Playing with Passion: Game Design as a Side Project

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How well do you know design—or how well do you think you know design? If you want a design trivia challenge that goes beyond Facebook comment-thread debates, then download and start playing the DesignWell app.

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Mixing equal parts inspiration, celebration, recreation, education, and competition, DesignWell is a passion project created by Austin, Texas studio Pushstart Creative. With a client list including the likes of GE and Dell, Pushstart Creative still makes time for side projects like DesignWell.

Pushstart’s principal Adrian Taylor, interactive designer Kyle Contino, and studio manager Amy Schweiss answered questions about DesignWell, passion projects, and pleasing users.

What motivated you to create the DesignWell app?
Adrian: As a multidisciplinary studio we’re constantly seeking inspiration from our peers in neighboring creative disciplines. Design is such an expansive practice and it can be really eye opening to study how it’s applied outside of your field. We wanted to create an experience that celebrates the great designs that inspire us. Designers can be a fairly competitive group and we’re never without our phones so a trivia app seemed like a no-brainer.

Amy: We assumed someone would have already had a go at this but were shocked when we couldn’t find a design-focused trivia game in the app store—there were a couple of games on typography but nothing more general than that.

What kind of process did you use during the app’s development and subsequent release?
Adrian: Since DesignWell is a passion project, we worked on it intermittently between projects so it went through a lot of revisions and everyone at Pushstart had their hands on it at one point or another. Trying to create focus around side projects at a studio can be challenging but we find these types of design exercises extremely valuable.

Kyle: We initially built a paper version of the game to test the mechanics and make sure it was fun and challenging to play. After confirming the basic formula we created rapid wireframe click-throughs and then final mockups before diving into development. We conducted a couple play tests (attracting participants with beer and pizza) which really helped us refine the experience. When we look at it today we still see tons of tweaks we would like to make but at some point you gotta ship it.

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How long was the first development cycle—between its planning and final release?
Kyle: We worked on DesignWell intermittently so the timeline has some gaps in it. But from initial inception it took about a year to get it out to the public. Actual development time took about three weeks.

Knowing that designers would use your game, and that designers can be extremely critical of user experience and interactive design, what steps did you take to ensure that they’d be satisfied?
Adrian: We had a lot of trepidation knowing that our audience could be pretty unforgiving but we had enough passion for the project to get over ourselves and just go for it. Since we are celebrating great works we wanted the app to feel a bit like a gallery space: clean, white, minimal. That’s how the true/false question format came about, we didn’t want to clutter up the screen with a lot of information and we didn’t want to try to design something that was going to compete with the designs featured in the game.

Amy: It is impossible to please everyone and there is a bit of a learning curve with the app due to the nature of the true/false format but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how positive and/or constructive the feedback we’ve received has been overall. As much as designers enjoy being critical, they can also be phenomenally supportive.

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What kinds of reactions have you gotten from users who are not designers?
Amy: You don’t have to be a designer to appreciate good design and we’ve seen that with DesignWell. In play tests and in comments from users we’ve heard things like, “Wow, I know a lot more about chairs than I thought I did!”

What are some of the categories that aren’t doing as well as you expected?
Amy: Based on downloads and survey results, game packs that focus on a single designer haven’t been as appealing to people as we expected them to be initially.

What category or categories are doing really well, getting a lot of play time, purchasing, or downloading?
Amy: Color Theory is the leader among gamepacks available for purchase, Iconic Chairs had been the standout in the free category.

What categories have users contacted you about, because they want them to be added?
Kyle: We have a survey up on our website and the two most popular potential categories thus far have been Braun and Bauhaus so we’re working on getting those out.


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Do you foresee a stage in the app when users can create their own categories? And build the game up themselves, in a kind of Minecraft-esque process, where they add categories, questions, and answers?
Amy: While this would be awesome it’s not something we are aiming for right now. As you can imagine there are a lot of copyright issues when sourcing the assets for the game.

Given the success of the app, where could you go next? There is a renaissance happening with board games. Why not develop the app into a board game?
Adrian: Making a card game has always been something we’ve talked about with DesignWell, and we would like to make one in the future. It’s just a matter of figuring out how we can do it in a way that adds value. The social and competitive aspect of trivia is something that might really benefit from a card based version.

What can we look forward to next? With one game completed, do you have plans for a follow-up game? Whether it’s design-related, or something else entirely?

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Amy: Our client work keeps us pretty busy these days but we’ve got a couple side projects in the works. Before DesignWell we launched Desk Rail which was also made with fellow designers in mind, so it’s probably safe to expect something in that space from us in the future.


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