Confluence of Experiences

Experiential Design, Interaction Design, Interactive, Planning, Theory, Thesis

In thinking further about my thesis, I have taken a step back, and have been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of the project. From the start, I have wanted this project to be about expanding the definition of Interaction Design and Experiential Design.

To me, these ideas have been limited by the creativity of designers and artists. For the most part, they have existed solely to display technology and advancements. It is akin to tricks of a street corner magician. Entertaining for a moment, but rather unmemorable and having no lasting impact.

I started to look at the various aspects that will be brought in and have an affect upon the Monomyth as an experience. I divided them into the loose and broad categories of Art / Design / Architecture, Computer Programming, Social & Psychological, and Education. In the accompanying diagram to this post, I have begun to analyze the interaction between these various components, and list some concrete examples of how they manifest in experiences.

At the center of this confluence is The Monomyth. The experience of the hero journey via the interactive installation brings together all these spheres into one place. It is unlike any showing previously, as the experience is designed towards human connection.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Hero Journey & Paleolithic Cave Painting

Cave Art, Experiential Design, Interaction Design, Planning, Thesis

A Search For Our Common Humanity

At the core of this project is a search for shared humanity through interaction design. My intent and interest is in creating interactive experiences that are genuine and authentic.

Adding social buttons to share something does not make a meaningful connection. Scrolling through a feed only skims the surface of our friend’s likes, interests and daily activities. So my wish list for a successful Thesis show would look something like this:

  1. Causes participants to interact with each other — not just the installation or software.
  2. Forces participants to be in the present moment and have a shared experience of our innate natures.
  3. To allow participants to play and learn from one another.
  4. To awaken participants to the experience of being present, reflecting on their own lives, and witness the power of the hero journey in their own lives.

Of course, it goes without saying that I want everything to be perfect — no computer or network glitches, etc. etc. etc. But that’s another list for another blog post.

As I began to delve deeper into Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth theories and explore his writings, I have come to understand that his ideas transcend time, and are universally found in all human cultures. The ideas, concepts, and even some of the stories are typically universal in their basis. They are often found with subtle variations in local color, cultural ideas / importances, or language, however the general themes, plotlines, and stories of the hero myth are almost always universal.

This is the central point that intrigued Campbell. It is clear that he studied Eastern and Western cultures in great detail  — drawing comparisons and contrasts of various universal human stories of creation, parenting, loss, death, success, work, transition and transcendence.  One area that Cambell returned to over and over is Paleolithic art.

Paleolithic Cave Painting

The earliest known caves are found in modern day France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Paleolithic humans lived in semi-nomadic groups, and practiced Shamanic religions. To them, their understanding of the world was one of interconnectedness and where anything was possible. The stories of the famous caves of Altamira (Spain), Lascaux (France), Niaux (France) from the late 19th and early 20th Century have gained a history of their own. Established archaeologists scoffed at the idea of these Prehistoric paintings and for many years ridiculed those who supported the idea and refused to even view them. Established academia believed the paintings and artifacts to be forgeries or badly scrawled graffiti done by charlatans looking to make money and sell admission to the caves.

Eventually, when the preeminent French archeologist Émile Cartailhac reluctantly viewed the caves at Altamira, Spain and saw the calcifications and concretions (which can only take many thousands of years) covered some of the artwork, he recanting and understood the impact of these great discoveries. (Curtis, Gregory. The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists. 1st ed., New York: Anchor Books, 2007.)

As I read and study more about Paleolithic cave art, I understand that there are many different theories regarding their importance. During the 20th Century, the common consensus has been that the caves were used for magico-religious practices, and for certain, there are remnants of this. However, in his book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art, R. Dale Guthrie argues that to only view the artwork in this light has not only, “resulted in a derailment of rock art research, but at its worst has presented early peoples in a distorted light as superstitious dolts totally preoccupied with mystical concerns.”

Guthrie goes on to point out that Paleolithic art goes beyond this and had a much deeper meaning to Paleolithic humans. Theirs was the art of the everyday. It shows a direct connection to their physical world, and provides an invaluable record of Paleolithic natural history. It is only when one begins to draw these same animals (unsuccessfully, as I have done) that you realize the level of skill, practice and training that the most exceptional of these artists must have had. When studied in detail, we can see that many of the artists often understood concepts like scale, proportion, volume, lighting and shading. There is a sophisticated understanding of animal anatomy that goes beyond mere observation. It clear that as a result of their hunting culture, the Eurasian Paleolithic artists understood anatomy to a great degree. To draw cows, bulls, lions, and horses with this skill required getting up close to these dangerous wild animals — only possible after a successful hunt.

Thesis Ideas

So, with this in mind, I now have a much clearer basis for my Thesis project. This will be to create a built interactive environment using Paleolithic cave art to take the participants on a a hero journey.

Using projection mapping, the images will be projected onto constructed wall surfaces. This will provide them with a similar experience as visiting a cave. Part of the interactive experience will be to have the images move at various points, triggered by events like sounds or movement from the participants. Participants will be able to leave their handprints for others to see.

As I delve deeper into this project, I realize that there is always more that I need to know and understand in order to make this a success.

Typography Today and its Roles

Planning, Thesis

I spent this week investigating and creating a typographic pallette for the exhibition, web, and print. I have often heard the analogy that good typography should be like a crystal goblet — merely holding the contents by giving them shape and form without distortions, and how Helvetica was the ultimate incarnation of this concept.

Is that all typography needs to do? How quaint.

Typography along with its function and usage is undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis due to (of course) the Internet and more recently smaller screen sizes for mobile devices.

Today, users do not read — they scan. The average web page only has about 3 seconds to capture a user’s attention before they move on to search for something of greater interest or more closely matching their search requirements.

It is therefore of utmost importance for a focus on visual clarity, interest and conveying the most important information in a concise manner. So it’s time for typography (and designers) to put their backs into it, because there’s some heavy lifting that needs to be done, and quickly.

It is no longer enough for typography to just sit there. It is also no good for typography to just be pretty or unique. It is now of utmost importance that the most applicable typefaces are chosen for the right purpose.

The Internet has, in effect, upped the ante. It is now crucial for design planning to be as close to perfect as possible. Errors, miscalculations, and bad taste lose eyeballs very quickly. It does no good to either bore users with trite typographics conventions or hit them across the face with the baseball bat of Gotham (over and over and over and over…).

OK, so this is me getting down off my soapbox now.

Typography and The Monomyth Experience

For “The Monomyth Experience” (as I have now dubbed my Thesis project), I need my typography to convey some ideas, and I think I’ve found what will suit the project’s needs.

I’m not a conventional person by any means, and since this project is as much a personal expression as anything else, I want my typography to show this as well.  The typography will need to serve as wayfinding, signage, and provide instruction and information. It will also need to view well on small and large screens as well as when projected at a large scale. That’s a pretty tall order.

Ideally, I would want the typography to help communicate the following:

  • Modern — clean & clear.
  • Technology — looking towards the future.
  • Humanity — keeping us held tight to our relationships & personal connections.

To this end, I have been trying various combinations of typefaces. Ultimately, I realized that I would need one that was robust with a lot of weights, which meant that I would have to shell out some cash. So I did – and I’m pretty happy I did.

Carnas Y Consolas

I decided on going with a typeface called Carnas and pairing it with Consolas. Carnas is a monoline sans that was designed by the German typographer Dieter Hofrichter. It is casual, but professional with a tall x-height and slender ascenders. The square shapes have a very nice thick/thin contrast without becoming boring or zipping off to the extremes of Bodoni (which I do happen to like).


So this is ends first round of typography edits. I’m sure that I will come back to this later and make revisions as I get feedback. But for now, it’s a good start.

Progress So Far

Interactive, Kinect, Leap Motion, Planning, Processing, Thesis

In the Fall of 2014, I started my graduate studies in Visual Communication Design at RIT. My first semester was a big shift back to school after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois nearly 20 years prior. The first semester was challenging, and provided some foundational knowledge to prepare me for later courses.

This semester (Spring 2015), my classes are more specific to my interests in Interactive Design, Processing and Motion Graphics. In addition, one of my courses (VCDE 718) is a Project Planning and Implementation course. It is designed for students to develop a semester-long project or provide a starting point for thesis development.

The Thesis Idea

I have been thinking about my graduate thesis for several years. I began working in Processing around 2009. I also fell in love with work by Joshua Davis and have taken two courses he offers via Skillshare using the HYPE framework for Processing.

In order to produce something new and different, I would like for my project to go beyond an interactive experience and become an integrated sensory experience of music and movement. This can be achieved using live music, Processing, motion detection through cameras, Kinect or Leap Motion, and a database of images that are tagged to specific rhythms or beats per minute (BPM). Using these various environmental inputs, the images will be projected into the surrounding environment. The BPM will control the speed and pacing of the graphics, and the motion detection system will provide the finer dynamics.

I Don’t Know Jack

This project is beginning to snowball as I delve deeper. The more I dig into it, the more I realize that there’s a lot that I will need to learn in order to pull this off. So here’s a very short long-term to-do list I have for myself so far:

  • Learn Processing and coding for natural system movements (such as particle dynamics, flocking, etc.)
  • Coding for visualization of music.
  • PHP & SQL database integration
  • Projection Systems (possibly even projection mapping)
  • Coding for Leap Motion/Kinect/Cameras
  • Asset Creation
  • Contact existing visual environment designers for more background

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and there will be innumerable additional items that will crop up and need to be addressed later such as locating a venue, locating a DJ, etc.

Next Steps

From this point, I will need to put together a plan of action and schedule for the next year so that I can complete my thesis by next spring (2016). There’s a great deal of learning necessary to figure out how I can put all this together, and I will need to develop a timetable for everything.