As a kid, we had yearly passes to the Cincinnati Children’s Museum where I had the most fun playing in the rain forest playground and walking through the ice age exhibit. These exhibits were educational immersive environments, just as many museum exhibits are designed to be. However, FutureWorld at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore uses technology and interactivity to add depth, exploration, and delight to the learning and fun that comes with visiting the museum. I felt I was a kid again as we colored in the lines and then saw our drawings dropped in a 3D moving city. And as we went down the slide three times to see the flower projections move beneath us. Every installation in the exhibit was interactive in a way that allowed people of any age to enjoy the experience.
The installation that I enjoyed most was Black Waves, a 3D rendered looping video of waves rising and falling across three large wall panels. Watching the waves move in a way that mimicked real clashing waves, as if they were alive, was unbelievably calming. Similar to many of the installations, it was such a simple idea. A room whose walls are waves moving up and down. Yet, the technical precision of the 3D rendering, the pace of the waves, the sound paired with the video, and the Japanese style (like Hokusai’s prints!) in which the art was created all contribute to one of the most peaceful exhibit installations I’ve ever been to. Choosing a simple and pinpointed idea and executing it with great technical skill and precision seems to be what made so many of the installations in FutureWorld memorable.
Takasu from TeamLab – the group that designed FutureLab – talked about the importance of prototypes when working on a multidisciplinary team. In the past two weeks, working with the IEM students, and even within our ADM group, the value of showing visuals to convey ideas is clear. Full prototypes would be preferred but sometimes time only allows sketches or inspiration imagery. Visuals make sure team members are picturing the same image in their head and prototypes add a level of real interaction that can then be tested. These understandings will definitely be implemented in how our group works on our iLight project this semester.
I feel like we are always trying to find some greater purpose in our art and design. But some of the times it is just a pretty picture and usually it is not going to “save the world”. But art CAN make people feel, think, play, smile, experiment, and learn. Future World is a great example of how impactful art can be when combined with science to allow playing and learning through technology.
Simplicity in communication is one of the greatest qualities of a strong design. The light installation Home reconnects each person to their idea of home and memories. While such an elementary term, the meaning of home goes much deeper than the physical place we live in. Our home is commonly associated with our past, where we come from and the people, values, and memories that go with that place. People call all sorts of places home, whether a city, a house, a neighborhood, an apartment, a flat – wherever their greatest sense of comfort and care lies. The group of friends who designed this installation harkened back this basic definition of what a home is by deciding to replicate the most iconic image of a home, the four walled rectangular house with square windows, a single front door and peak sloped roof. The boundaries of the house feel present within the three-dimensional structure but the emptiness inside allows each person to imagine their personal home. Lack of extravagance in production of the piece add to its simplicity and immediate communication of a home. This light installation is a beautiful testament to the fondness of a home within a bustling concrete jungle.
No matter how nice a city is, people are still enthralled with earth’s natural beauty. From great mountains to coral reefs the natural beauty of the planet is something we are drawn to. Artist Aleksandra Stratimirovic used this mesmerizing way about nature in her light installation Northern Lights. Strategically positioned above the bay, the LED light rods reflect vibrantly on the water below. Each viewer experiences the show slightly differently as the lights move around randomly, paired with a uniquely composed soundtrack for a more immersive experience. Northern Lights delights its audience because it brings a beautiful rare sight only visible in the far northern hemisphere to a tropical destination at the equator — an experience many do not see in their lifetime and just a hint of the full experience in nature.
Jan Chipchase’s “You Are What You Carry” chapter was a relatable followup read to his TedTalk on the anthropology of mobile phones. He elaborates on the four factors of security, convenience, reliable solutions and peace of mind that drive our carrying behaviors. These factors are inherently connected so that lack of one directly degrades another; for instance, if I feel my purse is not secure enough for the place where I am, my peace of mind will diminish. This is undeniably affected by someone’s environment at any given moment and how we prepare and react within that environment. Chipchase calls this phenomena – of determining how confident we are in the security of a situation so as to project how protective we need to be of our possessions – the range of distribution. What struck me was how this might be a conscious or unconscious effort to guard your belongings. Every person instinctively does so as a result of distrust of others and the danger we perceive in an environment.
Thus, the environment is the driving factor in how we carry items. A month living in Singapore has lessened my paranoia around my items being stolen compared to that in the United States. However, being in a foreign location where items are not so conveniently replaceable and may even be more necessary (i.e. a passport that cannot be instantly replaced) heightens a person’s tight range of distribution. Still, our range of distribution is affected by much more than just the country we are in. The neighborhood we are walking through, the cleanliness of the area, the people in a space, past records of theft in the location, and the items we are carrying are all factors in how closely we hold onto our belongings. Clearly, it would be easier to have fewer items to keep track of within your range of distribution – thus, the convenience of the mobile phone. But the mobile phone goes much farther in providing infinite data so that we can access inconceivably more than we would be able to physically carry at any given moment, so long as technology is reliable.
Reliability and security are two of the greatest flaws in creating digital equivalents of our belongings to “carry” around with us. People desire convenience and efficiency so much that with stronger technology it becomes a game of risk in how willing we are to put personal information on a digital database. Technology with greater capabilities to understand and predict human behavioral patterns means machines and technology are becoming more human. Vice versa, humans start giving up freedom and (physical) control of their belongings or information they own. Chipchase states that “People are risk-averse” so they would never give up so much control of their belongings that they would “be at the mercy of the network”. The trajectory of technological advancements and society’s sense of security, convenience, reliable solutions and peace of mind seems to almost be at a halt in terms of figuring out how to find a balance between all four factors. Yes, our behaviors tell us that we are what what we carry. But that is void without considering the context. Ultimately, I wonder if it is wiser to invest in increasing the security, reliability, convenience and efficiency of city infrastructures over that of the products we carry.
Even though Jan Chipchase’s TED Talk on “The anthropology of mobile phones” was given ten years ago, many of his points are still relevant today with slight adaptations. Today more than ever people keep their phones close to their person more than any other item. As I walk out my door, I catch myself double checking that I have my wallet in my purse or backpack and tapping my pockets for my phone. The phone is the most valuable possession of people as it is a global communication device, virtual wallet, infinite source of information, immediate source of social media and much more. Chichase’s point on the three items people always carry is still true today and proves the importance of communication, shelter and security in our daily lives.
However, these safety and psychological needs that are fulfilled through carrying our mobile phone make me question whether it is the phone that is really needed or just any sort of object that could fulfill all those needs at once. Of course, this item must be digital and have varied capabilities or infinite capabilities in terms of information sourcing. Laptops provide all the same features a phone might but the phone is more convenient for daily use and on-the-go lives. Watches are another item that have begun to provide these same capabilities that our phones might provide while functioning as an object we might already have on us instead of an object we must keep in our pocket or purse. Still, the cell phone is currently the better tool with its size, screen, and worldwide use. Though as more products are designed to be “smart”, it begs the question whether the phone really is the most convenient tool for providing humans the ability to communicate and a sense of safety and security all the time. The phone is always evolving as seen in the slightly dated examples Chipchase brings up such as 2007 Uganda Sente, but if we stick to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the learnings from these examples are still applicable. Ten years from now, we shall see what new technological developments have or have not superseded the cell phone as peoples’ most valuable possession.
It’s difficult to not participate in certain activities or read articles like Jan Chipchase’s “Calibrating Your Cultural Compass” without having on the foreigner lens. My primary goal in moving to Singapore this fall was to be open to new and more experiences – to immerse myself in places with background and cultures different than I had experienced before. This is research. It may not have been explicitly stated in a research thesis but as Chipchase states, ” great [design] research is finding the right balance between formal and informal data collection.” Recognizing that we are constantly collecting data about people and places through observations, conversations and activities is the easy part. The more difficult part would be purposefully dedicating time to do so in an environment that is new to you where there will inherently be more learnings.
Many of Chipchase’s methods or examples of observation in Chapter 5 helped me realize just how much I was learning in the past two and a half weeks in Singapore. It’s quite interesting how small behavioral tendencies or subliminal signage or language use can share so much information. Being able to compare and contrast people’s attitudes, mannerisms, beliefs, values, reasonings etc. is at the heart of what Chipchase calls to “go native” and attempt “rapid cultural calibration”. In just a single MRT ride or an afternoon canteen lunch or a morning run on campus I can pick up on some of these learnings. What’s most interesting to me though, is how everyone is trying to learn about people because we can find patterns in people of certain places and document concrete data. But ultimately, individuals are all entirely different from each other. There almost seems to be levels of connections where people have the same or similar behavioral tendencies and mindsets at a surface level only. The idea of a platzgeist in which people strive to understand how an environment comes together through it’s people, place, background and activities gave me a much greater understanding of the applicability of gestalt theory in real life and of the purpose of user research in the workplace.
Where is the line drawn between creative strategists/ designers who focus on front end user research and anthropologists? Why not have a team that combines the two or where people share roles throughout the process?
How specific can you go in learning about the platzgeist of an environment or the people of a place? Chipchase says it’s possible to collect too much information so how can you sensor your data collection to only include that which is necessary?
Ironically, my first assignment in ADM was to analyze the user experience of navigating through the ADM building as a new student. Just finding this class as my first time in the building was more difficult than I expected.
Donald Norman’s first chapter of The Design of Everyday Things made me realize how difficult it is to explain design to someone. He has taken an idea that is at the center of design — the user experience — and analyzed its parts in a way that almost becomes scientific or mathematical. The way he describes affordances, signifiers and feedback in relation to machines and relationships reminded me of input and output in mathematical functions and the cause and effect of physics. When analyzed, the design process is quite complex — or at least it should be for a good design — but it is interesting to me how good design seems so simple, so “easy” or “obvious” of an answer. This directly corresponds with how it is easier to spot design that has flaws or is poorly designed.
Reading this chapter also put into context the value of “communication design” which in this case is the design thinking that when put into use communicates the object or service’s intended use. Without this communication, Norman states “the whole purpose of the design is lost”. On the other hand, his depiction of communication in terms of signifiers and perceived affordances made me question the boundaries of communication design. I’ve been taught thus far that industrial designers deal with the physical design of forms but if physical traits become communication tools to signal the way in which to use something, then is that not communication design? The lines between design fields has always seemed to blur, maybe because good design requires multi-disciplinary teams as Norman talks about. Yet, this reading prompted me to question the naming conventions of design disciplines more than I have in the past and seemed to open doors to what “communication design” might become for me in my future career.
1. Is there a better term for conceptual model? This part of the analysis confused me but seemed to relate to user testing and how people perceive connections and relationships and thus have certain expectations. Norman says “A good conceptual model allows us to predict the efforts of our actions” but this sounds quite vague because each person has their own predictions or expectations for an outcome. The only way to solve this would be user testing which would result in more concrete results than a “conceptual” model.
2. Does smarter technology increase or decrease interactivity? Technology can now react in more ways than one so that input A may result in output B, C or D etc. There still seems to be some concrete formula though in the results or feedback of a design because machinery and objects cannot understand emotions, thoughts, or body language like human to human interaction can. The article made me question if there is “less” of a user experience in technology that is “less interactive” because technology might be able to read environmental cues and such.