Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Super Design Day 

Last week Ron Randall and I gave a talk to Ziba Design Group, who were having a special "Design Day" event. Kind of like one of those retreats where you have to fall backwords and let that asshole from Payroll catch you so later you'll trust that he actually processes your check. But much better! Under the guidance of Eric Helsin, they split up into ten groups of people from different parts of the company who would ordinarily not work with each other. Then Ron and I (this is Parker)blabbed for an hour about comic book heroes, specifically superheroes, their histories, costumes, origins, and so on. We tried to throw in our own creative strategies as best we could, and then the teams were turned loose for the rest of the day with a bunch of odd supplies to create their own superhero. At the end of the day, a panel of child judges were coming in to say which they liked best.

Ziba had rented a warehouse up two blocks from their offices- an unheated warehouse, it's important to note. It was freezing in there, and the little space heaters brought in only helped if you sat on them. So Ron and I were happy to cut out after our work was done. But I came back about an hour later to check everyone's progress and offer advice if needed. It was fascinating, in an anthropological sense. So many of the groups were going down the same track- they generally tended to think the heroes should be kids, even though none of the characters we talked about were. And several groups decided to hedge their bets and make a boy/girl duo so as to appeal broadly. I warned that the setup here was inherently adverse to what I think is ideal for creating a character-- that is, creating by committee.

It was interesting to see which groups worked smoothly and got up and running faster, and how others were stalled and not clicking. The ones who started with the parameters of what they had to work with in way of costume supplies got moving right away. Lots of people kept gravitating towards having their heroes commune with animals. The winner was "Double-U", a kid from an alternate universe you could contact in the mirror, and he would come take your punishment for you, do your chores, etc. Everyone from this goody-twoshoes world had a large butt, so the team worked in a visual gag. And somehow, his power included giving out candy, which effectively bought the votes. I can't fault them for doing what worked to win, but it sure didn't get near any aspects of what heroic fiction is supposed to impart on the reader. But it was entertaining, and that's of paramount importance. We enjoyed the event, and I think once the Ziba employees thawed out, they did too.

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