Playful Technology

With every passing year, technology becomes further embedded into every aspect of our lives. With its increasing ubiquity, our traditional relationship, where technology is a tool for completing tasks and accomplishing goals, is receding. Now, people (especially young people) look at technology as a way to connect, and even interact with in a less-structured and playful manner.

Develop a Vision of “Playful Technology”

This year, Interaction and Experience Research (IXR) at Intel Labs and the IxDA challenge you to consider these paradigm shifts in what technology means and how we interact with it. Building on the work that Intel Labs has been doing around the changing relationships we have with technology, we want you to explore the experience implications of “playful technology.”

What we mean by “Playful Technology”

Frequently when we design products and services that utilize technology, we think in terms of satisfying a user need, or enabling the user to achieve a goal, complete a task, or solve a problem. What if we instead think about designing playful experiences for people, in which there is no end goal, people are encouraged to explore, be spontaneous, and creative? By allowing people to experiment, collaborate, create, and share, this goes well beyond gameplay. Look at children’s play for inspiration, where often the simplest raw materials lead to completely unexpected outcomes and hours of engagement.

Other themes you can explore

There are many directions to follow around the theme of Playful Technology, but some of the key areas that the Intel Labs team has surfaced through their research are:

Social Sense Making and Play

A key aspect of play is the social interaction we have with others, joining together to compete, create, and collaborate. In the physical world, our social interactions are rich and varied, and we early on develop the tools to work together and think through challenges, develop possibilities, and negotiate solutions. However, in the digital world, most social interactions are rudimentary, narrow, and limited. What new, richer experiences (beyond today’s baseline of chat, texting, photo sharing) can enable to people to play together in real-time, and make sense of the world together?

Playful Data

People are increasingly aware of the data they create, from data generated by sensors on smartphones and tablets, to data created by our posts and updates on social networking sites, to data arising from how much energy we use or where we go. What experiences can we create that allow people to “have fun” with their data? Can we create tools that allow people to explore and experiment with their data, and to use their data to understand themselves, their behavior, and their relationships to others in a playful manner?

Open Platforms for Playful Making

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, maybe we see it a little less as something precious. We may be more willing to hack our gaming console and turn it into a 3D camera or disassemble a brand new remote control car to make our own robot. If nothing else, we are more confident knowing that someone (probably online) can provide instructions. Lego Mindstorms, Arduino, and other prototyping platforms have made these previously mystifying technologies more approachable. What new open platforms might we design to unleash the creative energies of young makers on the material world? What happens when we think of technology as just another raw material, along with rocks and sticks, rubber bands and duct tape, construction paper and cardboard tubes?


We’re proud to present our online jury, who’ll review your video entries and select who goes through to the masterclass in Toronto!

Keep in Touch with The Challenge

Challenge Co-Chairs

  • Steve Portigal, Principal, Portigal Consulting, @steveportigal
  • Jeremy Yuille, Program Director, Communication Design, RMIT University, @overlobe


Our panel of judges will award the most promising candidates a scholarship to attend Interaction13 in Toronto, including:

  • Travel to Toronto
  • Accommodation in Toronto
  • Complimentary student registration at the conference
  • Registration for a dynamic masterclass, held before the conference, to address these design challenges and compete for additional prizes


  • September 21 - Launch - Entries open
  • December 3 @ 11:59pm EST - Entries close
  • December 13 - Finalists announced
  • January 26/27 - Onsite masterclass in Toronto
  • January 30/31 - Presentation of designs and awards at the conference

How to Enter

This challenge is open to current undergraduate or graduate students, or those who have graduated in 2012.

To participate in this challenge, create a short (short!) video. Tell us about yourself and how you respond to this year’s theme: Develop a Vision of “Playful Technology.”

Help us understand:

  • What is your background as a designer?
  • What is your perspective on this theme? How might design create the change you’d like to see in the world?
  • Why do you want to come to Toronto and continue working on playful technology?

You might think of this as more of an audition. The judges will be looking for interaction design ability and how you communicate your thinking on the theme, rather than examining any design work you’ve done to create solutions around the theme. We encourage you to create a custom video to submit to us (although you can reuse elements from any of your previous work). We also encourage you to do more than look into the camera and talk; in previous years, submissions that had reasonable production values and some visual support for ideas were better received.

All Set?

Once you’ve created your video, upload it to YouTube or Vimeo or the like. Once you’ve got a URL for your video, fill out the form below to submit your information.

Good Luck!

Fill out my online form.