Newborns in Virtual Reality

Recently, our team increased its ranks by one with the arrival of a new child in the ROROSORO offices. While much could be said about the early days of a baby’s life, For one post I’d like to focus on how we might think of designing for Virtual Reality by imagining the newborn’s perspective.

We are all born into this world woefully unprepared to survive it. Our bodies are small and weak (limiting movement), our sensor systems aren’t acclimated or attuned (creating tremendous disorientation), and our control systems aren’t calibrated for the physics of the world ex-utero.

We are obviously not designed to operate without assistance in this world from the moment of our entrance.

Now, an adult human strapping on an Occulus or similar Virtual Reality headset is obviously a strained analogy when it comes trying to immerse our designing minds around this new technological space, but it does offer some important reminders.

In VR, the size and strength of our physical bodies are of secondary importance to our experiences within those digital realms. And yet, our perceptions within that space will simultaneously interact with our motor control cognition (in the real world), and begin informing us of the capabilities and limitation of our virtual bodies. We will know, via our familiarity with movement in the real world, what the endowments our VR characters (and worlds) possess. This entails that our sensory experience within VR must closely match that of our sensations in the real world. The better this is achieved, the better the immersivity of the VR experience, but how do we design for a harmonized physical, sensory, and cognitive experience given that the technology does not hold parity with what most users will be bringing into their first VR encounters?

To answer this question, let’s look at how we already nurture these developments in children – the methods that we deploy to guide infants to make meaningful and discernible associations across the interactive spectrum.

1. Don’t Shake the Baby

This is probably one of the most important early lessons anyone charged with caring for an infant learns. Why not? Because the primary connective bundle between the brain (controls) and the body (movements and actions) is precarious at birth. Among the first muscles a baby must develop are those of the neck, but until then, the head, neck, and spine must be continuously safeguarded.

While an adult user is not likely to snap their neck by interacting with VR, what is more likely is that early disconnects between motor controls and virtual reactions, can cause serious problems, perhaps even total user withdrawal. Therefore, both the mind and the movement must be coddled upfront. Protect the fragile connection points that are first formed, and

2. Baby-proof the Environment

As a baby grows into their new capacities, and start to  explore the limits of their movement, the world itself becomes the next threat to user experiences. The same way that hard surfaces and sharp edges, create dangers for newly mobile humans, abrupt changes and shifts in the interface of VR create breaks in the immersivity of the space. Such breaks might not be lethal or damaging to the human user, but they will almost certainly affect the reputation of the VR experience in question, and the designers and developers thereof.

So, round all the corners, plug up all the wall-sockets, clip drawers and cupboards with dangerous items, and put down space age material padding on hard surfaces. To  get a better idea of what these analogies mean in terms of VR design, check out the more in-depth article.

3. Patience & Repetition

Watching a newborn ‘learn’ about the world breaks down a lot of misconceptions about child rearing that run rampant across social media and pop science. The practice of observing the little tykes doesn’t directly refute any particular theories, but hasn’t revealed any particular ‘way’ to do child rearing either. And that is exactly the point of this article.

Patiently observing how different users will relate to and react to their experiences within a VR space is the only way to decipher how best to cater to their needs, to test their boundaries, and to help them push their limits and experience achievement.

But observations need data, and data requires repetition. Repetition can be very boring, but it can also be subversive. The observed action might be repeated, but it might be the same action mechanic that drives an entire category of interaction types within a VR space, as opposed to a single action. Working around the problems that repetition presents will be the focus of another article, but user repetition, both to practice action and reinforce meaning in the user, and as a primary source for improving design, remains essential.





Foresight Exchange: Tonga Edition

The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and the Global Center for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE – A Singaporean sponsored UNDP office) teamed up to launch a new pilot program to explore the convergence of foresight and governance: The Foresight Exchange.

The pilot program was introduced In mid-August 2014 on the islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, and it featured a foresight system, designed and developed by myself, John Sweeny (CPPFS), and collaborators from the GCPSE and members of UNDP Tonga.

The card based system was developed to help Tongan citizens explore alternative futures by establishing a framework based on values, behaviors and structures. It also featured elements of Postnormal theory, a futures-oriented lens through which accelerating social, environmental, and technological change might be viewed.

A total of six unique decks  of cards were developed to help facilitate futures-oriented discussions and mapping efforts. The prototype version of the system featured a set of flexible rules in response to Tonga’s cultural and social landscape. To facilitate play, a gameboard was developed that highlighted relationships between the various decks, and a grid system to aid in organized play.

FXC-Tonga-Example Gameplay

Participants from across Tonga’s diverse social spectrum were present at the first ever Foresight Exchange, and used the mapping system as a primer activity for the day. Myself and fellow collaborators from the UNDP, GCPSE, and HRCFS facilitated the 7 different groups that were formed to use the system.

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While the version used during the event was initially developed in English, the positive response from participants and government officials has since led to the development of a Tongan Language edition of the system. This system is due to be delivered in early 2015, and will hopefully become an important element in Tonga’s efforts to bring participatory foresight into its governance structure.

We will keep this site updated to reflect the continued development and use of the Foresight Exchange system in the coming months.

RIPPLE – Exploring Singaporean Governance

Early this summer, my colleague and I were invited to being a collaborative research effort with two agencies within the Singaporean government. Due to certain conditions of anonymity, I cannot divulge exactly who our collaborators were, but it we were both honored and thrilled to get to work.

Pardon my vagueness as I explain what we were attempting to do, and how we figured out  new ways of achieving our goals. We were working under pretty strict security conditions, so sometimes we’ve used low resolution or blurry photos to give a hint of the game play, without divulging too much detail. Okay, that should be enough disclaimer for the time being. On with the show.

My colleague and I have been working together at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies for the past 3 years. We’ve worked on lots of different projects, but one of our most enjoyable, though difficult, collaborations was the Gaming with the Futures project back in late 2012. Branching off of our research and design tactics developed for that project, we began experimenting with more game based systems that could accommodate the types of participant interactivity we were looking for.

The Ripple Game project gave us a great excuse to dive into the game prototyping process, and really get our hand dirty with engineering game mechanics, narratives, and other important core gaming elements. We knew that we were in essence creating and experience for players, and we knew that the experience had to accomplish a number of different goals in terms of learning outcomes.

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While I’m not at liberty to discuss in depth what those mechanics looked like, nor the specific learning objectives for the institutions involved, the entire project was viewed as a wildly successful prototype.

We say wildly successful because we experimented with a number of different modes of gameplay, developed some alternative options based on player and observer critique, and found that with some minor adjustments there was already a core audience ready to use the game.

Ripple Game was just the first rendition of what will likely become a number of different versions of the game, each one derived to accommodate different client demands. More information and details will follow as allowed.



On Futures Personas…

There is a lot to be said about the different images of the future that exist out there in the minds of humanity. My guess is that there’s at least one per person…but that’s probably underestimating the truth. At the Manoa School, we learn a specific set of futures archetypes when we first begin learning about futures studies. Through those archetypes we begin our exploration of alternative futures and their usefulness. But what are archetypes and how can they be helpful to futures researchers?

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The Manoa School Archetypes

There are four primary archetypes that are taught to all students of futures studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa: Continued Growth, Collapse, Discipline, and Transformative. This is the primary lens through which we begin analyzing images of the future that we discover. They also serve as the foundations on which many of our scenarios are based – giving rise to unique amalgamations in the form of artifacts, environments, organizations, and other “things” that populate an image of the future.

Among the most important of these scenario elements are personas. A futures persona can be thought of as a representative from the future – giving voice, emotion, reason, and motivation to a cross section of futures generations. Almost all images of the future hinge on the people that live in them, but often these futures representatives are merely weak extrapolations of the humans of today.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing and writing about an experiment that we conducted this past Spring at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. This experiment was focused on a new mode of persona generation, focused on creating the image of the future through the personas lens, rather than creating the persona based on the pre-existing image of the future.

While this may sound like common sense, or at the very least a non-radical departure from other schools of design persona creation, I invite you to examine the outcomes of this process and draw your own conclusions as to the efficacy of this project.



Hexels – Beginner II

I was pretty thrilled that the guys over at Hex-Ray studios actually liked my last blog post about their software – Hexels. It definitely made me want to dig into the very fun app more deeply, and try to come up with some earth-shattering insights into the program, or some amazing artistic pieces.

Unfortunately, I still don’t have the time to do that kind of awesome tutorial and research. Someday. Someday.

The starting point...
The starting point…

Nevertheless, I did get a chance to just play with it some more, and experimentally approach all the different settings that are made readily available within the interface. The options/document setup panel (upper right hand corner of the canvas) holds SO many fun dials and knobs (well technically fields and sliders, but…).  In a little under an hour I took one image ( not even a necessarily creative one, just filling up the canvas with hexels), and from that created 26 variations that I thought made a pretty cool progression.

In the attached gallery, you can get a sense of how a few adjustments in the options panel, can completely change the feel of a single piece. Turn those dials enough, and you can actually get pretty far removed from the pieces origins (which could take us on a whole trip down theories of mutation and adaptation, but we’ll save that for a later discussion).

One of 26 mutations...
One of 26 mutations…

I unfortunately did not save the document settings at each interval, as notation during creation is still a skill I’m honing. I will email the .hxl file to anyone that wants to continue manipulating this image,  but I already checked and its doesn’t seem like the entire history was saved along with the file. (not really a surprise, but it reinforces the need for good note taking next time).

Here’s the gallery, and I hope Hexels – Beginner III can be all that much more informative and inspiring 🙂


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I bet this would make a fun animation (except for those few shots that would mess up the screen ratio…OOOOoooo…maybe HexelsSuperPro V2.5 could have a morphing animation feature similar to Groboto (another  program I like to dabble in and write about).  Wont’ hold my breath, but I may cross my fingers…



These images are all free under a Creative Commons License, and I encourage you to take them and se them to your hearts content. I don’t get paid by Hexels either, I just really like their software, and want to try to explain why, here. 

Encounters with Incomplete Knowledge

” How rare it is to encounter advice about the future which begins from a premise of incomplete knowledge.” – James Scott


Recently,  the work of  the Manoa School has been shaped by the idea that alternative images of the future are most effective when they become the focus of interactions. Interactions between people and objects, people and people, things and institutions, others and entities. While this would sound understated and vague, it becomes necessary when we consider the concept of an encounter, and extrapolate that concept into our “daily lives.”


It is useful to consider for a moment any and all of our encounters within an average minute of any given day. For example, at the moment my fingers are encountering the keys of a computer, my eyes encounter the artifacts of every keystroke, the interface of the blog, and the images that flash across the other screen I have running simultaneously. Meanwhile, each keystroke sets off a series of encounters of light with silica and particulates, of commands and responses, of hues of electric grey. And these are only the encounters of which I am only partially conscious. (The rain on the leaves, the wind on my leg hairs, the sounds of the night, encountering onward through the darkness and the light.)

Encounters are ourselves at any given moment – humans interacting with their built and natural environments, true. But the encounters on every level of existence, known and unknown, are equally valuable in crafting the dynamic universe around us.  And this is no laughing matter at all. Thus, within the view of the concept of encounters we can begin to understand how the creation of a single artifact of an alternative image of the future might be both composed of, representational of, and performative as it  extends outward, creating encounters as it proliferates.

In honesty, futures researchers and explorers are steeped in the creation of encounters, whether they admit to it or not.  However, this understanding has been embraced by the Manoa School, which encourages the conscious creation of encounters with alternative futures. Often our work, and the work of many students who pass through the alternative futures curriculum, is quite focused on not just the verbal representation of a possible future, but on the creation of physical or digital artifacts that such a future might produce.

These artifacts might take many forms. A coconut mobile phone, an encounter with a drone-for-hire, entrance into an immersive space, a postcard from a place and time yet to come (if it ever does at all).

This approach then is not founded upon just the creation of a scenario, and the underlying trends or novelties that might be in its creative DNA. While that component of futures research is important, we work hard to create alternative avenues of encounter with each scenario that we create.

Incomplete Knowledge

We never espouse the idea that “the future” is knowable, as we are trained from the first to understand that “the future” does not exist. There is no future, save that which we produce, and thus as futures researchers we are continuously in conversation (and encounter) with an imperfect(able) knowledge base.

This we see as not just a relief, but also as opportunity, license, and an unbridling.  No longer constrained to consider only that of which we have some prior knowledge, we are able to create within an unframed space of possibilities. The modernist epistemology, while not wholly disregarded, is placed on equal footing with an anti-episteme – the ever-changing unknowable. It is at the interface of these two bodies that the effective futures researcher is at her most potent.


Along this interface we find articulations like the possible, the preferable, the horrible, the imaginable and unimaginable. Where the known and unknowable meet we find the porous barrier in flux,  populated by the imagination – perhaps the fundamental encounter we might hope to have. Again, if this seems to wax poetic, it is only because I am attempting to describe a thing, a space, an exchange  from which new words and ideas might emerge, but for which few words and ideas can adequately describe. It is a place for the muse to dance and sing.

Thus is my current understanding of the appeal of Incomplete Knowledge, especially within the creative aspect of alternative futures. While historians might hope to encapsulate times before within a “knowability,” and some futures researchers aspire to do the same, It is the overbearing incompleteness of these reports from which our individual and collective imaginations might take root and create our more telling and meaningful encounters.  As a futures researcher I take this stance as essential to all pursuits within the field, and a freedom that must be safeguarded against the modernist critique. Encounters created from, and steeped within an Incomplete Knowledge are perhaps our highest aspiration, and, if not for all at least for myself, the best focus of our work and enterprise.

Cybernetics – Part I of SumZ – (>minds)

cybernetics >

I’m just beginning to explore cybernetics in more detail, thanks to my recent reading of Andrew Pickering’s, The Cybernetic Brain. For starters, It’s greater than I expected.

I’ve still got a long way to go, especially when I start to formulate a conception of how this book, and the related literature, will help to support my arguments in my dissertation. To that end, I’m also exploring the concept of “socio-cybernetic governance” as coined by Rhodes (1996) and drawing from Kooiman, who later stated: ” Actors are continuously shaped by (and in) the interactions, in which they relate to each other.” (Kooiman, 2003) In this conception of governance, the governing system’s primary role is the enabling of interactions, not the control thereof, or the meting out of punishment or policy.

Pask's Chemical Computer diagramThe work of cyberneticians dates back much further than these authors conception of the socio-cybernetic, but bridging the gap will have to happen in another post. Cyberneticians work is generally understood as the pursuit of autonomous creations – machines, biological or chemical systems, or other entities capable of interacting with and learning from other entities.

Some of the greater mind’s  (>mind’s) than mine that I will attempt to examine and learn from in this series are Stafford Beers,  Ross Ashby, R.D. Laing, Gordon Pask, and other’s as they present themselves through these investigations. (Already Brian Eno and Steven Wolfram jump to my mind as others to explore in this realm).

What kind of rules for interactions can help us understand learning?

Should any initial rules be immediately and completely re-writable? If so, what are the conditions necessary to allow for that, or to instigate such a process?

On another level, what level of autonomy allows us to begin considering systems in a political light? At what point do entities achieve political agency, and what ramifications does this have for studies of political ecology and participation?

I hope to continue this exploration as often as I can here, especially as it might inform future projects and creative endeavors. Cybernetics, often confused with robotics or artificial intelligence, offers up a rich plateau from which we can look towards alternative futures and the socio-political.


” How rare it is to encounter advice about the future which begins rom a premise of incomplete knowledge.” – James Scott

Digital Futures Initiative – Industry Day

I just learned about an event I sincerely wish I’d have been able to attend.  The Digital Futures Initiative (DFI) program, a result of a partnership between  OCAD University and the Canadian Film Center, hosted E-Leo back in early december, and the results look pretty phenomenal.

Digital Futures Initiative Industry Day

It appears that the focus of the event was to pay tribute to the thinking and innovation of Leonardo DaVinci, by translating some of his works or ideas into the digital age.  The exhibition looks like it was well produced, with various multimedia installations, interactive displays, and some futures artifacts thrown in for good measure.

There seems to be a tribute to noted cyborg researcher and body augmentation pioneer, Steven Mann, a figure that plays into my own research for my thesis.  Also, there is an installation piece that appears to allow you to listen in on helpdesk conversations from futures – where we obviously still face that familiar “human error” concern.

Futures Helpdesk Or Surveillance statement?

The OCAD graduate program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, and the Digital Futures graduate program, has attracted some really talented professors and mentors, and through projects and partnerships like these, it has fostered the growth of a fascinating futures-oriented community. I am really looking forward to seeing and learning more about the work coming out of this enclave of futures-makers.

Hexels – Beginner I

I purchased Hexels after coming across a great review for the software over on the Creative Bloq website.  I don’t have any ties to the company, nor do I get any commissions or affiliate percentages or anything like that, so this is just my unbiased opinion – It’s GREAT!

The evidence of the work I’ve done so far doesn’t really speak much to the fun, and very robust creative options that the software has to offer. Honestly, I got so busy with a project,shortly after purchasing it, I was barely able to enjoy and explore it in as much detail as I’d have liked to…That’s why this is just part of a series of posts I’d like to make about Hexels in the coming year and beyond.

I’m still figuring out all the new updates that the Hexel creators, who, quitely honestly, look like they are well versed in the art of creative fun. (PJs party in the Bounce-o-drome, YES!)

Version 1.2 seems to add a lot of capabilities that I haven’t yet gotten around to trying. The textures addition looks pretty great, but I’m still such a novice with the rest of the program, that I’ve got a lot of buttons to twist, and knobs to turn before I start adding yet more layers of goodness.

It’s a pretty well-worn statement, but I think Hexels goes to 11+.

Give the Free Trial a whirl, if you so dare, and share often your artworks. As usual, anything you find here is shareable and useable under the Creative Commons license (unless otherwise stated).



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