How to use your design skills to tap a lucrative market

ShaoLan’s aim is to teach the world the Chinese language using building blocks of language. Oh, and Steve Wozniak bought one.”
Words: Robert Urquhart
The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 232, a design education special packed with insight, inspiration and behind-the-scenes access to the world’s most exciting creative minds. Creativity in education
It’s in our interest to promote the simple building blocks of digital creativity to our children and for those seeking to teach language to harness the age-old wisdom of illustrators. Game developer Sony Santa Monica hired off-beat independent designers and programmers after witnessing a child playing the prototype at a trade show in Los Angeles: “The whole time they were there, there was a   four-year-old boy who wouldn’t get off the game,” laughs Hogg. Using crowdfunding and setting the bid price at $99 for   everything you need to play the first three games, the Osmo   kit,   is   billed as ‘Apple meets Pixar sort of fun’ according to Sharma. “I have a five-year-old daughter, and the technology that she uses feels limited and anti-social. Linda Liukas is optimistic about   the role of creativity in education and   points to designers leading the way. He advises building experiences that are simple and intuitive: “With new trends, you start with something that’s fun, engaging and easy for people to grasp” says Sharma. “What better advert can you get?”
Asked about where he sees graphic design and computer gaming heading, Hogg candidly responds that “if graphic designers like Geoff McFetridge got involved they’d make a fortune – anyone with a more contemporary graphic aesthetic would stand to win against the current competition out there.”

Build-and-play
Linda Liukas, co-founder of Rails Girls, a non-profit volunteer   community aimed at making technology more   approachable for women, is currently writing a book for children, called Hello Ruby, on basic creative programming. There are few rules and plenty of scores that don’t really matter. Pushing the frontiers of creativity from within the machine equates to a solid and controllable business proposition. For at least two years, ad agencies have been talking up a move towards product design; and when the slave turns master, you know something interesting is afoot. According to ShaoLan, who hired several illustrators for the project, including Noma Bar, designers are an indispensable part of the plan: “With more technologies available and as the penetration of smart devices continues, designers could make a huge social and economic impact in the education sector.”
It stands to reason that design will continue to play an   ever-increasing role within education, particularly when   it comes   to   technology. Liukas agrees that there needs to be more physical interaction with technology, but would like to see more emphasis on creation and less on curation; less click-and-play and more build-and-play. “Our world is increasingly run by software and we need more diversity in the people who are building it and teaching it. “This methodology connects the learning journey – students start from recognising simple characters   by appreciating beautiful illustrations. For Pramod Sharma, engineer turned CEO of new games application Osmo, the inspiration for change in the way we see education and technology came from close to home. Make it so intuitive that people want to be creative.”
A lucrative path
There is space in the often gritty and hardcore world of computer graphics for a more sensitive and esoteric approach. Visual teaching
Taiwanese-born venture capital investor ShaoLan is the author of Chineasy, a book, website and app. Illustrations from Noma Bar bring design driven clarity to a visual language that aids understanding and learning of a   broad range of Chinese charactersWhat’s the role of designer in education from a client’s perspective? Education, as ever, is the answer. A prime example of a game that combines intuitive design with fun and a low entry point is Hohokum, a new release on Sony PlayStation 3 and 4 and PlayStation Vita from British independent video game developer Honeyslug, in collaboration with designer, artist and illustrator Richard Hogg. “That’s why we started with games: people pick up games much quicker and are much more willing to try them. It’s the perfect vehicle for discovering and educating in a number of   fields, as Alex Klein of computer kit manufacturer Kano is finding out. This dawn of a more colourful, exciting computing culture is   already underway. Once they recognise a few of   them, they can start building many more characters and phrases,” she explains. We live in an age where a job advert for a creative director in a digital agency requests an interest in ‘social APIs, circuit boards and Arduino units’ in order to ‘understand how things talk to each other’. The days of the garret – the untouchable talent in the ivory tower where smoke and mirrors abound – are over. We want you building your own computer, tablet, smartphone or wearable.”
When asked about where he sees   the   market for technology and education heading, Klein’s straightforward response speaks volumes: “We’re shipping 18,000 build-your-own-computer kits to 87 countries, for ages seven to 81. An illustration by Linda Liukas from her forthcoming book Hello RubyBy aiming Hello Ruby at five- to seven-year-olds who don’t necessarily read or write yet, Liukas hopes to catch them early enough to normalise programming into the creative mix. Open-source creativity
The way we teach creativity and technology is being questioned in many quarters: programming is being seen not just   as a language to be learned by rote, but a   form of digital interaction that involves a high degree of interpersonal skill acquisition and free-flowing, non-conformist gaming. The role of designer as mediator between technology and creativity is a natural one, but how best can designers equip themselves to prosper and fit within this hugely lucrative and growing sector of nuts-and-bolts technology?

Updated: 26.11.2014 — 15:49