Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

01 OCTOBER, 2009

30 Years of Innovation: Happy Birthday, ITP

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Mud, paparazzi, and what rodents have to do with the bleeding edge of interactive technology.

A self-decapitating squirrel-as-clock, voice-activated tug-of-war games, and anti-paparazzi fashion aren’t typical student thesis projects, but then the program for which they were created is no typical program. NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) celebrates its 30th anniversary from October 1st through 3rd this year, and belying its ’70s-era name, the ITP is the go-to place for the newest in new media.

A cross between experimental arts studio and R&D technolab, the ITP is a two-year degree program and self-described “center for the recently possible.” The current course catalog reads like some kind of avant-hacker’s dream: Cabinets of Wonder, Design for UNICEF (taught by faculty member Clay Shirky), and Sousveillance Culture are among the many electives available.

ITP’s bi-annual thesis shows have become must-see events for talent recruitment and pure geekdom alike. The artists, designers, engineers, theorists, and technologists that make up the program’s community of alumni/ae, faculty, and students include a current MacArthur Fellow, numerous TED presenters, and Ze Frank — in short, a who’s who of high-minded cool.

With equal emphasis on hardware and software, student projects push the boundaries of new technology but with a distinctly user-centered focus. Some, like Plott by Thomas Chan, have immediate real-world application—as applications (of the iPhone variety). Others, like Tom Gerhard’s Mud Tub, take a more theoretical bent. All draw on life as their laboratory, and we love how they augment our experience of interacting with the world.

As it turns 30, the ITP’s mission—to explore creative applications of communications technologies—is more relevant now than ever. The program’s immersive approach to learning excites us not only because it approaches the classroom as playground, but also because it’s a great example of design within social contexts. (And consistent with this collaborative ethos, ITP has set up a wiki so that its current and past students and faculty can assemble a timeline of the program’s history.)

With concentrations in design areas such as assistive technology, mobile computing, and sustainability, the program has not only kept pace with the times but seems poised to lead the way into the brave, new, mediated landscape we live in. To see what makes ITP such a cool place, check out a project portfolio and a few additional videos.

Kirstin Butler holds a Bachelor’s in art & architectural history and a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a freelance editor and researcher, where she also spends way too much time on Twitter.

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30 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Responsive Shapes: Minivegas Digital Sculptures

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What Daft Punk have to do with sculpture and the evolution of storytelling.

If you didn’t catch us raving about it on Twitter earlier this week, here’s your chance to catch up on this brilliant piece of work by directing collective Minivegas — a virtual gallery, featuring a visualizer rendering digital sculptures in real time in response to sound and gestures.

The gallery walls are adorned with album artwork of the mp3’s loaded into the visualizer (including the appropriately chosen Daft Punk classic, Technologic), with the music itself driving the shape-shifting mutations of the sculptures. The shapes can also be manipulated with hand-motion using a webcam.

Refreshingly innovative, this work illustrates an exciting intersection of multiple senses and multiple media — a beautiful epitome of the evolution of modern storytelling.

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Data Posters: FlowingPrints

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Yellow buses, Scantron sheets and why teachers prefer California.

We love data visualization. And FlowingData is among the smartest, most compelling curators of the discipline. Today, they launch the long-awaited FlowingPrints poster series — gorgeous original prints, in sets based around specific data themes.

The inaugural set features three prints about education. Enrollment and Dropouts reveals historical patterns of attendance, illuminating both the progress made so far and the need for further improvement. College High exposes the staggering disconnect between average income and yearly cost of higher education. How America Learns: By The Numbers was inspired by the nostalgic tangram puzzles of childhood, divulging the complexity of all that goes into learning.

The series is both beautiful and revelational, offering a conceptually and aesthetically sophisticated way to explore fascinating data stories.

Besides, let’s face it, no matter how inspired and creative a piece of data visualization may be, the sheer size of the computer screen often sells it short. (GOOD Transparencies, we’re looking at you.)

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