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Visual Thinking Games

Talk given at Adobe's Distinguished Lecture Series, Feb 5, 2009, San Jose California.

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Visual Thinking Games

  1. Games for Visual Thinking Scott Kim • Adobe, Feb 5, 2009
  2. Puzzles
  3. I design puzzles PRINT TOYS COMPUTER
  5. AMBIGRAMS Ambigrams Visual wordplay
  6. What letter is this?
  7. Hint: it’s not L
  8. Answer
  9. A puzzle is a problem that is fun to solve and has a right answer As opposed As opposed to everyday to a toy or a “problems” game
  10. A puzzle is a problem that is fun to solve and has a right answer As opposed As opposed to everyday to a toy or a “problems” game
  11. A puzzle is a problem that is fun to solve and has a right answer As opposed As opposed to everyday to a toy or “problems” a game
  12. Ambigrams One type of visual puzzle I’ve explored is ambigrams — words written so they read in more than one way. Here are some ambigram logos (not by me).
  13. Ambigrams I’ve created See more of my ambigrams at
  14. Make your own ambigrams chump  Write this word in connected cursive, leave bowl of P slightly open. Instant ambigram! USA  Write this so it reads the same right side up and upside down. S is easy. What about U/A? Adobe  Write this so it reads the same upside down. Can you do it?
  15. DESIGN EDUCATION Design Education Puzzles that change how you think
  16. Working within a fixed form Most puzzle designers work within an existing form
  17. Topic: Letter parts I let the topic dictate the form. For instance, what puzzle teaches the parts of letters?
  18. Vocabulary 1. A vocabulary puzzle reinforces names, not concepts.
  19. Multiple choice quiz 2. A visual quiz puzzle reinforces concepts.
  20. Puzzle ( 3. A perceptual puzzle, like this one from, trains thinking. Match each detail with a letterform.
  21. Counter Proposal (NewMedia) Here’s a perceptual puzzle from NewMedia about fonts. Spaces in & around letters are “counters”.
  22. Counter Proposal (NewMedia) Match each counter with the letter it is from.
  23. Myst Grayscale painting Elevation map 3D rendered image The artists behind Myst converted a gray scale painting into an elevation map. White=high, black=low.
  24. Cybermesh I made this into a puzzle by using CyberMesh, a Photoshop plugin by John Knoll, author of Photoshop.
  25. Normal Face Here’s how Cybermesh turns a grayscale image of John’s face into a 3D mesh.
  26. Inverted Changing the grayscale image changes the mesh. E.g. inverting black and white turns the mesh inside out.
  27. Posterized Posterizing the image creates stairsteps.
  28. Pinch Pinching the image enlarges the nose.
  29. Blurred Blurring the image creates this ghostly face.
  30. Finished puzzle The finished puzzle: Match each image with a 3D mesh.
  31. Surfaces of revolution
  32. Surfaces of revolution Match pairs of shapes made from the same cross-section.
  33. Color
  34. Morphing
  35. Animation
  36. Logo design
  37. Magazine puzzles A way of writing about a topic  Regular puzzles increase loyalty  Contests increase involvement 
  38. VizAbility Interactive puzzles let you do more with 3D.
  39. Vase/Profile Figure/ground is a concept that works well as a game. The figure here is the vase, the ground is the faces.
  40. Escher
  41. Simplify To make this visual illusion interactive, first simplify the shapes by putting them on a grid.
  42. Make Interactive If you drag a black object, there’s white underneath. If you drag a white object, there’s black underneath.
  43. Figure Ground game Play this game at To play this particular puzzle, click on List, then scroll down to Sky.
  44. PHOTOGRAB Photograb Brain games meet social media
  45. Three trends 1. Casual games BEJEWELED ROCK BAND Electronic games are now for everyone, not just teenage boys.
  46. Three trends 1. Casual games 2. Mental fitness SUDOKU BRAIN AGE People want to exercise their brains, not just their bodies.
  47. Three trends 1. Casual games 2. Mental fitness 3. Social media FACEBOOK YOUTUBE Media is now produced by everyone, distributed everywhere.
  48. Games for healthy lifestyle Healthy + Stylish = On trend The three trends add up to games as part of a healthy lifestyle.
  49. Photograb Our first game is Photograb. Goal is to find details in a photo. Photograb exercises visual perception.
  50. Photograb Players can put in their own photos. This image is from Adobe Lightroom’s Melissa Gaul. Play this game at
  51. Photograb Player-generated content  Syndicated games live on your site.  Rating system 
  52. Next game: Wordstream
  53. Conclusions Conclusions
  54. Games for visual thinking AMBIGRAMS DESIGN EDUCATION PHOTOGRAB Games can be used to teach and exercise visual thinking.
  55. Interaction design Like interaction design, puzzle design is about creating a good user experience. Except the path from start to end is trickier.
  56. Thank You