Second Story at the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts

It’s been a long time since the first installment of my serialized article on alternate uses of 3D, and unfortunately (or fortunately?) today’s entry doesn’t end the waiting. So, apologies for my tardiness! Here’s something I’ve been working on in the meantime that may be of interest to designers or design educators:

This summer, I’ll be teaching a design studio at the University of Oregon, in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Second Story is excited about this opportunity to work with Architecture and Interior Architecture students on designing narrative experiences through furnishings and fixtures, and to bring our professional knowledge of integrated media environments into the classroom. The course (a furniture design studio) is also an opportunity for the students to get important hands-on prototyping and fabrication experience.

Our studio project will be to design an example of a relatively new furniture type – a piece of furniture for public use in a museum context, to facilitate the focused and comfortable use of non-embedded personal tablet-size mobile devices for the delivery of augmented content.

Some important trends influence the relevance of this design problem. Museums of all kinds are recognizing a need to facilitate a wider variety of visitor experiences, and the use of mobile and tablet devices to provide augmented content is increasing. Some advantages over other the traditional kiosks and the like include greater dispersion of digital capacity throughout the galleries or exhibits, (potentially) lower initial cost to the institution, and the ability for visitors to consume information at their own pace and on their own terms. Just as Wikipedia has ended the long reign of the dinner-party know-it-all, mobile computing allows visitors to craft their own understanding of exhibits and galleries in the moment. Most institutions have recognized this reality, and are thinking about how best to address it.

An important question arises out of this: Is the deployment of personal mobile voices a real threat to the curatorial voice, the traditional hegemony of the museum? If so, is this good or bad?

This question presents the students with an opportunity. To solve the design problem at hand, first they’ll need to engage in a dialectic regarding the larger cultural implications of this technological development. The debate is centered on two competing views of the best role for the museum —the first being the view that the imposition of independent information into the exhibit is a positive force: that it has the potential to democratize or crowd-source the story told by an exhibit. Museums could, of course, cease to be (or cease to be perceived as) an instrument of a cultural elite, intent on perpetuating a particular interpretation of history and the present.

The opposing argument holds that our institutions are the repositories of culture, the vaults against which all the gains of history are guarded against its volatility (technological or otherwise)—and that the curatorial voice is the instrument by which this safeguarded knowledge is disseminated to the public at large. In this formulation, competing voices (in this case digital information) should be moderated and contextualized in a way that validates the institution’s interpretation.

Either of these formulations can be supported by the inclusion of personal digital information in the museum environment. So, the student’s main task will be to engage in a dialogue on these issues, arrive as a group at a reasoned and principled position, and design a piece of public furniture which elegantly expresses their assertion.

Some goals for the final design:

  • The furniture should be modular and adaptable, and have a form that allows it to be utilized in a variety of contexts.

  • It should consider the relationship between the visitor, the museum object, and the digital content. What attitude will the furniture take to this relationship? Which of these three constituents (if any) is the most important? How can the design of the furniture piece effect this relationship?

  • It should have an aesthetic identity, derived from a meaningful and
    explicitly stated relationship between its intended context
    (historical moment in art & design, relationship to relevant
    history, intended setting, etc.) and use (Human Factors
    considerations, technological constraints, etc.). What aspects of
    the piece will inform this? Material? Form? Interaction with Light?

  • It should support the widest variety of users possible.

  • It should accommodate currently available devices, but should anticipate device trends.

  • It should be comfortable.

  • It should be durable, both in terms of its material and its construction.

Second Story and myself are very excited to have this opportunity to introduce students to this emerging area of practice. I’ll document the progress of the studio as it develops, and share it here.

_daniel meyers

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Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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