is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
This new game from Google combines the company’s signature Google Maps product with trivia questions about geography. Players answer questions like “This was the site of a 1773 tea party, which sparked the American Revolution” by moving the map pin onto Boston, say. If you get the answer wrong, the penalty is determined by how many miles off you were from where the pin should have been correctly placed.
Weird, right? I’m mystified by the motivation behind Smart Pins—does Google really need to drum up awareness of its Maps product? And if so, is an elaborate trivia game the best way to do that? Who exactly is going to come across this game and become convinced that Google Maps is the right product for them?
On the other hand, this game is a hell of a lot of fun, an elegant concept beautifully implemented. The insight to score wrong answers by miles is super smart, the kind of perfect alignment of functionality, metaphor and humor that signals real humanity in digital products. Setting aside the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for Smarty Pins to exist, the fact that it does exist is pretty great.
Apple fans like myself often criticize Google for doing things that Apple would never do, and Smarty Pins is a prime example of that. Aside from being an unfair criticism, it’s pointless. The fact that Google endeavors to produce silly things like this is on the whole a positive thing, I believe. It’s acting according to its own compass, which is what every company should be doing.
You can play Smarty Pins here.+