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Posted on August 13, 2014

Photo App Teaches you Perception

Cucalu App

Cucalu, an iPhone game designed to get people looking at their environment with fresh eyes, gets its name from the Dutch word “koekeloeren,” which means “to look around.” CUCALU

When Dutch artist Daniel Disselkoen returned from trips to the United States and Japan, he viewed Amsterdam’s familiar streets with renewed affection and resolved to preserve this reinvigorated perspective. Disselkoen had to circle the globe to learn to appreciate his homeland, but for $1.99 and a trip to the App store, his new game Cucalu promises similar results.

The goal of Cucalu isn’t to stack candy, or fight off demons, but rather to uncover interesting settings, objects, and people. Each mission starts with a prompt, like asking the player to take a photo of a “circle.” The subject could be anything: a balloon, manhole cover, or a friend’s eye. Once the player has captured something interesting, the pic is uploaded to Cucalu’s servers and other players evaluate its quality, awarding the photographer points and unlocking the next challenge.

Cucalu’s not an easy game, or even a game in the traditional sense of the word. There’s little in the way of instant gratification, voting is entirely subjective, and leaderboards are replaced with a much harder to quantify sense of accomplishment. “It doesn’t matter where you play, but what you see,” says Disselkoen. “Cucalu gives you a new pair of eyes and while the missions take place on familiar territory, discoveries can only be made by looking anew at the everyday.”

Cucalu’s gameplay is unusual and so is the app’s design. When rating photos in a circle-themed mission, the buttons are circular, while the square mission has a rectilinear motif. The colors are jarring, the navigation is unusual, and overall Cucalu feels like something Mary Blair might have designed if she lived in the app era and never heard of the hamburger button. “My purpose was to design the interface as intertwined as possible with the concept,” says Disselkoen. “I think the user interface make sense in a way, but might still surprise you.”

Cucalu has just launched, but Disselkoen is already seeing the impact of his creation. “People make an effort beyond what they’d normally to do take a photo,” he says. “You can surprise yourself and create new patterns. What I like is that we see how people, after some time, discover a round thing doesn’t need to be flat. Globes, holes, hoops and bulbs find their way to our backend.”

A couple thousand photos are currently in the system, mostly added by Disselkoen’s former classmates and people he visited in Japan. “I don’t think you need to travel to the other side of the world to see new things,” he says. “With Cucalu, the ordinary suddenly becomes a discovery.”

It almost seems if Disselkoen’s real goal is to eliminate the app by teaching people to see anew, but he knows the process will be long and can’t be accomplished in one step. “From the USA to Japan and the Netherlands, people are glued to the screens of their phones,” he says. “But when there’s a phone at hand, discovery seems miles away.”

Cucalu is available for $1.99 on Apple’s app store and a blog of collected images is available here.



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