A puzzle. A 2-D constructive toy. A design tool. A font. A game. A creative communication system.
“What we call design today is continuous with the basic human need to organize the material environment for survival purposes. Somewhere along the line it became marginalized as an artistic or aesthetic practice only, which obscured our awareness of all the designing that was going on that did not fit that category.”
— Victor Margolin
Design is Culture
Today, throughout the first and second worlds, it is unlikely a child regularly practices the particular fine motor and cognitive skills as a daily ‘taught-by-example’ tradecraft associated with constructive and productive activities such as metal smithing, weaving, woodworking, writing and illustrating manuscripts, bookbinding, tailoring, quilting, needlepointing, carving, and animal and crop tending.
Additionally, the regular practice of copying, interpreting and inventing graphics by exploring and utilizing the concepts and tools of graphic design, or “visual literacy”, both in physical and material ‘habits of mind‘ modeling and playing practice, such as intentional doodling, or ’planning on paper’ for its own sake, as a necessity for individual or cultural survival, is largely absent from a child’s education, community or home life.
It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.
Design constitutes the first stories told to outlast our graves, our first acts of magic, our first inventions, our first self-portraits and first signatures.
Designs which illustrate a thing, process, or idea, such as a rune, crest, seal, or logo, are thought of as conveying an essence, a truth for which there are no words; an identity. They provide a unique and personal means of communication that extends beyond language barriers, outlasts an individual's lifetime and remains for future generations to enjoy, imitate and ponder.
Over time, these line forms have continued to function as powerful symbols, the devotion, study and manipulation of which can reveal both essential—and existential—connections between ourselves and our place in the universe; in the way a compass centers us relative to the magnetic world, symbols also direct us to other places, both towards and away from community, on both inner and outer journeys.
Playing Around With Lines
Specifically, making contour drawings as a kinesthetic, haptic practice, takes the mind on a spatial journey, stimulating an innate drive to play around with the universal and timeless building blocks of graphic design and typography. Drawing in this way is the oldest form of design and is employed today in all sketching, doodling and preliminary ideation and is central to all graphic design activity.
The place where the finger, eye and mind meet is a point on a plane, and its path is a series of connected dots. The two hemispheres of the brain are activated, the rational and concrete connect with the abstract and intuitive.
As pictures are produced, stylized shapes emerge which forms a communication system: we trace the lines of an animal with our eyes and then trace with our fingers their contours in clay and glaze, as we do with the curve of a cheek to paint a portrait, and the flow of a river to draw a map.
Look, Recreate, Invent
We see patterns in nature and recreate them, following the turns of a snail’s spiral, the symmetries of a butterfly’s wings, a snake’s zig-zagging checkerboard scales, from our eyes to our brain to our heart to our hands, and back again, forming an information processing loop, resulting in the development of a visual language, and over time, pictographs, alphabets and numbers.
Likewise, we invent gears, pulleys, diagram machines, create pattern templates, often through the process of making lines, circles and squares solve real-world problems on paper.
Without guided practice activities to train designing skills, only a select few will possess the ability to design, and craft, our future. Visual literacy is a two-way communication system, and requires both the ‘reading and writing‘ of line-, symbol- and image-based languages.
Utilizing tiles to replicate the experience of creating line-based designs, Ümi both represents and models this archetypal ‘thinking with our fingers’ journey, traces this endless line drawn by many hands, young and old, in every culture, in every medium, throughout our collective history by transforming these design principles and elements into illustrative gameplay.
The visual concepts, models, patterns and stories generated through the exploration of the Ümi System can, in turn, follow any narrative path, draw on any source, design in, from, and towards any communication system, and at any skill level. It is at once as simple and as complex as "connecting the dots" through time, space, and our collective consciousness.
Style & Type
Stylistically, Ümi is most closely related to Connect. Designed by Ken Garland and a colleague, Robert Chapman, in the Swiss Style of minimalist graphics, Connect consists of 140 cards, each bearing a different sequence of black, red, and blue lines that could be joined together in seemingly endless combinations.
After its introduction in 1969 it became a best seller and was particularly popular with parents who wanted their children to mix decision-making and problem-solving learning with play. Similar grid-based line/image/pattern-matching systems are his Anymals and Fizzog designs, also produced in the 70s and 80s.
However, unlike these other puzzle-game systems, Ümi is also a communication system, depicting 3-dimensional space, stimulating multidimensional invention, and operates according to the desire of its user and has no rules to direct its use, or determine its usefulness.
“The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee. It permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to their personal style. But one must learn how to use the grid; it is an art that requires practice.”
— Josef Muller-Brockmann
Design Play Deconstructed
Ümi is conceptually inspired by Hermann Hesse's Nobel Prize-winning Magister Ludi (The Master Player), a novel set in the future which tells the life story of Joseph Knecht, linked to his community by a vaguely defined activity called the Glass Bead Game.
Hesse never explains the game, except to say that it involves all forms of knowledge, particularly mathematics, music, language and aesthetics. Knecht works his way up in an order dedicated to preserving the instructional values of the game, finally becoming the Magister Ludi, or Master Player.
Thought-objects, such as a musical phrase, design construct or philosophical concept, are illustrated through the manipulation of colorful objects, glass beads like runes, tiles moved and arranged to communicate concepts through an exploration of Form and Function, Media and Message.
Crossing the I-Ching with Go, Chess, Tarot Decks, Tea Leaves, Mathematics, Musical Notation and Symbology, as the game progresses, associations between subjects and concepts become deeper and more varied; players play as much against themselves as they compete, and collaborate, with others.
The Glass Bead Game in Magister Ludi is a complex and multifaceted activity that integrates many different forms of knowledge and expression. It is a way for players to explore their own interests and deepen their understanding of the world and themselves.
The game is never the same twice, allowing players to engage with a wide variety of challenges and ideas. It also involves elements of competition and collaboration, as players work together to solve problems and communicate ideas.
Overall, the Glass Bead Game is a unique and fascinating concept that reflects the interconnectedness of knowledge and the potential for personal growth through exploration and play, utilizing foundational design principles and the ability to make meaning from the arrangement of essential design elements to construct a visual model of a state of mind.
Universes of possibility are conjured as players explore their own interests, and players advance in their knowledge of the world- and of themselves, from game to game over time.
The Ümi System is our attempt to create a schematic ’game’ such as this, to stimulate experiences such as these through structured, yet self-directed & open-ended, constructive, creative free play.
“The Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colours on his palette.”
― Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
Ümi empowers players to:
Set their own terms, conditions, and levels of play
Establish the perimeters for the depth and breadth of their gaming experience
Elucidate individual motivations and objectives for play, ranging from:
Puzzles are great for helping the young brain develop and grow, and for continuing to strengthen cognitive function throughout life. That's because the brain looks for patterns in our world— and puzzles are a true patterning activity.
Patterning is also the foundation of reading, math and logic skills. Playing with puzzles teaches children problem solving and helps with fine motor skills, hand–eye coordination and spatial awareness.
Constructive Games allow infinitely variable content creation and also encourage aesthetic decision-making, inventive reasoning, and risk-taking.
Activities which incorporate motor skills in micro/meta-learning, self-directed, playful, aesthetic interludes deepens cognitive and soft-skill processing, encourages relaxation and provides a tool for meaningful self-expression.
Ümi engages and tests many puzzle and construction-based problem-solving skills including logic, pattern recognition, sequence solving, spatial recognition, figurative and narrative construction, word completion and typographical invention.
Ümi responds to a player's abilities, needs and interests and helps players to "connect the dots" between things and ideas while empowering players with expressive communication tools, whether through forming words, pictures or patterns.
Ümi focuses on logical and conceptual challenges as well as creative expression, social/emotional and soft-skill development.
“I still reserve the right, at any time, to doubt the solutions furnished by the grid, keeping intact my freedom, which must depend on my feelings rather than my reason.” — Le Corbusier
Ümi is designed for cooperative or competitive play for any number of players from 1 to 10 or more.
No board is required: you can play Ümi on the floor or table surface. The possibilities for play are endless, though basic play consists of placing ümi tiles next to one another to form a continuous image or pattern.
As a general rule, no tile may be placed so as to cause the half-circles of each tile to be mismatched and terminate, or for the design function to be blocked.
There are 64 different tile types in each Ümi play kit:
Ümi can be explored piece by piece randomly, or with a set of instructions or pre-set design and pattern templates, with or without time parameters and/or instructional objectives; or it can be explored blindly, with pieces ‘face down’ and turned over and placed in turn; or with conscious awareness, to replicate an existing player-generated template or model, or by following self-made directions, or in response to an individual‘s inspiration and imagination; or to illustrate a story, or to write one, or both.
Ümi Embedded Skills:
Ümi traces, weaves, threads, ties and binds, in the brain and body, and between ourselves and the perceived world— and connects us to universes of possibilities.
“I find great satisfaction in the rigorous structure of the grid, but I like the organic on the grid so that there's a combination of structure and chaos.” — Michelle Stuart
ÜMI CONNECTS THE DOTS.
Design is mindful play.
Communicate ideas & express feelings...
Copy and reconstitute complex structures…
Author narrative stories in words & pictures…
Invent intricate patterns…
Experiment, mix, match & replicate…
Study, remodel, invent & recreate...
Construct elaborate worlds...
Meditate, refresh & restart…
Collaborate, cooperate & elevate…
You & Me…
Take an imaginative leap and jump to conclusions. Ümi is our first attempt to bound into the world of playthings, so we formed a company to help us launch our endeavor.