Designing brand affirming projects

Many cultural institutions already include interaction as part of their visitor experience. Since reopening, the contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo has made interaction an integral part of its brand. Its central foyer has been given to artists to be transformed - their only brief that the space must act as a place of exchange. In response, Ulla von Brandenberg’s installation Death of a King filled the space with a skateboard ramp structure, inviting visitors to explore new ways of relating to a once familiar environment.

Interaction in art and design

PixInk's art-inspired philosophy draws on the theory of relational aesthetics.

"Art is a state of encounter" writes Nicholas Bourriaud in his book of essays ['Relational Aesthetics', 1998]. The book makes a case for 'the social exchange' and 'inter-human relations' as a fully-fledged art forms:

"Meetings, encounters, events, various types of collaboration between people, games, festivals, and places of conviviality, in a word all manner of encounter and relational invention thus represent, today, aesthetic objects likely to be looked on as such."

More recently, UK-based artist and graphic designer Daniel Eatock referenced this when he said "inter-human exchange [is] an aesthetic object in and of itself." [Daniel Eatock, Eye Magazine, 2006].

From the idea of relational art stems the possibility that designers can deliver the strongest visual encounters and the most compelling digital experiences by drawing inspiration from interaction as an art form.

An example of 'art [as] a state of encounter' comes from the digital artwork created by Jason Bruges Studio for Great Ormond Street Hospital called The Nature Trail.

The Nature Trail by Jason Bruges Studio

The hospital walls have become a natural canvas with digital look-out points that reveal a variety of 'forest creatures' including horses, deer, hedgehogs, birds and frogs. Embedded LED panels in the wall animate light patterns that replicate animal movements and reveal themselves through the trees and foliage of the bespoke forest wallpaper. This project didn't just create a distraction piece to calms children on their pre-theatre journey; it immerses them within a responsive visual wonderland.

Co-creativity and participation

Another example of art that is utterly dependent on viewer participation for meaning and purpose is Leandro Elrich’s Dalston House, commissioned by Barbican Centre for summer 2013.

Leandro Erlich Dalston House. Photos by Gar Powell-Evans. Barbican Art Gallery 2013

The constructed façade of a building is mounted on the floor with a multi-storey mirror set upright. Navigating along the ground, viewers become part of a gravity-defying illusion as the reflective surface makes them appear to be up on the façade itself. The work takes on a life of its own based entirely on the reactions of those involved - while some choose to hang precariously, others sit on window ledges and chat or even jump about in a spectacle of suspended reality.

The effects of interactivity demonstrate the value of participation when creating or communicating a message. This particularly relates to designing experiences where the focus is not on telling viewers what you want them to know but creating an environment where they can experience it. The creation of interactive experiences gives people an opportunity to actively engage with your brand, theme, or idea.

Interaction design for the web

Thanks to the ongoing development of HTML5 and CSS3 website markup languages, it is now easier to apply creativity to the points of interaction within a website, such as when we click on a menu or subscribe to a newsletter. These micro-elements contribute to overall visitor experience of a website and are employed by designers to make websites as user-friendly as possible. In the hands of an Interaction Designer, creative attention to detail has the power to create brand-specific experience.

"Some people refer to human-centred design as experience design, but I would argue that this term is presumptuous;" writes Kim Goodwin, Designer and General Manager at Cooper, [Designing For The Digital Age, 2009]. Kim Goodwin prefers to use the word 'interaction design'. Her view is that "we can design every aspect of the environment to encourage an optimal experience, but since each person brings her own attitudes, behaviours, and perceptions to any situation, no designer can determine exactly what experience someone has."

PixInk believe this is where artist-led design processes come into their own. An artist is well practiced at dealing with uncertainty; they never assume that their work will have the same meaning for every person who experiences it. Rather than seeing this as an obstacle, artists often play with this ambiguity. Instead of struggling to guarantee specific responses, artists demonstrate there is something to be gained by accommodating and inviting viewer involvement.

There are obvious parallels between art and social media here. Both invite interaction and integrate participation in the creation of meaning; both build environments where ideas can be experienced, shared and discussed.

In summary

Art and design are at their strongest when considering the relationship between people and things in order to create a moment of encounter and interaction. But interaction for interactions' sake is not as effective as bespoke design that is informed by a clear understanding of an organisation and what it wants to achieve e.g. The Nature Trail at Great Ormand St Hospital. And organisations with a sense of purpose can re-enforce what they stand for by providing relevant interactive experiences.