Wednesday, 7 December 2016

mold mind/mind mold - choices/decision making and complexity.

 - Leigh Gregurke

Generation 1 Sixshot; considered collection of forms, trailblazer, puzzle,"imagination required", brand blueprint exaggerated and when required, wing-ed wolf.


Alternity Thundercracker, complex, the craft of an origami master, eclectic super-car prototype, diagonal design evolution.... a showroom piece.

Two toys are informed by choices, on a design level in its creation and then through ours as the viewer in the way we engage the object through play. I am interested in examining  the relationship between choices, decision making and transforming robot toys through these two daring designs and also analyzing the way in which those choices impact our habits as consumers.

Thundercracker's Mitsuoka Orochi form is a delicately produced sculpture, individual and flawed much like the car mode choice itself.  It achieved without question the goal of replicating this vehicle, the disguise is successful. The prestige however, condenses like ball of tinfoil, a flurry of little movements occur in small spaces wherein elbow space is limited. Like unfolding origami it reveals itself in waves, fold over fold, but similar to highly intricate paper art that makes you question its validity things get a bit twisty and it becomes hard for the eye to identify the strong defining lines and planes. The process of transformation.... it can be stressful, unfulfilling, goes over its run time and is oft terrifying, it always feels over-compressed and ready to pop at its seams.

Sixshot is an outsider of design, an advanced prototype, a bold experiment. It doesn't quite nail any of its modes representations %100 , there is little articulation or poseability outside the static mode choices themselves. Sixshot demands a generous portion of your imagination and the puzzle it was promoted at the time is more a flip and rotate exercise than winding maze. It was a precursor, a gamble, not just 2 modes, not three, the prime gimmick of toy-line x 6. Occult like in its numbering, chromed coated  satanic plastic. Only the Japanese television series utilized him as a character, Sixshot doesn't quite fit the mainline...

Sixshot is also the best transformer ever made, it's a fucking Picasso.

Two toys defined by Choices. Choices are great. They are engaging, interesting and promote agency. As design and production capability advances so does complexity of design. In an a time of material affluence we see new materials used in mass production and streamlined engineering methods accessible to more creators. Toys and action figures have become more involved  crawling from 5 points of articulation to an exhausting sprint wherein it seems like a chore to count them all. Part-counts are multiplying. This complexity shift has opened up a number of new choices to the viewer.

Transformation beats at the mechanical heart of the line; A series of actions required to alter the planes of a form. It offers both explicit and implicit choice to the viewer in the process that has often two desired outcomes and a multitude of other choices we consider in-between or 'mistransformed' . It is a process of making choices to get a desired outcome. To have six outcomes allows more choice than the traditional two and by that equation there should be more choices yes?  Sixshot presents at face value complexity compared to the Alternity lines simple binary options. Is this the case though? Thundercracker eclipses Sixshot's complexity and range of decisions much in part to its contemporary design and engineering.
With this increasing complexity and parts count in toys, with more designers, lines, sub-lines, exclusives and third parties there is even more options, more choice. This is the best time ever right?

its terrible.
Well, too many choices might be terrible.

More Choices sounds like a great idea right? We love 'more' don't we? 
What seems like more 'value' and more 'choice' is instead often leading to potential anxiety, regret, and paralysis. Research by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lipper for example point towards us as consumers being cognitively overwhelmed by choices. We have become trained to see "more" as equaling desirable rather than just being a way of measuring an amount.
Our brains see value in brands for example because they are familiar, signposts of quality but also roads we have walked before, they limit choice. The research conducted found that in retail settings where there was abundant amounts of brands and  options customers were more prone to passing on a purchase, that little touch of anxiety as they gaze at the varied wall of different options can be overwhelming. Stores that limited their inventory to more manageable numbers had increased sales, we appear to desire options.... but not too many. One thing I have learned in early childhood/adolescent behavior management is creating a simplified wedge of choice, the individual wants to feel empowered to make a decision but not overwhelmed by chaotic futures and chance. As an educator if you give the option of "choose your own topic" it will result in weeks of floundering trying to make a decision, however a curated handful of options provides variety but allows direction and limitations.  I equate this to a transformation process that involves a port and post system. You put A in B, where that does not exist though you are left without a signpost or road.

Choices often lead to regrets and considered mistakes. We think "what could I have gotten instead?" or "maybe if I had chosen the other I would enjoyed it more" " maybe this isn't as good as I thought" You know the feeling, its the one you get when you get home and crack open your product, the excitement fades and your imagination drifts back to the stacked product shelf of things you passed on. Where we once had possible futures of surprise now we have disappointment upon receiving our pathway. The decision is ours, it has been identified that with less choices we can place blame on the other, with more choices, we see ourselves being the agent of mistake. Research suggests that the more options available the more likely we are to see ourselves at fault for the mistake, with only two or three options we see the product/creator/store at fault for our emotional reaction. Transformations that involve simple port and post, clearly defined hinges and sliding joints give us a task but also inform us how to do it. Transformation processes that deny order and clarity are without doubt more challenging and present more choices, ball joints took a traditional two directional hinged option and put us in a position to consider the multitude of dimensions now explorable.

This anxiety and regret formed around our choices might also be why we can be hasty to discard one toy when another comes out, like some weird plastic populated highlander shelf the new one makes something offensively obsolete. While I don't consider myself a frequent consumer of third party products I can only imagine the anxiety of choice as we see literal graphics created to compare often five or six different companies design approaches to the same character. The psychology of loss aversion tells us that we focus more on what we miss out on, our perceived losses rather than our gains. Spoiled for choice is something you hear often, but if everyone's needs are catered for why do so many individuals feeling the the need to defend their purchases and proclaim one as the definitive option? Is it the individual dealing with the challenging emotional state of choice and potential regret? 

Whilst the relationship to our consumerist habits is apparent perhaps the relationship to the two toys in questions lies in the decisions we make in process. Simple transformations attract criticism but they can also be the most elegant and effective routes between two forms. Despite six outcomes Sixshot never lets the viewer feel lost or that they are not in control of the movements. The representational square blocked forms and panels encourage us to make leaps of creative acceptance, it is hard not to play with Sixshot and find yourself exploring new potential fan-modes with that enabled creativity.  Each process in Sixshot's transformations hits similar beats and movements, you see suggestions of one in another and a pattern becomes apparent as to a natural flow from form one to six.  Alternity Thundercracker has a very specific outcome that requires precise placement of hinges, ports and panels, all which move and bypass each-other like frenzied traffic during the process. There is minimal room for imagination or creativity and a series of apparently loose and non connected motions of parts require precise ordering and direction. There is no doubt in my mind that it is more of the proclaimed puzzle than Sixshot was upon release.


It is nice to master a series of physical movements, to know them closely and be able to describe them. Speaking or scribing a method of transformation that involves sliding dozens of parts and jamming panels together lacks poetry, think of the simple but iconic transformation processes that have stood out over time. From Ben's article on Seeker patterns to Grimlock's sliding chest the best transformations are simple choices with important and meaningful results.
Transformers Sixshot, complexity in simplicity, elegance and choices made meaningful and exploratory. Like building blocks they interact in simple ways but without a feeling of tiring precision, you find yourself wanting to explore. Alternity Thundercracker, stunningly complex and uncompromising, a simple form unfolded into a thousand planes. Frustrating, tiring, stressful and unrewarding. An object of beauty I feel at times too clumsy to behold, Alternity Thundercracker punishes me for the smallest of poor choices. Two wonderful pieces of design at tremendous contrast.

(Follow Leigh on Twitter @AmbushThem)

1 comment:

  1. Give me origami show pieces all day long.

    I hadn't actually applied my knowledge of sales and buyer paralysis to myself, but it's exactly the situation I'm in with much of the MP styled stuff. Good thoughts. Thoroughly enjoyed this.