Xlab 2014: Traci Sym & Daniel Meyers: The Future of User Experiences is This Way

Daniel Meyers is a creative director and architect. Traci Sym is an experience design director and performer. They’re a dynamic duo at Second Story, the Portland, Ore.-based interactive studio (part of SapientNitro) that merges digital technology with spatial architecture and narrative storytelling. Join them at Xlab 2014 Nov. 6 in New York!

Tell us a little about Second Story. What sets it apart from other studios? What is the “Second Story”?

Daniel: Second Story designs immersive experiences and responsive environments. We consider the confluence of context, content, and people (and all their senses) as the ingredients of experience. The “Second Story” refers to the reader, the visitor, the consumer, the audience’s story—the one they are able to weave as a result of the way that digital media lets them behind the curtain, gives them agency, makes them participants in the unfolding.

When you’re designing user experiences, what comes first…the story or the technology?
Traci: We always ask why before asking how. Technology exploration is key in our lab because it allows us to experiment and play with new technologies, but a particular piece of hardware is rarely the driver of design. Instead, we steep ourselves in the molecules of a project; what are we trying to say, who are we saying it to, where are we saying it, what should it all feel like? Once we understand all those parameters, designing an experience and the way in which to implement it can begin.

Traci, you identify yourself as an experience design director and a performer. How does you background in theatre inform what you do now?
Traci: My education and career in the performing arts drives much of the way I see and experience the world around me. I’m highly drawn to understanding a person’s emotions, personal contexts, interactions, and movement in spaces. When working on content-rich projects, I like to find conceptual threads in the content that might influence interaction methods, or materials, or other aspects of an experience and connect a visitor in a more emotive way to the stories we’re working to tell. Performance considerations like light, volume, pacing, sound, posture, etc., shape the way an audience experiences a play or dance piece. The same is true for responsive environments, only now the audience is the performer.

What recent and current projects are you excited about?
Traci: We just opened a permanent exhibit, Learning to See, inside the newly designed Science Pyramid at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This was a holistically designed environment. 

Daniel: We inherited the interior shell of the roughly 5,000-sq.-ft. pyramid, and from there created a special kind of environment to celebrate and share the scientific work of the garden. We wanted to create a context for that learning that was experientially consistent with the feeling one gets wandering from garden to garden while on the grounds. We were able to provide exhibition planning and design, environmental graphics, and interactive media development services together, and therefore were able to provide a more consistent visitor experience.

Traci: Having full control of every aspect of the exhibit gave us the freedom to lean into areas of the experience in a way that pulls visitors closer to the content. It’s an extension of the garden that enables visitors to explore this important story.

If you could use your professional skills to change something about the world, what would that be?
Traci: Enable presence. We have so many ways to fill every second of our day and we rarely take time to really sit in the world, to listen, to touch, to be present with intention.

Daniel: I love Traci’s answer, but I’d just add that I would love to help people use that renewed presence to find new ways of connecting to place in this changing world, and therefore connecting to one another in progressive and positive ways.

Photos: Second Story

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