I have the pleasure of teaching "Experience Design" in the College for Creative Studies Graphic Design department, chaired by Doug Kisor. The department long ago adopted an applied interactive curriculum, providing a practical approach to incorporating experiential elements in Graphic Design education. We continue to discuss, refine, and evolve our approach.
The Experience Design course at CCS is an opportunity for students to explore how messages are created as dynamic and collaborative experiences. Students approach projects diversely, synthesizing application-based, embedded, installation, and narrative work. This course specifically encourages students to think outside traditional screen-based digital work by exploring emerging technologies and physical computing. During the course this past year we received a request to add experiential elements to an upcoming exhibit on campus.
The challenge allowed the class eight weeks to design and execute a multi-tiered experience for the school’s annual Student Exhibition Opening. For visual and functional subject matter, we chose the QR code. And in the spirit of experimentation and play, the goal was to create a new use and expanded meanings, apart from the standard dead-end informational links or ubiquitous advertising deployments. From student Will Ruby’s perspective, "We took the one-directional interaction of a QR code and made it two-way. Through the use of QR codes we enabled people to use their own smart phone to manipulate the space around them." We named the project Quick Response.
The effort yielded eight individual pieces, all working together to create a unique interactive installation for the visitors to the 2011 Student Exhibition. The conceptual framework explored how digital space can collide with real space, with emphasis on transforming existing architecture. We played with the walls and ceilings of the exhibit space. In general I encourage students to avoid the kiosk interface, so for this project the attendee’s smartphone became the interface of choice.
An iconic graphic identity near the entrance established that the QR forms weren’t just decoration, but had a unique function.
The students designed a few pieces to orient viewers to specific locations. By requiring attendees to move to a vantage point to scan the code, the messages became location-specific.
All components worked from a central web server, and the interface clients were web socket-enabled. This provided seamless multi-user interaction.
We also explored networked microcontrollers designed to encourage collaboration and real-space play. Student Brian Jacob described his team’s experience creating these pieces, titled Cube3: "The cubes required an immense amount of coding, construction, and electronic work. What could go wrong did go wrong during prototyping, but in the final stretch before the event, things seemed to come together."
The last mile was a challenge, but students put in the extra time to get it right. Student Rachel Ariyavatkul remarked that "It was a lot of work and we were really tired by the time opening night came, but when it did, the crowd was receptive to the installation, and their excitement drew more people in."
An ongoing challenge with emerging technology and teaching interaction design is to help students understand that new kinds of expressions are possible, without forcing them to re-invent the wheel. The Quick Response project was a good example of this kind of iteration, where they combined existing forms of the QR code, perspective art, and mobile interfaces to find new meanings. The work also won the 2011 Adobe Design Achievement Award for Installation Design.
The Quick Response team included Rachel Ariyavatkul, Jennifer Barrett, Paolo Catalla, Brian Hendrickson, Cate Horn, Brian Jacob, Lani Kercado, Aileen Klebba, Amanda Matzenbach, Alex Poterek, Will Ruby and Nick Sternberg. We invite you to view our project.
Nick Sternberg is an Adjunct Professor in the Graphic Design department at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, as well as an award-winning Creative Director specializing in interactive experiences and content. He earned his MFA in 2D Design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and his BFA in English-Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Nick has a background in writing, music and performance art, which informs his practice and teaching philosophy, best summed up as "the myriad ways to reach an audience."