Design as a Game Changer

August 24, 2014

By Lulu Raghavan

Like every harried parent who has to deal with restless kids in a restaurant, I succumb to the only available magical solution, the iPad. While its amazing kid-quieting capabilities continue to amaze me, my selfish motive continues to disturb me. Shouldn’t they be playing real games with real toys like I used to? Obviously, the founders of Tangible Play felt the same. They created Osmo, an amazing combination of iPad delight and real toys to give you a reality game rather than a virtual reality one. Osmo uses a simple plastic stand, a mirror, and some building objects but the engaging gaming experience it creates will make any parent want to kiss their feet.

Yes! The amazing world of design does it again. If you stop for a moment and look around you, you’ll realise that quietly but rightfully, we’ve let it influence how we think, act and behave. So my question is, is the way people live their lives creating the designed environment, or is it a consequence?

In the early days of its existence, design was a sexy, shiny buzzword for all things bright and beautiful. It focussed on aesthetics. It indicated an evolved lifestyle. Designers were iconic, as were their creations. Today design is all embracing. It welcomes everybody. It simplifies our day. It wows us with possibilities. It delineates our social status. Design rules, predicts.   Design is here to fulfil a need, or create one and then fulfil it. But can it make a big difference to the big issues of our time? Absolutely!

MITDesign is a problem solver. MIT Media Labs have successfully turned a horrifying 200 sq.ft. of living space into a fashionable apartment 3 times that size. CityHome is a house in a mechanical box that stows a bed, dining room table, kitchen surface, a cooking range, a closet, and multipurpose storage that easily glide in and out using gestures, touch and voice control.

Design is cleaning up the environment. Could you ever imagine drinking water that’s distilled from a car exhaust pipe? Well Honda could. Their new hydrogen powered car, Honda FCX runs so clean, its exhaust pipes contains only clean water that’s drinkable. Their activation was equally innovative. The company bottled this water branded as H2O and gave it away as free samples at movie theatres.

Design is taboo-breaking. Monokini 2.0 is a thought-provoking social art project that aims to reinvent modern swimwear for breast cancer survivors.   The scar-revealing costume is meant to signify a triumph for single-breasted women who have won the battle against the disease. They intend to incite a positive self- image and want women to be proud of their bodies, not be ashamed of it.


Design creates more design. To foster creativity, Google Ventures has chucked the Foosball table and put a war room in its place. Simply put, it’s a dedicated space with floor to ceiling whiteboards, windows, and empty walls where you can stick stuff. This kind of environment has proven to extend the team’s memory, facilitate shared note-taking and act as long-term storage for works in progress. It works, obviously!

Design is making our future brighter. Remember how we hawed and hummed through our science classes? Fortunately the children of today have Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception in San Francisco, which was designed to change the way the world learns. Calling it a museum does it injustice. Its interactive exhibits, informal atmosphere and sophisticated teacher training programs make it an inviting scientific playground for people of all ages.

Design gives hope. I notice that most hospitals in India have a temple in their premises, but not a smile on their face. When asked to create a simple wayfinding system to navigate one’s way across the complex Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, Landor Associates turned it into a fun and welcoming environment using a natural world theme. The idea was to use the wayfinding as a distracting and therapeutic system. Using the Great Ormond Street principle of ’the child comes first’, they even consulted children in the development of the project.

Design doesn’t have to be complicated. It needn’t be high tech. The simpler it is, the more wonder-working. It could even be old-fashioned. Or recyclable. Box Play creates eco-friendly stickers which can be slapped on used milk cartons, tubes, boxes turning them into fun, new toys. The company was started by a designer couple whose daughter had a fascination for old boxes and stickers.

And then there is design for mass hysteria sporting events. As much as I believe in the evils of junk food, I cannot help laud McDonald’s for their innovative World Cup promotion.   For the first time, the chain has changed its familiar red fries box globally, to 12 different World-Cup-themed designs by artists from around the world. And there’s more.   On downloading an augmented reality game app, these boxes turn into a virtual soccer field. Customers can begin playing by holding their mobile screen in front of the box to start the game on the screen.

For any kind of design to work, it has to establish a close connection with the user. I like to think of it as a close friend who understands what I need and will never leave my side, however uncomfortable the situation. With their recent ‘Friendly Twist’ campaign, Coca-Cola proved their loyalty to their consumers by creating bottles which could only be opened by two people. The idea was to help college freshman break the ice. In asking for help, conversations would start and friends would be made.   Truly, “Always Cocoa-Cola”!

So yes, I love the way my life is changing, or evolving, or being designed.   Now where’s my iPad? The kids need to play.

This blog was originally published by Business Standard (August 2014).

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