Introducing the ‘New’

Here is something I’ve been thinking of late. New ideas and concepts are most easily absorbed when presented with something traditional or in a traditional form. Things which are completely new and are presented in a totally new way can be overwhelming and an instant turnoff.

Original ad to the left and a more iconic, untraditional approach to the right.

For example, iPod was introduced with a traditional commercial of a kid ripping a disk and downloading the music to the iPod. After which he got up, put it on and did a dance. While the commercial irritated some people (the dancing of the kid), it showed the ‘common folk’ how an mp3 player worked and why it was a must have product. Then, came the hip, image building brand campaign with the silhouetted youth dancing on bright backgrounds that we all have seen. Now, we had to have it because it was cool. A novel product introduced traditionally so that it could be absorbed, followed with a novel communications platform.

A sponsored project I did years ago in school to teach others about the bond market. Much of the mechanics were borrowed and altered from Monopoly so that the game could be instantly “understood” upon looking at it. This went a long way to getting the players into the mechanics of the bond market rather than the mechanics of the game which was already familiar.

I am reminded of a senior project I worked on while at Art Center years ago. We had a sponsored project with a bond marketing firm to design a tool to explain the bond market to non savvy people. (I think many of the traders just wanted something to explain to their parents or spouses just what they did for a living.) One tool they suggested we could create was a game. You can bet I jumped right on that one! I came up with a boardgame which was visually based a bit on Acquire. It had tiles that would be placed on a grid and would somehow (I don’t remember now) fluxuate on the board to describe changing market trends. Visually it was perfect for showing the market dynamics. However, when I brought it in, both the concept of how to play and the unusual format thoroughly through everyone off. They had to get past two barriers before even beginning to understand the bond market – how does the game work and why does it not look like something familiar. I changed the game to a Monopoly style format with a roll, move and buy style of game. There was a track on the outside with color coded types of bonds, random event cards and a tracker for the lifespan of bonds were also included. I did add twists to all these mechanics, but the look and feel was instantly understandable to anyone who took a look at the game. They saw it and ‘got it’. The game was a huge success and stole the show. Why? Because it was comfortable and familiar. Was it a great game? No, not to us designer game enthusaists, but the purpose was less about the game and more about a delivery system for understanding the bond market.

We all gravitate toward the comfortable and familiar in all that we do. Even though we seek out new adventures, new game mechanics and new themes, it helps if some element is grounded in the familiar.

Mall World’s board. A nicely themed look with the blueprint. Nicely layed out too from an aesthetic point of view. However, the 45° angle is unusual and perhaps harder to wrap one’s head around.

On a recent game day, I had the chance to see Mall World played. Now, I’ve read a bit about this and how unusual it plays. I also saw the unusual look and feel of the board with the isometrically designed grid and diamond tiles. Not only did it play ‘odd’ (read: new and different), it looked ‘odd’ (read: novel graphic look and feel). Nothing wrong with either of these two, but combined I can’t help but wonder if the look might have not served the game so well. I actually think the look of the blueprint is interesting and thematic. The layout is dynamic and clever in the way the blueprint crimps up at times and sits diagonally on the board. To this end, I like the look. (Though I'm less sure about the tiles). However, this layout and the diamond tiles it creates might just be too much unfamiliar to absorb.

The point that I make here is not an absolute, as plenty of new products have been successfully brought to market in completely unfamiliar ways. Nonetheless, it is an insight to be aware of and factor when introducing something novel and truly new.

– Mike