Reviews

June 23, 2011

Gamestorming - A Review by Gary Smith

If you are currently practicing design and are tired of using the same three or four techniques for the extraction, organization and presentation of material pertaining to your projects this book is worth having on your shelf. I know of one in our midst who has successfully used several of these techniques on a recent project. If you are looking for a higher-level approach to your design conundrum you won’t likely find it here.

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Gamestorming
A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers
by: Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: O’Reilly Media; 1st edition July 2010
ISBN-10: 9780596804176

Book reviews (much like movie reviews) end up reflecting the personal biases of the reviewer and in the end you usually either mostly agree with a particular reviewer or mostly think they’re full of something. Over the last several months I have been trying to review books that I’ve read relating to HCI and UX/UI. My goal has generally been to read books of interest to me and pass on my impressions to you in the hope that I might inspire you to read the book and/or agree with me or disagree with me and discuss the reasoning behind your agreement or disagreement. CHIFOO has provided me with a platform for these reviews. In addition to CHIFOO, Portland is also home to a local gathering of the UX Book Club which meets every other month or so with the express purpose of discussing books that relate to user experience.

Gamestorming was the June selection of the UX Book Club of Portland.

As to my recent biases in selecting books - I’ve been looking for titles that fill gaps in my 20+ year association with the design and support of application software. Since I am not currently employed I have not been actively seeking books that contain prescriptive recipes for the design of user experiences - I’ve mostly been looking for background philosophy/ethnography material. I probably wouldn’t have read (or reviewed) Gamestorming had it not been selected for local discussion.

Gamestorming casts time-honored techniques as “games” and describes 88 of these techniques in 2 to 3 page thumbnail recipes. This collection of exercises amounts to some 80% of the book’s volume. All of these exercises are multi-person participatory exercises. None (if any) are solo endeavors. I’m not certain that:

- Affinity mapping
- Card sorting
- Dot voting
- Post-ups
- Story boarding
- Context mapping
- Pre-mortems
- SWOT analysis

count as games. In fact, while the word “gamestorming” provides a new and novel twist of the more familiar “brainstorming” I’m not sure there is anything new or novel here.

Next bias: illustrative artwork. As someone who has always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words and who carefully crafted images for the documents I created, I chafe at books targeted at professionals that contain illustrations that look as if they were created by amateurs. Ironically Gamestorming spends some eight pages attempting to remove the “fear of drawing” from the reader with a set of rudimentary drawing lessons. The message here is clear: unleash your inner artist and don’t worry what the results look like because it’s the doing that matters most.

You may recall that I wasn’t thrilled with the illustrations in Information Flow and Knowledge Sharing either. It’s clearly a bias and it either matters to you or it doesn’t. Oddly enough, having tweeted my displeasure with their drawings to O’Reilly - they offered me a way to obtain a refund (which certainly wasn’t my intent).

Bottom line: if you are currently practicing design and are tired of using the same three or four techniques for the extraction, organization and presentation of material pertaining to your projects this book is worth having on your shelf. I know of one in our midst who has successfully used several of these techniques on a recent project. If you are looking for a higher-level approach to your design conundrum you won’t likely find it here.

About the authors: Dave Gray founded XPLANE in 1993 to create graphics for magazines. XPLANE quickly expanded its repertoire to include illustration work for other media as well as interactive design. XPLANE was acquired by Dachis Group of Austin, TX in April 2011. Dave is also the author of: SELLING TO THE VP OF NO. Sunni Brown has consulted with XPLANE for several years. James Macanufo has been involved as a Sr. Consultant for Dachis Group and more recently with XPLANE. Dachis recently raised some $44 million in a round of financing.

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