JOURNEY Advice from a Caterpillar
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, Sir, just at present–at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
This MA has been a journey that has challenged my identity as a designer. Like Alice, I knew who I was at the start, but I have changed several times since then. I started out as a graphic designer wanting to create enchanting experiences through interaction design. The structure of the MA allowed me to research in depth my chosen field of study and I was able to take my research inquiries as far as I could. This resulted in a development of the conceptual aspect of my projects as well on creating analytical tools for myself to understand underlying concepts in contemporary interaction design. By doing so I learned how to use the appropriate tools in order to expand my capabilities to materialize these projects. I had technology as an enabler of a design situation, rather than having a design project revolving around the latest technological trend.
Going through iterations earlier in the design process has allowed me to adapt the project and adapt myself: both in skill-set and in approach. The transformations that went along as a result of an iterative process caused me to stop and see how the design had changed. This moment allowed reflection, and I became aware of my own methodology and process. As designers, it is good to be aware of this in order to replicate it, and to grasp what works best for a certain project. This process for my projects started with an idea. Then it was sketched out and developed through role-play and paper prototyping. ATerwards, through model making and animations I could visualize the concept better. Then, I went on to create the interactive system through the use of code. Finally, I tested out this system with participants and gather feedback to reflect on and iterate once more. The process for AR Hockey took around 7 months. By reflecting on the method I have developed for myself I went through the same process for Stardust (up to the complex coding part) in over 7 weeks. This proved that I had found a way of working that fit well with what I wanted to do. These iterations in the process allowed the project to transform itself and it meant that I had to plan the rules but not the outcome. I needed to have an idea of the type of experience I wanted to create, but be flexible enough to allow it to transform, adapt and become what it is now.
“My point about spiral repetition is that sometimes that-which-repeats-itself also transforms itself.” –Jane Bennett
PLAY IN DESIGN PRACTICE
I believe that solving a problem that is interesting to you makes work feel like play. I took this MA as an opportunity to discover what interested me: creating and seeing change as I created, and allowing others to experience the same. This personal interest allowed me to make work into play and come to solutions from unsuspected places. I have used play in the form of paper prototyping and acting out situations to explore an idea. I have explored play as a theme in itself through the AR Hockey game and by creating a playful situation for the final piece. When designing an interaction where one of the qualities is to alter perception, play, like humour “does not deal in theory, but in immediate experience, and is often the best guide to changing perceptions.” (McLuhan 1969: 92). So why is play important in design practice? As Tim Brown mentioned on his TED talk: “we use it in a pretty pragmatic way, to be honest. We think playfulness helps us get to better creative solutions. Helps us do our jobs better, and helps us feel better when we do them.” (Brown 2009). Making work into play helped me realize that joy is an asset. Being enthusiastic about my own project helped me keep motivated along the way and enjoy the process. Joy as an asset helped me stay away from the cynicism that can envelop design and the use of new technologies, and helped me focus on actually making things. Things and situations that change people’s perception and bring a moment of enchantment into the ordinary. To design is to change for the better, and I have used that philosophy as a guide.
I learned to work with rather than work for participants, and this learning by doing approach led me to explore what goes on behind the curtain. I got ideas by exploring new materials (like code): by doing. In this way I made decisions that were not present on my projectâ€™s initial sketches. This allowed me to reflect while doing. I could look from the outside and see the limitations of the projects as well, the aesthetic qualities of them and the relationships between all the small projects, workshops and research I have done. In some stages of my process even descriptions and diagrams did not communicate how it would feel or look like. I had to do it myself and experience it. When working with body-movement based interaction I had to move myself, and test out things as would any other participant. This is another way that I learned by doing: I learned by moving.
LEARNING BY DOING
The tutorials Iâ€™ve had with my external tutors, Peter Hellicar and Joel Gethin Lewis has been invaluable. They guided me through what I needed to know in order to realize the ideas I had for my projects, conceptually, aesthetically and technically. Having tutorials online for an hour a week meant that I was not going to have programming lessons from them either. I had to learn that myself. However, I was guided in the right direction in order to learn how to code. The benefit of this is that I could develop at my own pace and be more involved with the digital community of practice. I got time to reflect on each step of the process. Not having a programming curriculum meant that on one hand I did not have a point of comparison in regards to how much I have learned. On the other, it meant that I did not have to settle with the progress established by any course, and how much I could progress was up to me. The nature of open source soTware allowed me to develop quickly enough to, as a designer, understand the environment and program what was necessary for my projects even as a beginner. It was until I was in a context with designers creating interactive experiences (attending Resonate festival in the spring) that I realized how much I have learned in this regard. By using open source soTware I realized that the work done by the community is invested in openness and sharing resulting in accelerating progress. Sharing the work itself can lend it to become a building block for a bigger project and in this way, creativity and solving the problem at hand is the main drive. I have learned to treat all tools as equal bridging what I can do to what I want to do. I have learned to have a broader tool box and use the tool best suited for a particular part of the design process.
IN BETWEEN THEORY AND PRACTICE
As part of my journey I placed my project and myself as a designer in context by getting involved with the community of designers and artists working with interaction design. This involved study trips, lectures, conferences and workshops from people that are at the cutting edge of interactive work. I traveled to Paris where I interviewed Karleene Groupierre, whose work is described in this thesis, at UniversitĂŠ Paris 8. I attended the event OsloLux that dealt with the intersection of space, light and technology. I visited The Barbican Centre in London where Rain Room was exhibited, that resulted in insights for my project and process. I attended the new media festival Resonate where cutting edge work in interaction design was presented. At the same event I participated in the Computer Vision workshop led by Kyle McDonald and Golan Levin, leaders in the field. I participated in a co-design workshop, Movement Matters, with PhD researcher and designer Lise Hansen, professional dancer Gry Bech-Hanssen, my classmate Vibeke Hauge, Joel Gethin Lewis and Peter Hellicar. This workshop explored movement and material and possibilities of the resulting interactions. I could not have gained the learning outcomes and insights from attending and participating in these events from the MA studio alone.
I interviewed Karleen Groupierre at the university where she works during a study trip to Paris in January 2012.
Oslo Lux celebrates the intersection between space, light and technology. I got the opportunity to see designersâ€™ work in this field and I integrated part of what Iâ€™ve learned into the visual research of my final project, like the work of Semiconductor and Meghan Reynard, who gave talks and showed their work at Lux.
The workshop allowed me to brainstorm ideas, work with professionals in the field and test out applications using my body to explore the concepts we had come up with.
The workshop Movement Matters held in October 2012 allowed me to explore concepts around the idea of movement data as digital water.
Fort he first day at Resonate festival there were workshops about diverse themes relating to design, art and technology: arduino, gaming, augmented reality and computer vision among others. The atmosphere was that of a busy studio, with people networking and making things, rather than a passive audience.
In the Computer Vision workshop I could ask questions and test applications by the person that created them, making it an invaluable opportunity for my development.
I learned different techniques for adapting the environment for a body-movement based interactive installation.
In the workshop we went through body detection and tracking, testing the addon OpenNI, as Levin demonstrates to the right.
As part of my professional development I had an internship at my external tutorâ€™s creative studio Hellicar&Lewis. I was there the last two weeks of October 2012, involved in the process of creating a scoping document for a project for a major international client. I got involved with gestures and system diagrams for the installation, as well as researching visual references, the editorial design for the document and discussing the project with the people at the studio. I applied what I learned from this internship to my final project. I could see how to work in a professional situation within the field of experience and interaction design, and to be involved in the design process of a studio on the cutting edge of the industry.
CHALLENGES/GIRLS WHO CODE
What I noticed as I went further in my research and practice was that there are few women in interaction design. This caught my attention and made the research I have done interviewing, being inspired by and working with women more valuable. The reason for this is because they have faced the challenges of being a minority in the industry I want to work in: “Only 17% of the technology workforce in this country is female, and yet women buy 40% of all technology products. Only 4% of all games developers are female despite women now playing 55% of all ‘casual’ games.” (Parmar 2012: 10). This motivated me to continue with my research and work in this field, because as technology linked to design becomes more pervasive in our lives, so will be the people making the decisions behind them, and that future is for everyone. As Zach Lieberman (co-creator of openFrameworks) says: “We are desperate for women to be more involved...It’s a sad fact in open source soTware in general that there aren’t enough women working on the development side. We are super open and we want you to come and have a seat at the table” (Lieberman, 2012)
One of the biggest challenges in this journey was to learn how to program. I have enjoyed the process but as Raymond mentions, “It’s lots of fun, but it’s a kind of fun that takes lots of efort. The efort takes motivation.” (Raymond 1999: 197). I kept my motivation close in order to make the process easier for myself. I saw programming as a tool to create magic experiences. I tried to see the big picture whenever I got stuck in the specificities of the tools. The start was the hardest part, not because if its complexity, but because of fear. We are afraid of things that seem intimidating and this fear extends to technology in general. But I realized that fear was just a psychological barrier. This psychological barrier is fed every time you hear a “Math is hard” comment, or “You are not a programmer” or “You are a designer, you won’t have to do that” remark. This feeds the idea that coding is something left for computer scientists alone. When I was about to make my first Processing sketch, this fear came back to me. But at that moment I realized that I was allowed to mess up with things: I did not know how they worked in the first place, so I might as well give myself permission to fail.
When I started with AR Hockey I clearly remember seeing a set of three numbers in parenthesis (255, 0, o). I thought that they looked like the RGB sequence we use in Photoshop or Illustrator and asked: what if I change that number, so the values give me red? Maybe the color of the paddle will change? I changed the numbers and the paddle indeed changed to red. This discovery had to do with knowledge transferal. As graphic designers we might not be aware of it, but we deal with certain logic and numbers that are very similar to the ones in code (at least in what I have explored so far). This makes the environment slightly recognizable, and a bit more welcoming as a beginner. It felt like a small victory. Moments like this kept me going further, and the way to work with code, I discovered, resembles the way I worked with my MA as a whole: taking a big problem (or project) and slicing it up in smaller parts, solving each part and learning from it. Then, you move on until before you realize, it is done.
PRETENDING IS ALMOST THE SAME AS
KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE DOING SO JUST
THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING
EVEN IF YOU DON’T AND
DO IT –Cult of Done Manifesto
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING
Eric S. Raymond said that to solve an interesting problem you have to start by finding a problem that is interesting to you (Raymond 1999). I kept my motivation along the two years of the Master’s because I discovered my principle as a designer. I found that as a designer I am fascinated when I see a design change as I create. This moment of creation, where you can see how you afect something as you do it, is what I want others to experience in the form of a situation that is magical. Norman Potter wrote: “No one can make truly creative decisions without understanding; and without a real participation in the constructive spirit of his time. This spirit must be sought out, not necessarily by intellectual means, to be honored wherever it is found.” (Potter 2000: 50) The spirit of my time thrives in openness and technological developments that are shaping the way we interact, communicate and design. I wanted to embrace this and use code along with design to explore a new way of thinking and working allowing me to create the type of experiences I sought. By doing so I explored how to expand our field. I was constantly working out of my comfort zone, and that implied taking risks Taking risks is what makes a process richer: you venture into unsuspected areas, or you experiment with seemingly unrelated things, to create something new. My desire to create these experiences was bigger than the uncomfortable feeling of doing something “non-graphic design like”. I just had to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and push myself to explore this area in between.
I encountered setbacks at different stages of this journey. I also had moments of doubt, in the way that I could solve a problem or task. I doubted that I would have enough time, or that I could manage to actually make these systems. How I overcame this was to just do, or try and then fix piece by piece. It also helped talking to mentors and people I admire, in order to learn and look at the problem diferently. I struggled with figuring out if there was an outcome in the system I wanted to create. Was it the outcome the addon/library? Was it the image the system produced when the participant moved in a certain way? Was it the video documenting it? These questions circled around my head until I discovered that there was no â€œoutcomeâ€? in the traditional sense of it (a finished thing). The success would be at the moment of the interaction, and it would be diferent for each participant, as well as with the discussions or reflections that stem from this interaction. In sum, I realized that this journey is made up from what I have learned from these setbacks and how I dealt with them, acknowledging my weaknesses and strengths as a designer and as a person.
FINAL CONCLUSION/ROLE OF THE DESIGNER
I realized during this MA that I have changed. My role as a graphic designer had morphed into being a facilitator of situations, a creator of experiences, someone working with numbers, juggling depth cameras and projectors and designing among others. I discovered that I had changed several times, from my assumption of having a fixed role with a fixed skill set, to developing new ones, merging fields and inhabiting the space in between. I discovered that I was not creating an object, but processes: an interactive system and how it works, the interplay between our relationship with technology, and the relationship between each other. I realized I had shiTed from designing something concrete and consumable, to creating an experience, an intervention, and the system behind it. In order to do so I had to break from the boundary of traditional graphic design and enter the world of programming and the tools that would allow me to do so. Through an iterative approach in my projects that included testing things out with others very early in the design process I learned to include people. This made me realize that the projects I created revolved around a social situation: I was trying to become a facilitator. By shiTing roles (from beng a graphic designer in the traditional sense, to working with code: from designing with participants, to exploring body movement myself ) I assumed new identities, and I could explore my own creativity and realize a vision that could not have happened if I had remained within the boundaries of traditional graphic design. This hybridity multiplies what we can do as designers. Assuming different roles comes with empowerment as well as responsibility. A challenge for us as designers is to balance the fun aspects that come with using technology and new tools, and to also have â€œan awareness of the potential that they have for wider social, political and environmental change.â€? (Parker 2004:105) This MA has shiTed what I want to pursue in my career as a designer. I have learned that what inspires me as a designer is to pursue ways of creating enchanting experiences through design and emergent tools, in order to allow people to be creators themselves. I realized that even though we have more accessible technology and tools to create magic, we still have a choice in how we use them, and how we approach design with them.
Through this MA I have discovered my true calling as a designer and at this point in my professional development I have just started to scratch the surface of what I want to become. As someone with a Computer Science and Fine Arts background, artist Kyle McDonald has said that he is a bridge builder: taking concepts and tools from one field, and adapting them so people on the other field can understand and use them in a creative, interesting way. I like this concept of a bridge builder. That is something that Iâ€™d like to be: work in the space between design and technology, and build bridges for others to create and experience the enchantment in between. n
In the final project of this MA I have worked in the space between the technical and the visual, and I find this space in between very interesting and inspiring. I have enjoyed not just being a designer, and not being a programmer; I have liked not to just be exclusively visual, or exclusively logical. I have explored and liked the space in between, just as I have discovered the space in between a window and a mirror, come into being through presence.
“Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.” –Marcel Proust
Acknowledgements My special gratitude to Maziar Raein, for his support along this process in the form of pep talks and anecdotes I enjoy so much. Thank you for the tough love when I needed it, and for giving me the extra push to venture out into the good ol’ town. I’m very grateful to Lise Hansen for the mentorship, font exchanges, articles, help and inspiration along this journey. Special thanks to Joel Gethin Lewis. Without your help and patience this could have not been possible. Thank you for believing in me since the beginning and for inspiring me to give the best I can. Thank you for making me feel so welcome during my stay at H&L, for the music, the books and the talks. Your friendship is invaluable to me. I’m very grateful to Peter Hellicar. Your vision has inspired me to look for beauty in unsuspected places. Thank you for your help, guidance and friendship. Thanks to my classmates who have taught me so much and helped me along these two years by posing, moving, filming, photographing and playing with white cards and boxes. Thanks to Sanneke Duijf for teaching me that design is to change for the better. Thank you for your help reading the manuscript for this thesis, and for your contagious optimism. Thanks to Anne Thon Knutsen, Marthe Næstby and Oda Hveem for their help and tips in this MA. Thanks to Martin Lundell for the tutorials and design tips. Thanks to Theo Barth for the studio Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for his interest in the subject reflected in references, tips and tricks. A big thank you to Tom, Christian and Greg from the Media Lab, Tor Støve from the Theater department, the library staff for facilitating material and people at Khio that have helped make this journey possible. Thanks to Karleene Groupierre for helping in my investigations in this thesis. Thanks to Daniel Shiffman, Zach Lieberman (whose What can go wrong? poem was on constant replay during the making of this thesis), Theo Watson, Casey Reas, Ben Fry, Kyle McDonald, Golan Levin, Memo Akten, Chris Sugrue and the whole openFrameworks community for being living examples of openness, craftsmanship and generosity.
Many thanks to my family back home in México, trying to make the distance shorter with every email, phone call and package filled with Mexican flavours. For all my friends back home who came to visit me during the cold winter and for those who greeted me gladly when I went back home to visit. Forever grateful to my friends Pablo Hernández and Cony Arizpe. Without your generosity I wouldn’t even be here. Thanks to my friends here in Norway, for making me feel welcome and having the best of times curling, partying, hitting piñatas and cozy nights in during winter. A big takk to my Norwegian family, for their support, warmth and love. You have made me feel welcome since day one. Special thanks to Eirik: my editor, cook, curator, cheerleader, calibration model, roadie, shrink, best friend and love. My partner in life and in everything. n
Published on Oct 22, 2013
Advice from a Caterpillar. Chapter eight of my MA thesis "Through the looking glass: creating enchanting experiences through design and te...