses that can’t be compressed … Because of how carriers like FedEx and UPS charge, delivering a 90-pound compressed mattress is less expensive than home delivery with a regular truck.”

“Returns, however, are a challenge.” As Scott Thompson, CEO of Tempur Sealy, explains: “Getting the bed back in the box, that’s a little bit of a problem.” Other online mattress sellers include Casper Sleep, Leesa Sleep and Yogabed.

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A Revolution in Toothbrush Design

Gizmodo: “Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a virtual brushing simulator that promises to revolutionize how toothbrushes are designed and tested … The size, shape, and elasticity of a toothbrush’s bristles can be precisely modified and tested in the simulator, but so can the size, shape, and quantity of the abrasive particles in a toothpaste.”

“Highly controlled experiments can be conducted in the simulator allowing toothbrush designers to almost instantly determine how effective a new bristle design is at removing dirt while still preserving tooth enamel … So in the future when a commercial for a new toothbrush promises it to be effective at battling plaque and gingivitis, hopefully its creators will be able to show the simulated results backing up their claims before you make the upgrade.”

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Late & Great: @ Ray Tomlinson

Engadget: “It’s a sad day for the Internet: Ray Tomlinson, widely credited with inventing email as we know it, has died … In 1971, he established the first networked email system on ARPANET (the internet’s ancestor), using the familiar user@host format that’s still in use today. It wasn’t until 1977 that his approach became a standard, and years more before it emerged victorious, but it’s safe to say that communication hasn’t been the same ever since.”

“His choice of the @ symbol for email popularized a once-niche character, making it synonymous with all things internet. Arguably, he paved the way for modern social networks in the process … barring a sea change in communication, it’s likely that the effect of his work will be felt for decades to come.”

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JC Penney To Display Dresses Like Oreos

The Dallas Morning News: “What does a $2.49 package of Oreo cookies have to do with a $24.99 colorful summer dress? … A prominent display of Oreos in the supermarket includes pictures of the cookies, maybe with milk, and a discounted price in big print. Then there’s a rack of cookies right there. If you had to hunt down the Oreos, you might forget about them.”

At Penney’s, a “rack of dresses will be right behind the mannequins where shoppers can find them. Plus there’s a big sign with the price.”

“We’re making it as easy as possible to buy the dress,” says JC Penney CMO Mary Beth West, who “spent most of her career in the consumer packaged goods business devising ways to get us to spend billions of dollars on brands such as Ritz, Philadelphia, Nabisco, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Jell-O and Cool Whip.”

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Is Creativity a Fruit of Dementia?

The Wall Street Journal: “There are several theories on the connection between dementia and artistry. The first involves the prefrontal cortex, contained within the frontal lobe, home of high-level analysis and planning. When the region is damaged in frontotemporal dementia, people stop filtering their behavior and let go of their inhibitions. In the absence of the prefrontal lobe’s self-monitoring, an underlying creative drive emerges.”

“By looking back at the brains of these patients, researchers have found that most of the damage is on the left side—leading to a second theory. Many studies have shown that while the left brain is more analytical and calculating, the right hemisphere is better at interpreting visuospatial relationships and, by extension, creating artwork. When the previously dominant left hemisphere is damaged, the visuospatial faculties of the right hemisphere rise to prominence.”

Also: “It turns out that psychologists have noticed the prevalence of artistic talent among dyslexic children. Studies of university students further reveal high rates of dyslexia among art students. Based on studies of the writing of Leonardo da Vinci, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, some scholars believe they were dyslexic.”

“With further study, we may come to confirm traditional lessons on how to harness creative potential—by releasing our inhibitions, not overthinking, and engaging in free association.”

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