Full Immersion: Beyond the Page + Screen

From the SEGD Research Journal: Communication and Place, 2014

ISBN: 

978-1-940297-14-9

Rachel Fujita

New Media (Studio Art & Design)

University of Idaho College of Art & Architecture

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the potential for integrating Experiential Graphic Design (XGD) within the context of a traditional graphic design/visual communication curriculum. This shift will better prepare students to work in a constantly evolving, competitive, and expanding field of design. Through documented student projects, we explored the development of XGD strategies and methodologies through the blending of traditional graphic design foundations, interactive, and time-based media that transform a user experience beyond the page and screen. The success of this type of new curriculum model is made possible by the co-location of art, design, new media, and architecture in an interdisciplinary college.

BACKGROUND

Innovation in many university-level graphic design programs in the United States entails the light sprinkling of basic web design, motion design, and introductory environmental design courses. Many of these course descriptions hint at the use of outdated software, “prototyping,” and the “world wide web.” Unfortunately, the use of these buzzwords and the occasional technical demonstration is not enough to prepare emerging designers for the professional practice they will encounter during the coming decades. As design educators, we must realize that merely adding technology to a project does not necessarily make it profound, effective, or even relevant to the design problems the next generation will face (Figure 1).

Too often, visual communication design curriculum is structured around a triad of compartmentalized design disciplines (Figure 2) including traditional graphic, interactive, and motion design. This siloed model does not effectively train designers to be versatile and adaptive to the constantly evolving baseline of professional practice and market demands.

The rich and dynamic experiences created by leading professional design studios such as Digital Kitchen (environmental media at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, Figure 3), Pentagram (Gimme More exhibition, Figure 4) and NBNY Designs (Flash:Light “Let Us Make Cake,” Figure 5) serve as groundbreaking case studies into how much of an impact technology is having on EGD, especially as it transitions into Experiential Graphic Design. There is a shift occurring in design. The use of emerging time-based and interactive technologies in the built environment transforms the user experience from traditional to immersive, and heightens the role that place and space have in telling a story.

As educators, we must begin to view technology not as a rectangular screen and device-based vehicle used to create design strategies. Rather, we must view the technology, in both interactive and time-based methodologies, as the convergence between graphic design and experiential design (Figure 6), connecting content (the message), with users and their environment. Current developments within the field of Experiential Graphic Design present us with the opportunity to explore ways that visual communication can have a meaningful influence on the user, in both static and dynamic settings.

METHODOLOGY

As an Assistant Professor in New Media teaching within the College of Art and Architecture at the University of Idaho, I am afforded the opportunity to offer various technology design courses to students from all disciplines (including Studio Art, Design, Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, and Virtual Technology Design). Integrative design and collaboration is highly encouraged among faculty and students. However, all too often, collaborations take the form of superficial projects in which a graphic designer is “recruited” to create a brand or a website. Often, this does not result in meaningful collaboration and contribution from both disciplines. Through the integration of an XGD-based curriculum, once-siloed disciplines and courses can begin to create a more meaningful process of teaching students to design integrative content/stories with space. This opportunity is not only exciting, but opens up a completely new model for teaching these traditional disciplines.

This semester offered the opportunity to evolve a traditionally siloed intermediate interaction design course into an experiential graphic design course. As part of a series of open design courses, this class was open to all disciplines. In the course, projects are not defined by a set medium or predetermined final output. The focus is determined by the overall project goals of problem solving through experiential storytelling. Throughout this course, the design strategies and methodologies introduced to students focus on the components of content (the story), place (the environment and context), and impact on the user (through the experience).

Students were tasked with exploring content through use of rich media as a trigger to visual, aural, and emotional sensory responses. Investigations of space and place are influenced by consideration of scale, immersive characteristics, and the potential activation of space through placemaking, physical engagement, and the group experience. Impact and effectiveness are measured through the degree of communication, tangible and shared memorable experiences, and modifications in the participant’s behavior, thoughts, and experienced emotions.

The course was focused around several installation-based XGD projects that are designed to transition students’ abilities to think about interaction design and storytelling as a fundamental component of XGD. Students are encouraged to think beyond their comfort zones, such as the traditional media types of print and web. Both interactive and time-based design technologies are introduced simultaneously within the premise of an environment where a message or story is to be experienced immersively at a set time duration.

Introductory project: See, Hear, Feel That Jazz!

Each February, the University of Idaho campus hosts The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the largest annual jazz festival west of the Mississippi River. The festival brings together national and international musicians along with thousands of college, high school, junior high, and elementary school students from across the United States.

In conjunction with the festival, the design students were asked to create a visual narrative experience inspired by select influential jazz musicians. Instead of presenting narratives within a traditional screen-based presentation in a gallery or lobby-like setting, the project was conceived to be installed and experienced as an immersive digital installation. Video projections were planned to be situated at key designations within interior and exterior spaces of the festival environs on campus. The project launched during the festival, which presented us with the opportunity to bring together participants from the college, university, local arts community, and visitors. Several installation locations (Figures 7 and 8) were chosen, based on their proximity to other jazz festival performances, as well as key intersections of campus pedestrian thoroughfares including the adjacent student commons building and art studios.

For many of the students, this was the first time that a graphic design-centric project was presented outside the scope of a conventional classroom context or pin-up space. Their jazz-inspired narratives were dynamically projected onto dimensional building elements that provided unique viewing opportunities both inside and outside the space. Windows, stairwells, and temporary panels provided an integrated architectural and media-centric experience not previously presented in this community.

Students were responsible for the overall content creation, programming, and installation configuration and corresponding logistics. From the early stages of the project, students took multiple contextual factors into consideration including scale, texture, light, and acoustics to effectively activate each of the selected spaces into an immersive experience. Installation strategies and methodologies addressed the immersive and engaging nature that sound and light would provide in activating the space, and encouraging movement, user interaction, and ultimately an emotionally connective memory of the overall experience. Figures 9 through 11 depict the students’ work.

Collaborative project: My Community

At the start of each month, the city of Moscow hosts a community event called Moscow First Thursdays to celebrate and promote local businesses and artists throughout the city. Design students collaborated with Beginning Sculpture student groups for their final project that was to be exhibited in downtown Moscow in conjunction with Moscow First Thursday.

The project was to be exhibited on the exteriors and interiors of Tank41 and 40x40 space, two building structures onsite of a re-purposed grain silo that borders the university campus and downtown Moscow.  Formerly the Latah County Grain Growers elevator and siloes (Figures 12 and 13), the complex has dominated the Moscow skyline for 100 years. Shut down in 2005 and saved from demolition in 2007, these buildings have been renovated as a live theater space (Tank41), and proposed retail and art event spaces (40x40 space). This location was chosen due to its proximity to the university’s sculpture and ceramic facilities as well as its historical and cultural significance in the community, particularly the impact it has had in providing the town with agricultural commerce through university research (Figure 14). The siloes previously acted as a buffer between the university campus and downtown Moscow.

Students were prompted to first investigate the topic of community, taking into consideration how a community is defined, the history of place/space and its impact on a community, as well as the role community plays in self identity. Many started their research through target-audience surveying and informal interviews with various University of Idaho and Moscow community members. Design students began to investigate ways to tell the story of the community, some focusing on the evolution of the luscious Palouse landscape, others considering how social media has detrimental impact on meaningful communication and connection with their community.

For many of the design students, this was the first time they had collaborated on a large-scale project with students from another discipline. They needed to find ways to collaborate meaningfully, not just viewing sculpture students as screen or surface makers for their digital media, but rather, finding ways to call upon sculpture students’ understanding of materials, textures, space, and dimension in communication and storytelling. Working in an exhibition space like the siloes required students to consider various spatial challenges (size, lighting conditions, acoustics) that are similar to the unpredictable conditions designers face with clients in the professional realm. Figures 15 through 20 depict the installations.

Once again, this project gave students the opportunity to publicly present a collaborative project outside the traditional gallery environment. Students immediately embraced the imperfections and spatial restrictions that come with a former grain factory, including intrusive concrete columns, exposed metal beams, crumbling brick, and a defunct grain elevator. Working in teams, sculpture and design students began crafting all aspects of a three-dimensional experience (digital projections, sculptures, audio), setting up the layout of the project like a physical journey. With guidance from design and sculpture faculty, students were prompted to consider the dialogue that takes place between digital projections and sculptures. They began to evaluate how the placement of their digital projections, physical sculptures, and other dimensional objects would present viewers with suggested paths and boundaries in order to engage the viewer to explore the exhibition space in-depth.

IMPLICATIONS OF THEORY AND PRACTICE

Through usability surveys, students made and documented observations throughout the semester for each project. Especially noteworthy were their observations of how the immersive nature and scale of the experiences influenced people to move through the spaces and encouraged them to explore and investigate the various viewing positions and angles. Through these studies, students begin to understand first hand the impact and influence of meaningful and innovative cross-disciplinary collaboration and how it can enrich the learning experience (Figures 21 through 27).

The projects also introduced them to the power of XGD, and how emotion can be evoked through the human experience of sound, image, and story. Experiential Graphic Design enabled students to design for users with the highest regard for their overall experience, while allowing them to explore and ultimately integrate substantial and effective methods for designing an experience that involved the convergence of story (image and sound) and space.

The courses also demonstrate the potential for integrating XGD within the context of a traditional graphic design/visual communication curriculum. This shift will better prepare students to work in a constantly evolving, competitive, and expanding field of design. The co-location of disciplines with the school, as well as its culture of collaboration, made possible the blending of traditional graphic design foundations with interactive and time-based media and strategies that transform a user experience beyond the page and screen.

About the author
Rachel Fujita is a designer and educator working within the realms of photography, interaction and experiential design. Her creative work and research explores interactive and immersive narrative methodologies presented in both screen-based and built environments. She applies her experience and knowledge with technology and design to develop innovative communication and storytelling strategies.

Rachel has worked both independently and in partnership with clients nationally and internationally on various design, interaction, and storytelling projects. She holds an MFA in Computer Art with a concentration in Interactive Design and Motion Graphics from the School of Visual Arts and a BA with a concentration in Film and Video from Fordham University in New York City. Her work lovehateNYC and MemoryscapeHybrid series has been exhibited nationally in various invitational exhibitions, academic conferences, and juried exhibitions. Rachel previously taught Digital Design at the University of Cincinnati within the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, as well Visual Communication at the University of Oklahoma within the School of Art & Art History. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho teaching Interaction and Experiential Design within the College of Art and Architecture.

Figures

  1. “True interaction is not clicking on icons or downloading files...it’s about encouraging communication.” (Ed Schlossberg, ESI Design)
  2. Compartmentalized traditional design disciplines
  3. Environmental media by Digital Kitchen at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX
  4. Pentagram Gimme More exhibition
  5. NBNY Designs (Flash:Light “Let Us Make Cake”)
  6. XGD as the convergence between graphic, interactive, and motion design technologies and methodologies
  7. Site plan of installations and proximity to Jazz Festival
  8. Projection location detail in Art+Architecture North + Annex buildings
  9. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  10. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  11. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  12. Historical photo of grain siloes on SW corner of 6th and Jackson, owned by Latah County Grain Growers, 1980 (Photo: Ott) 
  13. My Community project installation location at re-purposed silos in downtown Moscow
  14. Site plan of installation sites and proximity to downtown Moscow and Moscow First Thursday participants
  15. My Community collaborative project
  16. My Community collaborative project
  17. My Community collaborative project
  18. My Community collaborative project
  19. My Community collaborative project
  20. My Community collaborative project
  21. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  22. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  23. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  24. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  25. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  26. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience
  27. See, Hear, Feel That Jazz immersive experience

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