Lessons from Lumicon: DesignPublished on 15/04/2012
For the past three months I’ve been working on an iOS word game called Lumicon with a friend of mine, Glynn Smith. The concept for the game came to me on a Saturday morning and I spent a hurried weekend putting together a basic prototype. The concept was simple, and when I sat down to turn it into a prototype I believed it to be fully formed. It still astonishes me just how mistaken I was.
Even in the beginning, putting together that initial prototype, the entire geography of the idea would shift in my mind. The more I thought about my simple concept, the more uncomfortable it became, the more it seemed to swell. Until eventually I realised that what I was looking at wasn’t a concept at all, but a kaleidoscope of unruly ideas. Each more delicate than the last. Which deserved my attention?
The process of refining those ideas caused me to ultimately reconsider everything I believed about the creative process. Because within my industry, the principles of design and development are approached with a sense of polarity. They are considered as a sort of binary opposition. You are either one, or you are the other. Designers are extrovert, their work is framed so as to be appreciated or scrutinised. Whereas developers are the more introvert souls. Their work is internalised, hidden away behind interface and chrome.
But working on Lumicon helped me to realise that this is largely untrue. It’s easy to see where this misconception originates. Designers create form, developers function. But the reality is that development is an almost entirely external process. You take a concept, something already fleshed out by design documents and mockups, and you turn it into something tangible. Design is ultimately the more internal process. Like the formation of a diamond, it’s the act of applying pressure to ideas until something beautiful is formed. It’s the weighing of options. The solidification of ideas into concepts.
Later, after I’d put together the initial Lumicon prototype, after I’d pitched the concept to Glynn and we’d begun work on it as a fully fledged game, my appreciation for the subtly of game design continued to grow. We would openly discuss design decisions and gameplay obstacles. We would voice our concerns, each giving a sort of ‘State of the Union’ speech on the various aspects of the game we were actively involved in. But it was always after these conversations, working independently, that we’d find time to reflect, to gather our thoughts, and ultimately arrive upon a solution which we would bring to the other.
And the discussions would begin again. Because like a diamond, an idea is often cut rough. It is refined time and time again. But you know what? The game was always better for it.