When I was in college I attended all of my video classes in this great converted dockside warehouse. The exterior was plain and non-descript. The brick was old and crumbling. A fresh layer of dark green paint was the glue that held many of the window frames together. However, inside the building was sleek and modern. Clean, white rooms framed in steel and glass reminiscent of museum displays held the latest and greatest in video technology. And in the lobby, near a cluster of leather chairs, a large grid of tube televisions arranged floor to ceiling and eight feet wide. Perhaps twenty sets flashing colors and images on a three minute loop. Each set displaying something different from everything around it, all adding to the overall effect of frenetic disarray.
As cool as that installation was, (and honestly, it really was cool) Its function and appeal was rather limited. The videos on the displays never changed and the general lack of focus in the design of the piece led most visitors to loose interest in it fairly quickly or not even bother to give it a glance as they hurried on to their classes. Nothing about the piece really drew the viewer to it.
And so, when The Iona Group took on the task of creating a large display for Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, The possibilities for what could be done with interactivity through user submitted photos and videos, and design and animation being shared and moving across all screens simultaneously had me really excited to take part in the development of this project. I was tasked with designing the layout of the LCD display screens and I jumped at the chance to get involved with such a cool project
The challenge in creating a design for the layout of the monitors was that considerations for both content and available space were required. Design called for a large field of adjacent monitors, which could display a single image or message across multiple screens simultaneously. Additional monitors would then fan out from there to carry images across thirty feet of wall space.
Early designs placed the monitors in a more deliberate grid-like structure with individual monitors spaced equidistant from each other. However, once it was determined that content should flow across the layout in a fluid motion similar to leaves floating in a stream, it was decided that the monitors should have a more organic, fluid appearance in their arrangement. Finding the right balance of randomness and structure took a few iterations. Too random, and the design looked unpolished, too rigid, and it looked lazy and uninspired. The solution was something in-between, something more akin to controlled chaos.
The next steps were to build a three-dimensional virtual space on the computer and begin laying out modeled elements in various configurations. This step proved to be invaluable because it allowed the designer to place virtual cameras in the created space to view the proposed layouts from every possible angle. This step led to additional refinement of the design to ensure that spacing between monitors worked within the final real-world location and that the viewing angle felt natural across the entirety of the piece.
The result is an arrangement that captures the energy of the piece. From every viewing angle the design is dynamic and interesting. The monitors explode outward from the center and hang lightly in space. The organic layout of the design contrasts appropriately with the architecture of its surroundings and draws the eye to it.
I may be completely biased, (in fact, I am sure of it) but I’d like to think that any student hurrying past the piece on their way to class would stop just for a moment to regard the piece and perhaps be compelled to add their own contribution, if only to see it displayed on the funky monitor formation.