We started February working on the design of the cover image. We thought that maybe having new tools instead of old would connected better with our audience. The problem was that the definition of the “target audience” was by then too broad: users of smartphones that take pictures regularly. Anyhow, we collected different types of tools that we found at home and made a selection, took pictures, cut them with photoshop and played with different arrangements (more or less items) and colors.

The publishers had a pre-sales online conference with their US colleagues. They discussed the subtitle with the sales team to see if they had any particular preference.These were the proposals

Title: My Photography Toolbox

Subtitles:

  1. Refine your Eyes and Improve your Skills
  2. A Game-Feast for the Eyes and Fuel for Action
  3. Essential playful rules for exceptional images
  4. An original game for inventive people
  5. Brighten Up your Skills

The sales meeting went really well, they had an enthusiastic response about the content, the title, and the first sketches. They had a preference for the subtitle: Refine your eye and improve your skills, although they thought it  was too early to decide because it was a work in progress. They suggested a blurb like ‘fun game’ as well. We were working on new sketches for the cover and they were very curious to see them.

 

Working on the cover image we realized one day that the box we had in mind had actually an oblong shape, thinking that it would contain two stacks of cards next to each other. So we sketched new proposals on a horizontal layout. Doing this we started doubting. Maybe it should be less full? Maybe a simplification with less tools and only the outline of the telephone with outlines of tools? We were still open to suggestions and were trying to find a style because we were not convinced, but we knew it’s a process that takes time and the more you prototype the faster you may find what better suits the concept.

Well, so so,  because we somehow got lost with the few elements that were present on the design: the outline of a smartphone, the tools, some icons… and why not photographs? This is why we tried adding pictures, turning the tools into iconic images, and adding a texture.

Our publisher however, planned a box with only one single stack of cards and thus pointed out that the horizontal design wasn’t in sync with the vertically designed cards. The fact that we were still mixing drawings and illustrations to point out photography was a main critique. Welcoming the feedback we went to elaborate on these ideas.

The marketing and editorial manager contacted us to say that she already requested the barcode for the game. Olé! The barcode! It looked so special! That was a shot of fresh energy. The cover image for the catalog had to be ready in a week. Oops, more nights going to sleep late and no weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The publisher suggested a photograph as a cover image. We searched our archives looking for something that would match literally (like someone taking a picture) or symbolically (an abstract nice image). We found some pictures we took in Cambodja of one of us busy with the phone to immortalize a temple. There was one that had an interesting feeling because it was a frame inside a frame. There was an opening on the background that was very suggestive. The smartphone was in the centre, being the protagonist. We added this photo as a sketch to the vertical outline.

Out of the more abstract images we liked, we selected one that was taken a few weeks before in our neighborhood, at the Maas. It was a pole with a big M on it contrasting with a plain blue sky. It was vertical, it had yellow, the letter M suggested part of the title… so we tried this one too.

We had a feeling of getting closer, but it was just not satisfying yet. The colors… the concept of tools and the idea of the phone and photo – being a direct link to the content –  was too much of everything. The clear simple concept was still hidden under layers of possibilities.

Our publisher’s marketing team advised on the colours, pointing out that the yellow – bright coloured – version could appeal to a wide audience. They challenged us to simplify the design and return to the core of the concept.

D’oh, how difficult it gets sometimes to find the right design. April started and we still didn’t really like the sketches. None was perfect. We decided to try with new photographs. The one we had used with a person taking a picture was the favourite and we determined to repeat it in different settings. What nice buildings were open to the public in Rotterdam? Which ones had good perspectives and long corridors were we could frame the person framing?

We chose to go to the Boijmans Museum because of the corridors connecting some of the galleries. It was a similar architecture: openings to long corridors that ended in new openings.

We took dozens of pictures of the two of us. Some visitors were surprised. What a pair, taking pictures of themselves instead of admiring the amazing works of art from Den Bosch, Mondriaan, or Co Westerik.

Once on the studio we made a selection. We tried to add them to the design, but it didn’t really work. By now we were quite insecure. We sent the sketches sharing our position and proposing to publish a ‘work in progress’ design for the catalogue.

We agreed that we had to take a break with the design of the cover image. Meanwhile we would work on the cards again as time was not on our side. Maybe after having a good final design for the cards it would be easier to design the box.

 

Back to the card’s design. What were the next steps? We used the what if strategy to continue. The structure of the content in the cards was correct, but could it be better? What if we changed it? Mmm no yet, first is first and the main element that we had to improve were the illustrations. Gee, they weren’t by far as clear and simple as they should be.

We went for simple shapes, using shapes and lines in Illustrator and using textures from engravings that we liked.

We tried adding color to the parts with text, so that the text would pop up and be easy to read. Directing the reading was something we could do. The text had to stand out from the card.

We made a few cards. With just five we should be able to decide. We doubled one to see differences in color. We left the textures apart and went for the most simple style to design icons. Mmm quite close! We liked this iteration. What about our partners?

You know when in retrospect you can identify the moments when something happened and when things took a new direction? Like turning points in the story? This is what happened next that we can identify now. Our partners were too busy with sales, catalogue… to give a thumbs up and we took a wrong turn.

What if the icons are highlighted with a background color? Let’s try again adding some texture to the shapes and maybe even framing them? Isn’t it too basic the last version?
We feverishly changed the design into something completely new and overworked. Oops. It’s even painful to share this iteration. Hey you, forgive us. Just understand that this is what happens when you lose your goal and keep trying without focus.

So, there we were, already in May, fully concentrated on a style that was not the desired. Unconsciously it turned into a mimicry of what we designed last. There was all over what we could call “visual spill” from Lost Prince: the collage like style. And because we had to be ahead of our planning, we worked on all categories, designing icons for a large number of cards, the different backs…

In parallel, we were revising all texts with Terry. A friend writer recommended him: english native living in the Netherlands for long. And we proposed a couple of friends that had very good photographs to collaborate with a few, as it was becoming more and more difficult to have outstanding pictures for each concept.

Our partners were surprised by the amount of work done… in the wrong direction. We had a conversation on the phone during which they helped to put us on the right track again. Ah yeah, true, the second iteration was beautiful, it just needed some more work, maybe trying thinner lines and different combinations of colors, a new palette?

Finally, the design that fits your ideas, expectations and goals. As difficult and as easy as staying focused. We all loved this outcome that was similar to the second sketch and that had embedded what was essential from the rest of iterations.

 

As always when you are at a peak on the process of designing a game we had to playtest the graphic design, the texts and the reward system. We had to consider what was the best foolproof audience to test it. Of course, at this stage you can not consider your own network. Well, actually this is what we did.

One thing was clear: the best play testers would be young people (like our target audience) that had a preference for visuals and photography. Where to find them already grouped? At high schools. So yes, we looked at our agendas and contacted two teachers working at Lyceum and Wolfert van Borselen in Rotterdam.

It was end of May, so the course was at the last period and we had to hurry. We met and explained what was the game about, showed the cards on our laptops and arranged a date and time: 11th and 12th of June.

Next step: printing and cutting the prototype for the playtest.

 

With two decks of 60 cards each and equipped with our camera we went to play test My Photography Toolbox hopefully for the last time.

We prepared a short survey for the testers with a few questions:

Did you understand the mechanics of the game? Where the rules clear? Did the icons help to understand each concept? Where the descriptions clear? Was the reward system clear? How did you like the experience? Would you play again?

The first test at Lyceum went really smooth. The third course students were very eager to play and reacted enthusiastically. Surprisingly, they played really fast, which was a relieve, as we still doubted if the goal was too difficult to achieve in 20 minutes. The first team finished in 8 minutes! The second in 10. All teams were back in class earlier than expected. The resulting photographs were all interesting and they were proud, which is why game-like activities work so well when applied in a learning environment. Play is free, volunteer and no one feels the heavy weight of a bad performance, because play allows trial and error as a natural thing.

The second test at Wolfert van Borselen was more hectic, we had two hours and two groups, 3rd and 4th course, both lively. Still they played and enjoyed and gave their honest answers to our questions.

The three play tests confirmed that the game was ready to be finalized and send to the printer. Now we could concentrate on the box again and having a definite style was already great help for decision making.

First of all, we decided to use the icons on the cover instead of a photograph. It immediately felt good and in connection with the cards. What color though? We really liked the first idea of using yellow or black. We tried both and dismissed the black box because our benchmarking research showed that more and more games had black boxes lately. Yellow was nice, but it didn’t really match with the actual colors of the deck. The new palette was a success to both partners and play testers, so why not choose between the colours available?.

The last details to finish up were organizing the basic information and logos. Ta-da!

 

So, just on time for the delivery date in June. Now it was a question of deciding the marketing style, the social media strategy, a presentation event…

And also the time for looking backward and analyzing the design process because it felt like a lot happened in a short period of time and we had to be sure that we understood, at least, our actions. Here is when we figured out that we could organize our visual and textual files, the emails and use all of it to write down the story.

Both of us are part time educators working in Media and Art schools, so why not offer this experience to our students? We are continuously sneaking into their design processes so… it would be just natural and fair to share ours. This was the main reason for publishing this. We hope you can use it as inspiration, and as one example to compare with your way of working. Mwah.

If you play with it we’d love to see your pictures! Use the hashtag #myphotool

Or follow us at #ponsverhoog