What’s missing when focusing on transactional products & services

Hi everyone, Kevin here.

First and foremost I want to wish you all the best for 2023! May you find what you seek, may that be success, happiness, health, creativity, etc. Thanks for being part of this community by reading this newsletter, being part of our Slack server, perhaps engaging in conversation and/or participating in our events. Thank you so much!

I was recently visiting my family in France for the holidays, in a small town on the shore of lake Geneva.

The side funny story about this lake, which is known on international maps as “lake Geneva” is called “lake Léman” here, a more “neutral name” used on both sides of a lake shared by France and Switzerland, and the Lemanic region encompassing several Swiss cantons and the french department of Haute-Savoie. Swiss people love consensus! But Geneva being the place of most international organisations, I guess this makes sense that the name remained on international maps –although this somewhat defeats the legendary “neutrality” of Switzerland. That being said, most other French-speaking Swiss cantons jokingly criticize Geneva, or “the bigmouths at the end of the lake” as they are kindly nicknamed, for being a bit too “French” (for context, this kind of “friendly tensions” between Swiss cantons is an interesting cultural aspect of such a small country yet full of contrasts and often considered as the Japan of Europe). Anyway, sorry for the long tangent.

Source: ESA earth

So, we went to Evian with the kids to visit the Flottins’ village, an ephemeral village of huge sculptures made of driftwood (from the lake) built within the city. The name “Flottins” comes from the French “bois flotté” which literally means “driftwood” (“bois” meaning “wood” and “flotté” meaning “having drifted in water”). The attraction is meant to be an alternative to a Christmas village.

Aside from the main sculptures, there are the Flottin’s people –musicians and artists alike– animating the place: my kids were in absolute awe after a Flottin’s magician made a small piece of wood disappear and reappear, and I took several minutes listening to a solo of piano on a theme that was both worrying and enchanting.

One of the Flottins' people playing a piano theme.

And, in all the small alleys and streets adjacent to the main place where the sculptures are displayed, there are intriguing, playful objects people can interact with, made of driftwood, recycled wood and metal parts. These can be games like weird pinball machines, animated sculptures, or puppets you can interact with using pulleys that reverse the movements and deceive the senses. Some can be played by one person, and some require the participation & coordination of several people.

Great affordances beat malformed products

One could say, in many respects, these objects are for the most part bizarre and malformed. They are not always working well, and sometimes they are overly complicated or simple for what they do. Some are closer to pieces of art than workable interactive objects. In other words, their individual experience is not optimal and even not that great. But as a whole, their experiences are coherent and their interfaces afford discoverability. Kids and adults are driven towards these objects and their uncanny yet distinguishable interfaces, willing to see what will happen or what is the goal of the game. Their uncanniness certainly plays a big part in the overall experience.

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