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Featured on Jul 28, 2011

Mike Dory

"How you gonna save the world when the world ain’t ready? - Ted Leo"


I’ve spent the last decade studying the ways people communicate and working to make their conversations better. Since co-founding Socialbomb, I’ve worked with companies like Fisher-Price, HBO and Mars to build social applications and platforms that connect users with their friends, their devices, and the world around them.

Prior to this, I developed installations, sites, and games for Unified Field and the Institute of Play. I graduated with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies from Rutgers University and an MPS in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU ITP.

I tend to rant a lot about coffee, I will argue about headphones for hours, I love snowboards and big mountains, and I can’t eat cheese. Big fan of good photos, eternally curious about urban spaces, and easily (and gleefully) distracted by anything that beeps or blinks.

  • Title: CTO & Co-founder of Socialbomb, Adjunct professor at NYU ITP
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Brooklyn
  • Contact: @mike_dory, doryexmachina

A lot of your projects are focused on engaging users through whimsical, game-like user experiences. When starting a new project, what does your brainstorming process look like? What do you and your team do to help think out of the box?

I wish I had a really grown-up sounding answer, but the truth is that I’m drawn to things that make me smile or laugh. Humor and whimsy go a long way, and can help both in terms of getting people to interact with things you make, and to actually help people talk to each other. Games are always the best ice breakers, because people will try things in the context of a game they’d never have the nerve to try elsewhere. The same kind of concepts can be used to really help get users excited about an application and get them to the point of the experience faster.

Here at Socialbomb, we try to keep the focus on making great things that people actually want to use. There are a lot of amazing applications and interfaces out there at this point, so if you’re going to throw something new into the world, you should make sure it’s worth the effort! When a project is just starting up, we do a full runthrough of what the needs of the application are and what’s out there already, but the things we come back to are almost always “what’s the thing I’d want to use?” and “what’s missing from what’s there now?”

And in keeping with the theme of play and fun, we tend to follow the tangents that make us smile. The ideas that make people laugh are often right on the edge of being something legitimately awesome.

On DoryExMachina back in September, you wrote about Socialbomb’s appearance in The Games Bible which features over 300 games. What was your favorite recess game to play as a kid?

That is a seriously great book, and it’s full of a ton of great game ideas. I wish I’d known about some of the games in that book when I was a kid!

I’ve always liked games that made people actually interact with each other — this was the main idea behind the very first game that my Socialbomb partners Scott, Adam and I made together back at NYU ITP, and it was core to Competitive Picnicking (which we created with our fellow ITP alum Daniel Soltis). It’s still the underlying concept in a lot of what we do to this day.

When I was a little kid, I was a total geek for freeze tag. People running around at high speeds, giggling and yelling at each other — totally up my alley. However, I think my favorite games were the Calvinball-like ones that were made up on the spot — and of course, those are the kind you can’t play the same way twice.

What have you learned about children’s education from working with names such as Fisher-Price, Institute of Play, and Unified Field? What are the greatest differences in crafting the user experience for a child audience as opposed to an adult audience? What are the greatest overlaps between the two?

Designing for children is a really fun process, and I think there are more similarities to designing for an “older” audience than there are differences. All good installations, websites and products should keep similar goals in mind for all ages: make it easy to understand, fun to use, and worth coming back to.

Kids pick things up really quickly, and they’ll “get” an interface right away if it makes sense. I think we’ve all seen (through friends, family, etc.) younger children who are totally baffled that you can’t swipe a television screen like you can an iPad, because that’s how they think it’s all supposed to work. That’s a sign of something done right.

When you’re working with children, you can’t rely on paragraphs of copy to explain away a confusing interface. It still has to be usable, it still has to be understandable on first glance, and it should be enjoyable to interact with. This should go for children’s exhibits in museums as much as it should for applications on social networks and mobile devices.

I think the biggest point, really, is that people of all ages like to play, and they want to have simple interfaces that work for them. I mean, that’s the dream, right?

CTO, Teacher