AIGA Enlightened Spaces: Creating User Experiences That Inspire & Engage
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) once again brought together a spectacular panel of design leaders in the Bay Area to discuss issues in design. This event, hosted by the AIA on June 23rd, focused on environmental user experiences. These are not the type of experiences we go through online, but on the street, in a museum, in a corporate office, etc.
Eileen Jones, Principal and National Discipline Leader for Perkins+Will Branded Environments
Eileen started off the evening with a presentation about brand experiences meeting business strategies. One of the stories she shared was a project with Bank of America. The company approached her with the challenge of enhancing the staff’s sense of community and improving recruitment retention. Her response was to create an associates hub, which involved preparing environmental spaces to project their social outreach. Digital displays were included to reinforce these messages. Moving through the building, one could experience the different classes of identities from the different teams, creating a sense of belonging and community. Other projects discussed included the ResulTech Academy and the University of Cincinnati.
Susan Pontious, Deputy Program Director, San Francisco’s Public Art Program
Susan introduced her presentation with one word of advice — enable artists. Her projects ranged from the San Francisco International Airport, to a jury assembly room, to the Third Street light rail stations. The SF Int’l Airport project turned the once sterile walk from the airplane to the arrivals area into a journey through the clouds. Floor to ceiling 3-dimensional murals ran along the walkway and the roof was opened up to let natural light in while providing a grand view of the sky. Here, the environment reflected the journey but in the case of the Third Street light rail project, it was the environment that reflected the community. Local artists were recruited to participate in the design of the terminals and the path of the transit route was paved with a contrasting material to highlight how the line intertwined with the neighborhoods. The jury assembly room was designed to reward the jurors for their civic duty and invoke a sense of pride. This was accomplished by creating a large backlit mural of the Constitution. The artists and designers worked with the court’s judge to ensure that the design was effective but not too rhetorical. Susan closed with her list of ingredients for a successful project:
– Have a clear vision for the role of the artist but don’t over prescribe his/her duties
– Match goals with resources
– Be realistic with materials
– Have a symbiotic relationship
– Don’t design as a band-aid
– Know and respect the limits of community involvement
John Chiodo, Principle of Chiodo Design
John absorbed the audience with tales about interactive environments. These are places where people can consume, share, and remix ideas while exploring public communities. He talked about dynamic communication, which is based on sense and response — it is the experience that conveys the content/message. This was exercised in a project that had a large light projected onto the side of a building providing an opportunity for a passerby to interact with the simulated environment. As people walked by, they eventually started playing with their shadows and interacting with other people’s shadows, crafting their own experience. This type of communication was used to build a sense of community in a public setting. Higher levels of technology were also used in John’s projects to encourage interaction through play. Lights that were sensitive to movement were projected onto floors creating a sort of catch game and polarized film was placed over life-sized models of animals to display their skeletal structure, so the information could overlay the object. Through the interactions, the user learned about the message as well as themselves and their community.
Melissa Alexander, Director of Public Programs at the Exploratorium
Melissa took the audience on a journey through the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which focused on reclaiming material and encoding meaning into it. She also described the inner workings of the museums, where labs for testing the exhibits are actually visible on site and cognitive scientists study user interactions. One study was an installation of a drinking water fountain in the shape of a toilet bowl. It was interesting to see how bias can influence decision-making. Melissa was also involved in the Black Rock City project, better known as Burning Man. The project involved major infrastructure planning while being mindful of the participants’ need to create. Melissa closed with a 1975 quote from Doug Engelbart:
“Intelligence Collection: An alert project group, whether classified as an A, B, or C Activity, always keeps a watchful eye on its external environment, actively surveying, ingesting, and interacting with it. The resulting intelligence is integrated with other project knowledge on an ongoing basis to identify problems, needs, and opportunities which might require attention or action.”
Kit Hinrichs, Partner & Creative Director at Pentagram
Kit, well know for his identity design projects, discussed storytelling in space. He gave examples that spoke to how they need to be memorable, unique, and create an emotional response. In the example he gave for his design of the Boudin Bakery museum, he started with the issue of wayfinding. The San Francisco waterfront, where Boudin is situated, is crowded with signage. Boudin wasn’t using their visual real estate, so a large sign was built to compete with the visual noise around Fisherman’s Wharf. As the guest approaches the building, his/her senses are awakened by the smell of fresh Boudin bread. Entering Bakers Hall, signage becomes an important part of the visual experience but, rather than being branded, the signs are designed to give a farmer’s market feeling similar to Pike’s Place. As the visitors move through the hall to the museum, they are educated about the history of bread and Boudin’s role in the growth of San Francisco. Eventually, their journey passes by a large glass window that looks down onto the manufacturing floor where the Boudin bread is made. Other examples Kit gave included the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum where the use of humor and materials reflected the message (i.e. large signs directed kids to the washroom and stacked rows of hand driers on the wall catered to each kid’s height). Signage created for the San Francisco Zoo displayed graphics that worked with the vernacular and rooms prepared for the Library Initiative in New York reflected the age and interests of the users. Kit concluded with examples from the California Academy of Sciences. Their mission of exploring, explaining and protecting the natural world was supported by a living roof covered in grass, walls made of glass, and a circular logo that represented the harmony of the natural elements. With the largest research library on site, funding from donors was an important subject. The design of the donor wall became its own challenge and Kit approached it from a unique angle. Instead of organizing the donors by value of contribution, he assigned specimens to them—butterflies, starfish, beetles and the California poppy. Butterflies, for example, represented donors who had contributed over $10 million. This not only reflected the nature of the academy, but also created a bit of a competition for the donors. Everyone wanted to be a butterfly.
The panel closed with reflections on their experiences. They encourage people to experiment with materials, allow change and response, encourage engagement with the user, work with a varied team (young, old, artists, designers, etc.), and provide opportunities for play.