Environments Studio/Lab: Project One

10/24: Preliminary Research

“Create a pop-up exhibition featuring an artist currently on exhibition at the 57th annual Carnegie International…Consider how technology can augment content, increase learning and/or make the museum experience more interactive.”

After visiting the CMU’s Miller ICA and getting a better understanding of the space, I went to see the Carnegie International at the CMOA. I’ve been to the CMOA about a half dozen times before this, and I think this is my favorite exhibition I’ve seen here. I especially admired how different the artwork and artists were from each other, yet the spaces were designed so that they harmonized well.

I was especially drawn to one room in particular, initially because they were handing out free Vietnamese coffee and it tasted amazing. But the room also featured three different bodies of work: a series of kites, which hung above hammocks you could lounge in, sculptures from a Vietnamese artist, and the very technical paintings of Colombian artist Abel Rodríguez, who I later decided to pick as the artist I’ll design for. All of these works were distinct from each other, but I felt like I was part of one unified experience when I walked into this room because of the way they interacted with each other. I think I’m personally biased towards art that features plants and green colors, but this room spoke to me from an exhibit design perspective that nothing else has.

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My favorite room, featuring the Abel Rodriguez’s work on the back wall. Source:https://www.wallpaper.com/art/art-labor-joan-jonas-carnegie-international
I annotated some images of the space to get a better understanding of it. I found a watercolor sketch that one of the curators created, which inspired me to create some of my own.

I chose Abel Rodríguez because he was fascinating. I didn’t know anything about his background when I picked his work, I just liked how pure and almost child-like these super detailed paintings looked. I later looked him up and was blown away by his story. He lives in Bogota now, but he was born into a jungle tribe in southern Columbia. He’s 73, which makes him an elder, and he was raised with the title of “namer of the plants”, meaning he’s trained to understand all of the characteristics and healing properties of wildlife in his region of the Amazon rainforest. He isn’t a formally trained artist by any means, but paints instead entirely from memory as a way to accurately record what he remembers from the forest. His work has only really been discovered in the past decade, after academics and scientists nearby started using his vast knowledge as a reference for their own research.

I liked his story because it stresses remembrance and accuracy, and completely ignores the pretension that fine art often takes in exhibitions like this. One of my goal with my own exhibit design is to highlight this sentiment.

10/26: Sketching

This project is very unique to my experience, so I was unsure how to approach the brainstorm. I originally set out just to make one moodboard, but after falling down the rabbit hole of interactive museum exhibit design, I found so many examples of projects I was inspired by I ended up with a whole mess of mood boards instead.

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moodboards ft. the Rainforest Cafe, which is half a joke and half a very serious example of lighting design using a fiber optic ceiling
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Abel’s artwork, and humans within a rainforest space.

One thing I was sure I wanted to focus on was the lighting. I’m still uncertain whether I want to create the actual feeling of being inside a rainforest when people walk into the gallery, but I do know that I want to use darkness to add some sort of mystery and discovery element to the experience. I printed some larger pictures of the Amazon rainforest to try to imagine this.

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Lighting ideas

I annotated some shots from that film, this time looking for the macro vs micro elements of the rainforest — and his world — that could affect the space.

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The film was very sweet and pure.

10/27–10/30: Moodboards, storyboards, initial design ideas

With completed floor plans and elevations, I was ready to start conceptualizing design ideas specifically for the Miller ICA. I enjoyed learning Adobe Illustrator CAD tools, and found them pretty intuitive.

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The Miller ICA. Now I gotta convert this to foamcore…

From moodboarding I moved onto storyboarding. I started printing out empty sheets of frames, but these proved to be an intimidating place to start when I didn’t have a good understanding of the type of interactions I wanted to use. I decided to take the “no bad idea” approach and just start drawing all sort of funny ways people could interact in this space. I also learned that working in dark colored pencil is much easier to storyboard then in pen.

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My first crude attempts
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Scattered brainstorming.

Some interactions that stood out to me:

  • a display that lights up, following your finger or hand in order to better examine the piece up close
  • A projection on the walls or ceilings of a photograph of the specific plant or ecosystem Abel is describing
  • hanging work: put his work in between 2 sheets of glass, have the piece adjust to the height of the viewer or light up when they reach the optimal viewing position

I also found a short film that was created for one of Abel’s exhibitions overseas.

One main idea I want to incorporate into the interactions is the experience of uncovering/discovering information. I feel like this is a critical component to Abel’s work and the reason he is featured in the Carnegie International, and I want viewers to feel this too.

Another important aspect of his work to point out: it’s detailed, and its relatively small. Immersing the viewer in his pieces is more challenging if they are displayed at accurate scale. I’m trying to consider facilitating interactions that encourage the viewer to immerse themselves. I want them to take an active approach to identifying the intricacies of his work, since it doesn’t necessarily jump out at you like neon sculpture or giant colorful wallpaper.

I should mention I’m also building foam core models of the space. It took me a long time to finally get all my walls up in accurate scale to the floor plan I created (and my craft is not necessarily as great as I wish it could be).

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Because I want to be able to move parts around and adjust the model as my design ideas progress, the model is held together by masking tape. It’s not the cutest thing I’ve made, but it will work for now.

I found that when I got lost storyboarding, parti diagrams were a helpful way for me to visualize the space.

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2 different iterations for parti diagrams. I also experimented with the typeface I want to use for the artist statement/bio.

One of the most prominent ideas I came up with by using the parti-diagram was my position-sensitive projection. Because Rodiríguez creates a lot of repetitive work that documents the changing rainforest throughout different times of he year, I thought it would be interesting to make a projection that would alternate paintings to the corresponding season based on the viewer’s position to the screen. This is cheesy, but it’s like they can “walk through time” and further notice how much Rodríguez focuses on accuracy in his work. I still have to think about whether I will limit the number of people in the room, since multiple people interacting with this projection theoretically prevent it from working.

The hanging pictures are another format for featuring his work. I think they have a lot of potential for interaction, but again I’m not sure what’s taking it too far. If they moved according to the height of the viewer, I would have to consider how they moved and whether the aesthetics of that movement fit with the space. My favorite thing about this this format is that the vertical orientation reminds me of the trees and vines in a rainforest.

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I took some up close shots of my girl “interacting” with my makeshift hanging pictures.

11/1: Crit and Progress

In our discussion in class, I got a chance to talk about my classmates’ design ideas as well as my own. A lot of people (including me) are leaning towards interactions that are based on the viewer’s position. I think this makes sense, considering that it’s a pretty fast way to engage the user’s entire body.

But now I’m considering ways to branch out from this a little bit, maybe by using the user’s specific form as a way to interact instead. Cameron showed me a neat collective called Design I/O that creates a lot of educational interactive installations. In their exhibit “Funky Forest”, kids can grow trees on the interactive screen using their own posture:

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I’m not sure what technology they used, but I’m imagining using a Kinect or something similar to identify the user’s posture.

I also thought about an interaction where artwork is kept in light boxes that illuminate beneath the viewers hand. Again, I’m trying to encourage the viewer to look at the details.

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Challenging to sketch out, but the light follows the user.

Moving forward with these ideas, I want to push posture and light source as my two focus points for interaction. I think it’s time for some prototyping, and luckily in lab today, we gained some tools.

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I’m not sure how I feel about the typeface that littleBit’s uses (it feel pandering), but I do enjoy playing with them! In class, we were tasked in groups to create a solution to a problem we have in studio using these little circuits. Matt, Sabrina and tackled the issue of having to wait for the hot glue gun to heat up, as well as forgetting to turn it off when you leave the room. We found a pressure sensor and attached it via the wireless bluetooth extension to the hot glue gun cord.

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We also attached it to a little LED, to test whether the pressure sensor was working.

We did the test with the actual glue gun, but it was easier to tell whether it was working when we attached it to a desk lamp instead. We used our fingers to simulate this, but ideally the pressure sensor would be in the user’s chair and sense when they were sitting down versus standing up.

One group created a little machine that would sound an alarm when the atmosphere was too loud, and another made a device that used a threshold (I still don’t understand how the threshold thing works) to turn on a fan when it records a temperature over 80 degrees.

Now I get to use these to prototype interactions within my exhibit, if I can ever figure it out. I kind of want to see if I can get my hands on a Kinect as well, and play around with that.

11/2–11/5: What is the right interaction, and how much is too much?

I am not anywhere near the level of mastery of LittleBits that I wanted to be by the end of this weekend, and I think that’s mainly because I can’t seem to find a good way to utilize their functions in my own interactions. A few of my classmates have gotten really into the sensor functions (a candle heats up the heat sensor and triggers a film to play, for example) but I have not yet envisioned anything except user position that would be a reasonable way to trigger a reaction. The nature of this assignment makes the interaction challenging, since a lot of the possibilities of digital work are too outlandish and disruptive to the artist’s intention. It has become a test of good taste.

I did further experiment with the idea of an interactive light box. I am building on the idea of exploring and uncovering information. I don’t know too much about javascript so my code runs very slowly, but I created a program that simulates your hand moving across a screen.

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The light follows the mouse, allowing you to explore the artwork on display.

I also prototyped with LittleBits, but it’s very rough. Here’s a preview.

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Imagine a hand controlling the movements from above. I know, it’s kinda hard to. This is not my preferred prototype method for this specific interaction.

I was always imagining that the light would be controlled by the viewer’s hands, but one of my classmates pointed out that that’s not really how people look at something naturally. Although I pictured the light to be big enough and maybe have an offset from your hand so it would be easier, it still wouldn’t be much of an intuitive motion.

We started learning SketchUp, and I think it’s interesting how the same space looks so much different rendered digitally versus in actual foam core .

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I accidentally made all furniture covered in wood, but I think I like how it feels like the terrain grows around everything inside.

I am still interested in what I can do with light boxes, especially because I like that they encourage the viewer to look down and examine the work. My favorite part about Rodríguez’s work at the CMOA was that there was a display case that let me look very closely at some of his pieces, and I want to push on that more.

After looking at my sketchbook work holistically, I realize I am mainly working on ideas that don’t actually feature any artwork on the walls. It might be worth exploring a little, but my gut tells me to focus on these interactions where the user can approach the art from multiple angles. I’ll just have to remember as I further iterate that the walls are available as well.

I changed up what was inside my physical model to simulate if there were just 6 lightboxes, one for each piece in his rainfall collection. Peter pointed out that while the boxes themselves are mostly to scale, I didn’t account for the accurate size of the artwork and therefore there is only so much I design for. I think I have a general idea of the actual size of these pieces, but I plan to go back to the CMOA to get more measurements.

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6 lightboxes, not arranged in a particular order, with a LittleBits-powered interaction that simulates a position-sensitive light.

The interaction above I created using MESH, which are these little wireless blocks that you can program through an app on your phone. It was useful to play around with something that was sensitive to motion, but in this context almost any movement within the space would trigger the light. If I develop this idea further, I need to think about how carefully the sensors are set up so that a person walking through would only trigger the displays that made sense. I’m not trying to create chaos in here, and I feel like if I’m not careful this could happen.

11/6–11/8 More critique, more prototyping:

I got carried away sketching plans for these light boxes that you can walk up to.

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Variations on lightboxes.

And then after all these sketches, I decided against the idea. They offered too little structure in the layout of my exhibit if I wanted to create a pathway or trail for my users to walk through. I considered other option.

At this point, I stepped back from the specifics of my interaction and instead looked at the layout of the space. One of the biggest issues I’ve found with using his 6-piece collection of annual rainfall is that the pieces are distinct from each other, which would warrant unique interactions with each one, but still rely on each other in order to demonstrate change. Abel intended for them to be used as a reference against each other, which means someone has to be looking at at least 2 pieces at one time in order to understand his point. This kind of nixes any direction I was heading where I would create different atmospheres for each piece, since isolated the viewer with one painting defeats the artist’s intent.

But I did want to play with the idea of creating atmospheres in general. I realize we are designing an entire experience, and some of this design have to rely solely on the digital interaction I need to incorporate. If people are to walk into my exhibit and feel like they are entering an entirely new atmosphere, I wanted to be able to take this opportunity to tell a story in the same way Abel does. I needed to push my viewers into a set path, so that this experience feels like an individualized journey.

I created a new layout, with curtains that can separate light and sweep the viewers through a set path.

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I can’t figure out how to make a thin, translucent fabric on sketchup, so I used glass.

Now with this set up, I had two different “zones” available for interaction: There was an area to walk through about four to five of his selected pieces, which were mounted on wooden dowels and set up so that a person would navigate through and around them. And then there was his annual rainfall collection, which I decided to put back into a lightbox. From this point, I iterated on a couple different types of interactions within this space.

Using LittleBits, I created a pulley system that would adjust the height of the paintings. My goal is that the paintings adjust to the optimal viewing height according to the height of the viewer, so that when approached it would automatically make itself easy to see.

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Pulley made from LittleBits, iced tea bottle, tape and some of Sebastian’s string.

But, even if you ignore the clunky little motor sound, this is undoubtedly freaky. I don’t think I would want to walk in an exhibit that was that reactive to my height. It reminds my of that magical forest place in Alice and Wonderland, and that was supposed to be spooky. Along these lines, I experimented with putting a LittleBits fan in the space that could simulate wind.

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Damn. It’s a shame there’s no wind in the rainforest.

I liked this one more, since it was subtle, I imagined some sort of wind trigger responsive to the viewers position, so as they walked through the different pieces they would liven up and react. Main issue, however: there is very little wind inside the depths of the rainforest, and this is what his art depicts. I had to move on from here.

11/9–11/12 Building on the atmosphere

Again, back to the atmosphere idea, I started to prototype a new interaction that would instead involve his annual rainfall pieces. At the moment, I just had them set up in a lightbox like this:

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While playing with the different ways I could help the viewer understand the change between them, I thought about rainfall, the main reason they are different from each other. Whereas before I was considering isolating them and then using lighting and/or projections to simulate rain, I realized a more subtle but still immersive use of technology could be sound. I went online and started listening to rain sounds.

Specifically, I started listening to rain sounds at super loud volumes and super quiet ones. The noise level defiantly determines whether the sound of rain is barely in the background or assert sa. Strong presence over once conscious, and I figured I could use this to my advantage. I downloaded a clip of rain in the rainforest and put it into an (adorable) micro SD card.

The LittleBits speaker is finicky and the volume can’t be manipulated except on the dial built into that cube.

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The hardware here didn’t work well, but it was an opportunity to consider scale when creating my lightbox. I adjusted so that my tiny model would be comfortable viewing the work.

I couldn’t really hear the rain sound from this tiny speaker even at it’s loudest. Maybe if I were as small as my little model? I decided to sketch the interaction in p5, and that worked out well. It’s set up that the mouse position serves as the viewers position along the lightbox.

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Very simple: the mouse’s x-position determines the volume of the rain sound, with the loudest at the “rainy-est” drawing, on the far left.

11/13–11/15 A New Layout

I ditched the curtains. The whole time I was trying to be careful about creating an interaction that would be too artistic and appear like my own piece of art, I wasn’t thinking about the elements that definitely weren’t art, but still important to communicate Abel’s work. I was overwhelming the tiny, intricate pieces with my mass of loopy fabric, and the layout of my dividers was actually pretty forceful to the viewer. I realized this after a critique, and it freaked me out because I knew this was a big change and the final deadline was coming up. I had to crack down on the layout.

I worked more with establishing a “path” without forcing people into it. Because of the position of the levator and the bathroom, I realized it makes more sense to start people on the left of the exhibit. I also figured that if I want to pace people throughout the exhibit but not be too forceful about this, a simple way is it adjust the position of the front desk so that when you walk it, you pause at the entrance instead of skipping the attendant entirely.

I landed on this parti-diagram, after a lot of iterations, and ended up using this as a final design.

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I tilted the table slightly so that it’s angled towards visitors.

Another path-making device: In my model, I decided to manipulate the wood in the path that visitors would go through: a subtle way again to guide them through the “story.”

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I assume this would be a challenge to install in real life.

This diagram also inspired me to work on the next interaction. I realized that asking the attendant to stop and start every person throughout the exhibit would be exhausting and a little annoying for guests. I wanted to come up with something more natural that would pace the crowd throughout the exhibit. I looked into crowd control techniques, but that was a whole wormhole I knew I could get stuck in (I did not know people can get PhD’s in this). I was previously considering showing a film about Abel, and I realized that I could cut out the parts into the right time, and pace people this way. I created a 30 second version of the film, featuring a quote that I was using to inspire this whole process.

The interaction is simple: people wait until the space is empty, step into it, and the video plays. They watch the video, are introduced to the artist, and then continue onward.

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The video interaction. I made the screen smaller after Daphne mentioned that people need less space to see a smaller screen than a larger one (I originally drew it 4 feet tall).

To prototype this interaction, I decided to use my computer’s webcam (after failing to find the right IFTTT applet for this purpose. I made another p5 sketch, this time using the HTML library OpenPose, which detects and count’s people’s bodies in a room. Thank you Sebastian for showing this library to me.

https://vimeo.com/jacsaik/review/302749283/8f6444152f

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Simply, when a person appears, the video appears and starts. When they leave, it stops.
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Thank you Sabrina for modeling.
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Parti-diagram, including all of the final interactions.

Also, once I decided on all of the interactions, I wanted to model the lighting somewhere since I wasn’t able to in SketchUp.

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It’s light in the lobby, but gets progressively darker. All artwork is still individually lit.

Finally settling on these interactions, I had to get to work making my physical model.

11/16–11/18 Home Stretch

While building my physical model, one of the biggest things I explored was scale. It was one thing to sketch it out or build it in SketchUp, but actually hot-gluing a table together or pasting giant text onto a tiny wall forced me to pay attention to how these objects influence a person’s perception of space. I had to test out the height of the text, and paintings against my model, as well as the size and span of the displays.

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How big is this type, really? When I first printed it out, I made it 14 feet wide. Whoops.

I also got to use some skills from the last mini (Communications) to play around with formatting type.

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Pardon the low quality.

Making design choices about how much wood to include and what color the walls should be felt out of my domain at first, since I know this is what interior designers study their entire lives. But playing around with construction paper samples and manipulating the textures in SketchUp still allowed me to test which moods were established with which combination of colors and mediums. I settled on this final design because I liked that it was dark without being too spooky, and cool without being directly green, since I figured his work is predominantly green and would contrast better on a different hue.

My final model:

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My final viewpoints:

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Link to SketchUp model: https://skfb.ly/6DnHI

Written by

Designer. Currently at Asana, previously at Khan Academy. Language + Data + Digital + Print.