i-design 08 - 3D to 5D
The first panel discussion broached the topic of 5D, the developing area of immersive design that touches on themes around sensory experience, virtual reality environments and design that is not just digital and not just virtual, but rather a hybrid of the two.
Colin Jenkinson of Cogapp largely works in the museums sector. This is an area that is challenged in an interesting way by a digital era, a manner akin to the way in which news publishers are also being challenged. Historically, the only route through the millions of artefacts held in major museums was the one decided by their curators. Nowadays, people, perhaps especially younger people, expect to be able to take charge of their own knowledge journeys, to find their own routes through museums and be able to dig into what interests them, and ignore what doesn't.
Most recently, Cogapp has been involved in the creation of Moma.guide - an interactive guide to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. The museum already has a very large number of digital guides, with dozens of microsites, audio tours and huge scans of its exhibits. The Moma.guide was to house all the available information from multiple sources and be installed onto kiosks around the museum. As work progressed, it became clear that the architecture of the information on the service would be quite different to that of a website. It has no homepage, for example, and its structure more closely relates to the architecture of the building - offering the experience of a flow of items, views and links - leading to people to search and move through information in much more creative, playful ways than traditional websites tend to allow.
Tim Fendly of AIG described a similar yet also very different project around the themes of discovery and place-finding, Legible London. This is a network of street signs currently to be found in the Mayfair area, but due to be rolled out to the rest of the city. People have considerable difficulty finding their way around London on foot, particularly if they stray from the areas they know well. Part of the problem is that we use the iconic London Underground map as our internal map of London. We think, for example, that Westminster is directly West from Waterloo, because that's what it says on the tube map, when in fact, it's due South.
Our ability to read maps is controlled by an area of the brain called the hippocampus. When we remember places and their connection to other places, then 'place cells' in our brains. Black cab drivers, it emerges, have larger hippocampuses than the rest of us. The brain uses memorable pictures to represent sites. These might be landmarks, like Nelson's Column, or more ephemeral items such as a billboard or shop window display. These are the nodes we remember and the brain recalls paths between those nodes to build its idea of routes. The Legible London project aims to produce street maps that mimic the way the brain works but which have a stronger relationship to the actual layout of the city than the tube maps.
Stacey Spiegel described ways in which the virtual and physical world are apart from each other and that thus the spaces between those worlds are extremely important. Historically, he created the Canadian Pavillion for the Japanese World Expo. This entailed the creation of a virtual Canada where Japanese people (and other visitors to the pavillion) could experience the country and meet its residents 'in the flesh'. Now, Spiegel is working on the virtual components Rock Heim, a Norwegian rock-and-roll museum - Norway is a country that really likes its rock, with almost as many bands as residents. Unlike Second Life, Rock Heim aims to allow users to import their own rich media from other sites. The site is to be launched in November on an Open Source basis.
Ximo Peres of Smoothe described his sector - architectural modelling - as being at the ugly end of the digital ugly-kid spectrum. Historically, it's an area that has lacked any of the perceived glamour of some of the other sectors of the digital media industry. However, this has changed in recent years with technological progress allowing the creation of models that look photographically 'real' rather than 'virtual'. Presenting these models has also gone through a sea-change with the adoption of a film-like grammar. In some ways, though, this is not a new thing: Le Corbusier apparently once remarked that Eisenstein had exactly the same kind of brain as he. More filmic techniques can help to bring models to life and engage more viscerally, through the adoption of gaps, flashbacks and jump-cuts mirroring the real world experience of looking round a building.
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino from Tinker creates real-world objects with a digital element. Recently, for example, it has created flocks of balloons containing gently glowing LEDs for YCN in London. She noted, as previous speakers had done, the extent to which technology has become mainstream in recent years. It is, she said, "driving the conversation", in a way design is not. One consequence of this popularity is that there are no experts any more. Teenagers might leave school with five years of coding experience - experience that's pretty hard to find in industry. Alexandra also provides training for Arduino, a kind of technology Lego that allows for open source, easy, electronics prototyping. These democratic forms of technology that allow anyone to create new and unique gadgets represent a sea change in the way people experience and interact with technology - a fifth dimension in the extent to which people are now longer merely viewers or consumers, but also shapers and makers.