Scriptwriting, Aesthetic Inspiration, and Material's Resistance to Design Intention
In October of last year, we were given a guided tour of the MoMA exhibition, Talk To Me, by its curator, Paola Antonelli. She spoke of the exhibition’s main theme: designers as scriptwriters of experiences, highlighting the fact that every work featured in the exhibit was supported by video. Robert Fabricant punctuates Antonelli’s point in a Fast Company post recapping his experiences judging the first annual Interaction Design Awards: “the most important skill that young interaction designers is in video ‘sketching.’ Video plays a critical role in communicating new service and product concepts across time and place. […] [T]he best interaction designers working today […] use video to ask new questions about the role of interaction design in our lives.” Ever since I was introduced to the work of BERG, during the week-long workshop a year ago, I’ve taken every opportunity to sketch in video—it has become central to my practice. Over the past two years we’ve been taught methods of communicating interactions distributed among touchpoints over time—user flows, journey maps, service blueprints—but none communicate the nuance of time and space as effectively and emotionally as video.
The capstone of my thesis will be a user experience video. The video must explain the thing that I’ve made, communicate how it works, and depict a compelling experience of use. I’ve begun the process of scriptwriting by jotting down scene fragments that come to mind. The fragments tersely describe action, camera angles, and editing techniques: ” Assembly [Cut] Talking head.” (An actor assembles the device. The camera cuts from assembly to a talking head. The talking head describes the significance of what is being assembled.) Once the number of fragments reach critical mass, I will begin writing a cohesive script. I’ve also started gathering inspiration for how I’d like the video aesthetically shot. I’m really inspired by the work of Everynone, the frequent Radiolab collaborators. In particular, I admire Symmetry, for its head on camera angles, shallow depth of field, and sound editing. A promotional video for The Inverted Bike Shop features gorgeous colors and depth of field; however, much of the camera work is hand-held, mimicking a first-person perspective. I intend for my video to feel more anonymous.
This week, I planned, created props for, and shot a study for the user experience video: a scene depicting the device’s onboarding process, a biological age test. The goal was to recreate the aesthetics that have inspired me. The week prior, I created a user experience flow (Fig. 1) that detailed the interaction between a user and an iPhone app providing instructions on how to perform the test. I designed wireframes and assembled them into a tapthrough as the actor’s main prop. Finally, I coordinated with my friend, Dave Levin, to play the part. Working with Dave was great, he is really laid back and takes direction well. We spent half the day in studio of my wife, Christine Wong-Yap, filming two takes of the same scene with multiple angles. I experimented shooting head on perspectives and shallow depth of field with good results. The tapthrough worked really well. The shoot wasn’t entirely frictionless: the quarters were cramped and the lighting poor. I also forgot to set the white balance of the camera: all of the footage had a deep blue color cast.
I’ve been working closely with industrial engineers, Jennifer Sutton and Martin Sullivan, to complete the design for the final prototype. Every week since January, I’ve sent them sketches to specify device features, ranging from an LED display to exact-diameter hose fittings; every following week they’ve returned renderings that reflect my specifications. This week they finalized the CAD drawings that will be used to mill the final prototype’s parts out of aluminum with a CNC machine. (Fig. 2) Working with Jen and Martin has been fantastic. Prototyping with industrial engineered material forms has been a completely new process for me. So much of interaction design is immaterial—systems, fields, networks—, collaborating with Sutton and Sullivan is a reminder of material’s resistance to design intentions. When working with material forms, so much can lost in the translation from sketch to CAD drawing to fabrication on the shop floor, I’m lucky to have them working to keep my vision intact, every step of the way.