Five Inspiring Ideas, From MoMA’s Chief Design Mind And A Leader In Game Development [Video]

Dan Golden sits down for a deep, fascinating chat with Kevin Slavin and Paola Antonelli, two of the best thinkers in the world of design today.


Few people are better situated to speak about the present state — and future prospects — of design today than Kevin Slavin and Paola Antonelli.

Antonelli, of course, is the senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Among the many groundbreaking shows she’s put on, perhaps the most influential was Design and the Elastic Mind, which tracked the various ways that designers were using technology to break out of the discipline’s old boundaries.

Slavin, working with Frank Lantz, co-founded Area/Code, a game developer that was just recently acquired by Zynga, becoming Zynga New York. Area/Code has built some visionary games, including Sharkrunners, where players look for virtual sharks controlled by real sharks being tracked by GPS, and another that has players running down the street being pursued by virtual spirits. One of their games, Parking Wars, served over 1 billion pages on Facebook in 2008.

Design isn’t just about creating objects, but also rather living systems.

Co.Design contributor Dan Golden recently sat down with both of them, as part of the inaugural installment of a new series we’re launching, Design Mashups, which puts two design minds into thoughtful, surprising dialogue. Antonelli and Slavin spoke on a range of topics, including the role of design in game making, and a fascinating new gaming project that Slavin is embarking on. We broke the material down into provocative little video bits. Enjoy!


Why A Blockbuster Game Failed At First


Here, Kevin and Paola talk about the fact that design is often no longer about making an object, but rather a living system — that is, design has increasingly become about setting the stage for human activity, whether that’s within a game or beyond. Slavin talks in particular about Parking Wars. Initially, it was a failure, for some very subtle reasons:

The World Is Being Run By Algorithms

Here, Slavin starts tipping into a stunning idea. Pointing out that algorithms are starting to penetrate our daily lives, he then notes that Wall Street banks are starting to make downtown New York resemble a microchip’s architecture, as they locate their trading servers as close to internet switching stations as possible in order gain minute time advantages. And Slavin also points out that most movies rented on NetFlix are recommended by algorithms — creating a sort of strange but unappreciated nexus between machine and man:

Museum Curation In A Virtual World

Here, Antonelli tells an intriguing yarn about MoMA’s recent acquisitions of dozens of digital fonts and the “@” sign. She points out that she’s actually pushing the boundaries of her organization in a very subtle way: MoMA, like almost all museums, was founded on the idea that design and art was about a “thing.” But it’s not, and she finds herself having to adapt the institution’s organizational tools to a changing world where physical objects don’t necessarily represent the world’s most influential designs:

Designing Systems, Instead Of Mere Objects


Here, Slavin continues the idea brought up before — that design often isn’t about making something that’s finished, but creating the conditions to draw people in and create by themselves. His example is beautiful: Canvas, the web-app recently created by Christopher Poole (better known as “moot,” the founder of 4chan) which allows people to pass around an image, and continually add to it, remix it, and transform it. The app actually creates and reflects on culture in real-time, in a way never before possible in the world of physical objects:

Gaming As A Nexus Between The Virtual And Real

Finally, Slavin starts talking about how he started Area/Code with Frank Lantz, with the idea of creating games that could actually engage cities and blur the lines between what’s there and what’s elsewhere. As he points out, “something happens to human consciousness” when the mind knows that “something’s fake and something’s not.” And he also drops a hint about a new project with Area/Code designers, which will be a game like Magic: The Gathering, but with cards based on genetic codes:

Hungry for more? We’ve got an entire second half of videos that we’d like to share. Let us know if you like this new feature, and we’ll bring it out!


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.