A Presentation at the Digitally Engaged Learning Conference in Toronto: Experimental Practices with Creative Technologies, from the Analog to the Digital

I recently presented at the international design conference, Digitally Engaged Learning (DEL) at York University in Toronto. This year’s conference theme—the ecological concept of edge effects [1]—was particularly interesting to me because I often work in overlapping, disciplinary spaces and I encourage this methodology in the classroom as well. The full published abstract can be found here, on the conference website.

The work I presented discussed my thoughts on the edge effects of design and technology—a space that embraces concepts of open-source knowledge, accessibility of information, DIY and maker movements, critical making and experimentation, open design, and design for democracy. As a designer who is interested in tinkering with technology and tools as a major part of the design process, this space offers opportunities for learning, adopting, and working across technologies and technological systems. It also provides opportunities to work fluidly between digital and analog methods, across media, to experiment and create unexpected things. But, it also suggests that designers need to contribute back to open-source knowledge communities, sharing and distributing the things that we make and the processes we use to create them.

The methodology that I use in my practice as well as in the classroom is shown below. It begins with a prompt or question of “how.” By asking how, the development of a making experience is implied. The why and what questions are important and must be considered… but they could be defined how it best suits the designer, be it orientated towards social and cultural contexts, towards manufacturing and industry, or towards form and artistic practice. Experimentation is integrated into the process right way, and for a significant amount of time to adjust for researching, learning new tools, and learning by doing. Working with open-source knowledge is introduced to discover technologies, mediums, and tools for developing a making experience. The goal of this part of the process is to come to a unique and unexpected process for making something. After that process is defined, it is executed, documented, and shared with the larger public.

The last step in this method is to share and contribute back to the open-source knowledge community the new processes and artifacts that you have discovered. Inherent in the work is the social and technological impacts of sharing knowledge and making information accessible to others, without this contribution there is little impact beyond your own personal discovery.

[1] The conference website (2018) describes the edge effects as “an ecological concept that describes biological interactions happening on the boundaries of two overlapping ecosystems. Species from both ecosystems live alongside one another, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either. […] In art and design, working at the ‘edges’ of ideas or practices, often in spaces between disciplines, ways of knowing and bodies of knowledge, can be very fruitful. It can provide new insights, allow us to challenge conventions, and rethink our engagement with the world around us.”

Interactive & Motion Research Typography & Print

Nature as a Mediator for Making: Data Visualizations of the Wind Recordings of Horn Island, Transformed and Reinterpreted Across Media

The natural environment encompasses all living and nonliving parts and systems that occur naturally in the world around us. As an observer and participant of the natural environment, I wonder how I might observe, participate, and collaborate with the environment and the natural systems occurring around me.

Exploring nature as a sort of mediator for making, I consider how systems of the natural environment might interact, overlap, and contribute to designed processes, introducing a certain unfamiliar or unknown variable into the making experience. This variable captures moments of movement, gesture, and pattern in nature, from the tangible to the intangible systems working all around us.

The results of this collaboration with nature are process-driven recordings of the natural forms and systems occurring at defined locations and times.

I view my recordings of nature as data visualizations or graphical interpretations of the landscapes and ecosystems of diverse and distinct places; they are the recordings of the experiences that take place and the interactions and exchanges that happen in-between, curated in such a way that we are able to observe and discern these natural systems through different mediums. With the primary investigation to explore form and artistic practice as a means for making unexpected solutions, these data visualizations are recorded, transformed, and reinterpreted across media and processes.

This series visualizes the movements, gestures, and patterns of the wind on Horn Island, Mississippi. Thinking about how the wind can be recorded visually as data using analog methods, I designed a drawing tool that recorded the wind onto a drawing surface over a duration of five days. This making experience, a collaboration with the natural environment, resulted in a series of 2-dimensional data visualizations; the data being the recordings of the wind on the island of Horn Island. The artifacts are captured moments of wind across location and time. The wind represents a function of time, the longer the duration of time on the drawing surface, the darker, and more saturated the marks become.

The next inquiry considered how creative technologies could be used to reimagine these 2D abstract data visualizations in other formats. After experiments of trial and error, working through design processes to critique, refine, edit solutions, I created multiple digital processes that resulted in 3D and 4D formats to transform and reinterpret the wind recordings.

The 3D formats explored static, analog solutions to reimagine the wind’s movements, gestures, and patterns. Working with 3D modeling software and 3D printers, the result was a series of object visualizations that extruded points of the 2D drawings into a 3D topographical representation. The object visualizations were rendered with the highest points representing the darkest areas of the original drawings, while the lowest points represented the lightest areas.

The 4D formats explored time-based, digital solutions to reimagine the wind’s movements, gestures, and patterns. Working with the open-source coding language, processing, the result was a series of dynamic visualizations that animated the points of the 2D drawings into a 3D orbital sequence. The dynamic visualizations were rendered with the largest variation in the z-axis, using a range of noise/randomness, to represent the lightest areas of the original drawings, while the smallest variation in the z-axis represented the darkest areas.

final thoughts
This body of work explores how nature can be a collaborator and mediator in making processes and artifacts to visualize and record natural ecosystems of diverse and distinct places. Each recording, transformation, and reinterpretation offer a different visual perspective of what we see and comprehend of these natural systems that operate all around us.

Horn Island series
Monday, May 21, 2018 — Friday, May 25, 2018
36 recordings total, wind drawings, marker on canvas
72 transformation and reinterpretations total, topographical 3D prints and digital animations