Refining Ideas and Thesis Deliverables


Where I’m At

I have been doing some extensive research into the possibility of developing an actual cave prototype. In discussions with my Thesis adviser, he commented that I need to keep focus on the design aspect and not become sidetracked by the technology issues. I have taken this to heart and after a great deal of additional investigation, have determined that such an endeavor would likely be outside of the scope of a Design thesis. However, the research is still extremely valid as it proves the proof-of-concept. So it is not fully lost or time that has not been well spent. It certainly helped me to refine my ideas, and find a way to make them more concrete. What I can now begin to do is focus my attention to the actual pieces that will comprise the design of an exhibit.

Interactive Exhibit Design

Things to Consider

In development of a full exhibit design there are a number of factors that need to be addressed and considered before design and development of artifacts can take place:

  • Audience – What is the target audience and demographic?
  • What are the best ways to engage various demographic segments?
  • Can we develop writing styles that will engage all types of readers?
  • Elements – What types of interactive elements will be used? What non-interactive elements will be used?
  • How can the ideas of the exhibit be expressed via visual design?
  • Can we develop various design systems that work together for exhibit branding, wayfinding, interactive elements, souvenirs.

Potential Deliverables

Interactive Display
  • User Personnas
  • Exhibit Contextual Design Research – Observation, Surveys & Documentation
  • Design Ideations – Sketches, Wireframes, Moodboards
  • Typography and Accessibility study of short throw projection on various screen materials.
  • One (1) Early prototype that is used for testing and refinement.
  • Test results from prototype compiled, reviewed & documented
  • One (1) fully functional and coded interactive informational display
Exhibit Design Guide
  • Color Palette
  • Logo Design & Usage
  • Typography
  • Wayfinding
  • UI Elements
  • Interaction Design
  • Merchandise
Film & Motion Graphics
  • Short film / motion graphic demonstration of interactive physical interface.
  • Projection of interface demo film / motion graphic
  • Paper exhibit model

Prototype Design Ideation


Motion Tracking & Candle ‘Illumination’

After doing some additional research on various technologies, I have settled on using Open CV for motion tracking of participants as they move through the exhibit. In this way, as participants move, their locations can be tracked and the game engine can respond with appropriate lighting as they move. In this way, the cave can be dark, but when participants move closer to the cave walls, it will be illuminated by a faint “candle” similar in intensity to the ones used by Upper Paleolithic cave painters. I found a number of Open CV tutorials on YouTube by Kyle Hounslow and have been working to try and get those operational using only a simple webcamera. Luckily there are a number of open source MIT Licensed repositories on GitHub. In addition, there are also a number of Tutorials on integrating Open CV into a game engine like Unity.

Creating a Touch Screen

YouTube is amazing. You can find just about any DIY project on there, including one about how to create your own touchscreen using plexiglas, a wood frame, Infrared (IR) Lights, an IR camera, and a projector. I modified this a bit further and added white semi-translucent textured fabric I picked up from Jo-Ann’s. I need to take some videos to demonstrate once I get the back end code working properly.

Integrating in Unity

Unity is a game engine that can be used to create any type of environment (say, for example, a cave with Upper Paleolithic art). Unity can also be used with Open CV as well as a DIY touch screen, which can then be mapped to a physical environment using a projection mapping software such as Resolume.



Project Update – Fall Semester, 2016


General Update

This semester begins my (hopefully only) year-long Thesis project for a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design (Interaction Design) at Rochester Institute of Technology. My Thesis advisor is Dan de Luna ( an excellent Motion Graphics artist and skilled painter.

The idea of my thesis has changed dramatically as I have progressed in my thinking and scope so that the project may be achievable within my intended time frame. This will include a showing in the Spring of 2017, and a full written paper for submission to Proquest. For the moment, I am focused upon the project and preparation of my proposal and presentation.

Project & Content

The content and general ideas in my Thesis project such as the use of physical interfaces, projection mapping, and and group interaction have remained largely the same, but I have removed the ideas of wrapping the project within the ideas of a hero journey, or Monomyth.

As I have learned more about what will be needed for the technical details of this project, I am leaning towards some technologies that I had not previously anticipated. In particular, I am almost certain that a game engine such as Unity or Unreal Engine 4  will be needed in order to accommodate the use of lighting as participants move through the physical environment. This will mean that a mock cave environment will need to be created in a 3D asset development program such as Maya. However, as the projection mapping will work best with larger polys, the work required, texturing and image mapping will be within the realm of my knowledge. I can also call upon my Thesis chief for some technical assistance, should I run into issues.

The other major discovery is that I will need to have some motion tracking of participants as they move through the exhibit. Luckily I discovered a multi-person tracking program created by Kyle Hounslow. It is written using Open CV and C++. Kyle’s profile says that he is available for help and assistance if necessary, and I personally know plenty of programmers from my job that have told me that they can lend some programming assistance.

Seeking Input From Experts

I recently reached out to several people for assistance with asset creation including Dr. Jean Clottes, a world renowned expert on Upper Paleolithic Cave Art. (Hey, why not try to get the best?) I explained my project and asked Dr. Clottes for assistance with gaining access to particular 3D cave mappings, and photographic assets for use in the project. Dr. Clottes book What is Paleolithic Art was recently translated from French and published earlier this year.

I also reached out to Genevieve von Petzinger, the author of the wonderful new book The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest SymbolsMrs. von Petzinger and her husband (a photographer) visited an astonishing number of caves throughout Spain, Germany, France, and Italy and documented signs and symbols that have been so often overlooked in favor of parietal art. For a more academic read, you can check out her Masters Thesis: Making the Abstract Concrete: The Place of Geometric Signs in French Upper Paleolithic Parietal Art.

I also reached out to a network of European museums, cave management agencies, researchers, and visitor centers called Ice Age Europe. I explained my project and asked them if they would be willing to work with me on it, and I would gladly provide them with my source files for the exhibit. They responded and expressed interest in the project! As it turns out, they have a number of portable exhibits that they loan out to members, so this would likely make a nice addition to their current offerings.

Nose-To-The-Grindstone Practical Stuff

There are several tasks that I now have to undertake to move this project forward including (but not limited to):

  • Deciding on two additional Thesis advisors. One must be from my department of Visual Communication Design, and one must be from outside my department – presumably one that with background and knowledge that can advise on technical and/or content issues.
  •  Figuring out portability, stability, and a stable interactive surface for the projection mappings.
  • Learning about Unity & Unreal Engine for the gamification environment…. and how the hell it’s all going to come together.

OK – that’s all for now. It’s Sunday and I need to get back to research and working on my proposal.

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.

Further Developments… The Monomyth & Generative Design

generative design, Processing, Thesis

The Monomyth or Hero Story

In the development of an interactive environment with any authenticity, it becomes necessary to have a particular point of view. It is imperative for it to express my own life experience, which is not so different from the experience of all people.

One of the benefits of growing older (I will soon celebrate my 42nd year of life on planet Earth) is that you can finally have some perspective on yourself and your past — both the positive and not–so–positive. You begin to see that the tale that we were told of being unique snowflakes is only partly true. At some point, you realize that we are all not so unique and unusual at all. You begin to understand that while the cast of characters, scenery and dialogue may change from person to person, we each play out strangely familiar plot lines in our individual lives.

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”

– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Aiding me in peeling back that layer of the onion, has been an understanding of the Monomyth (or Hero Story) by Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote a great deal about the power of myth, and how the Hero Story is written into the most famous of fables, religions and literature. In dissecting these, Cambell explored how these timeless themes have shaped the lives of humans from the beginning of time. Campbell divided the Hero Story into 17 distinct stages which can be grouped into the phases of Departure, Initiation, and Return.

Generative Design

Generative Design is a completely new design system that utilizes modern computer languages such as Processing, vvvv, JavaScript and others to provide a framework for development of unique design systems with opportunities for multiple types of output.

In a 2012 lecture, Cedric Kiefer of onformative gave a brief overview of Generative Design — the captions are my own notes on his presentation:

Create a system to process inputs (data, sound, images, vectors, motion, video, etc) into outputs ( other data, sound, images, vectors, motion, video, etc.)

Create a system to process inputs (data, sound, images, vectors, motion, video, etc) into outputs ( other data, sound, images, vectors, motion, video, etc.)

There is no limit to the type of input you can use with a generative design system.

There is no limit to the type of input you can use with a generative design system.

Likewise, there is also no limit to the type of output produced in generative design.

Likewise, there is also no limit to the type of output produced in generative design.

It is even possible to use the output of a generative design system as an input through the system again!

It is even possible to use the output of a generative design system as an input through the system again!

In one example cited by Kiefer, using properties of physics, and data they were able to create a visualization of concept linkages.

In one example cited by Kiefer, using properties of physics, and data they were able to create a visualization of concept linkages.

They first started with programming the physics and physical properties so that the groups of concepts would "unfold" and not be blocked from view.

They first started with programming the physics and physical properties so that the groups of concepts would “unfold” and not be blocked from view.

This would create a concept tree.

This would create a concept tree.

They then were able to develop to same concept in 3D space.

They then were able to develop to same concept in 3D space.

They could then export the data for 3D rendering for other purposes such as motion graphics or film.

They could then export the data for 3D rendering for other purposes such as motion graphics or film.

The basic idea is that you can create infinite variations of designs by simply changing the inputs or the parameters of the software that will get tremendously different results from very small and simple changes. Those outputs can then be used in many different ways to examine or infer relationships, analyze and develop possibilities, draw conclusions, etc.

It is therefore at the discretion of the designer to create the design system and the manner in which information is processed and how the output is expressed.

 Incorporation Into The Thesis Project

In delving into the concept of the Monomyth, it could potentially serve as a backdrop for my thesis presentation. In creating an environment, I could potentially work to develop a “learning tool” through creation of a generative design environment. This would take a participant on a “Hero’s Journey” with accompanying stages. Through gamification, each person could work towards achieving the quest, and along the way learning small lessons, that can be put into practice at various stages of the environment.

With each phase of the game, the graphics would change and provide feedback to the participants of their progress and development. In addition, the challenges would become greater and more difficult as the game progresses.

As with all Monomyths, each individual could be on an individual quest. The lessons of which could be different from others. Ideally, I would like for all participants to understand the value of working together towards a common goal, and experiencing a sense of coming together to achieve a common goal.

Update 02.11.2015

Interactive, Processing, Thesis

Today, I met with my Processing Professor, Michelle Harris. In addition to teaching Processing and other computer languages, Michelle is a performance artist exploring issues of gender, race and beauty in her performances through Processing, Leap Motion, Kinect and live video.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 3.00.58 PM

A screenshot from W.M. Harris’ ‘Barbie Mirror’

I sat down with Michelle to talk a bit about my thesis project, and what she thought of it. I was afraid that what I am presenting may not be “new” or “groundbreaking” enough. She put my fears to rest – even if it has been done before, I am bringing my own artistry to the table. (Whew!)


So I laid out a really rough diagram sketch of the process and interconnection of the various parts of the type of experience I want to put together.

Schematic Workflow

Draft schematic workflow and integration of components for a diagram / flowchart.

I explained that I wanted the software to be the central brain – analyzing the music, working from a database of assets and receiving environmental feedback from a VJ (an iPad controller interface) and kinesthetic inputs. “This is all very do-able.” Michelle also explained that there are some existing software out there that helps to do some of the heavy lifting such as the database integration, music analysis, projection mapping, etc… Some are even free! So I need to investigate isadora, vvv, MaxMSP and PureData more. Michelle warned that PureData can be a bit difficult to deal with, so I will need to get my head around these applications


Schematic iPad controller interface

Schematic wireframe of iPad controller interface with a color picker on the left and various mood categories on the right.

The important thing for me is to focus on the hard coding of the project – basically, getting it right in Processing, and setting up visual assets that will work. So at this point, I will first need to focus on getting code setup and moving and first figuring out how to get this moving forward. I will need to watch both of Josh Davis’ tutorials again on using the HYPE framework to get back into that…

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.