City___ The Final Word

9:31 PM in General by Jonathan McEwan

CITY___ is an interactive, social experimental artwork which visually represents feelings in an attractive fluid dynamic simulation. These feelings are sourced in real-time from Sydney centred social network content.

Three modes of interaction work cohesively together to form the basis CITY___’s “Interaction Onion”. The primary layer is a passive interaction mode where feelings sourced from social networks are streamed into the visualisation as a jet of colour. A reactive interaction mode forms the secondary layer which blooms immense colour into the simulation, responding to people’s answers to a proposed question at the mobile site: http://cityunderscore.pgcreative.net. The tertiary layer is an interactive mode that captures people’s movement to swill the fluid injected via the first two layers.

 

Conception

City Mood concept story board - Phil Gough

CITY___ was created from the amalgamation of the concepts created by Phil Gough and Jonathan McEwan.

Phil’s concept (Grounding; Ideation) was to translate the feeling of Sydney at any point in time into a vivid visual display. Jonathan’s concept (Grounding; Ideation) was to provide a colourful fluid simulation as an abstract urban playground.

Through this combination, CITY___ was born. For more details of the project concept please visit: Team Plasma’s Ideation, CITY___’s Name Day and City___ High Resolution Images blog posts.
  

Challenges

Colours in Culture - informationisbeautiful.net

The process of bringing CITY___ into fruition wasn’t without its difficulties. These challenges were broken down and addressed as part of our design process.

Most of our design decisions were conceived in our individual ideation process, and then ironed out in our combined design. See Team Plasma’s Ideation, and In response to all your feedback, mostly about colours… blog posts.

The most tedious challenge of the project was balancing the visuals of the fluid dynamic simulation. There were a number of variables which required fine tuning to achieve the right compliment of aesthetics we had envisaged. In addition to this, the fluid simulation library (MSAFluid) was only configurable to a point, and required us to directly modify its behaviour. For more information regarding the challenges and solutions during the implementation phase please refer to the three part blog post: CITY___ Implementation Process: Part I; Part II; Part III
  

Observation Exercise and User Reaction

Before the exhibition, City___ was displayed on the SmartSlab to evaluate its progress. This was a good opportunity to observe how people behave with such an unusual display introduced into their surroundings. The simulation was allowed to run for a few hours, while users were observed. This observation highlighted three reactions.

  • Ignored - Many people paid no attention at all to the project. They may not have noticed that the screen was displaying anything at all. This is probably because the screen is a normal part of the environment, but has not been used very often.
  • Novelty - Some people saw the animation as a novel change from their routine. The display provided some enjoyment, or distraction, but they didn’t attempt to engage themselves with the project
  • Investigation - Some people took time to sit and observe the simulation. This gave us the opportunity to discuss the project with them, and find out their thoughts. All of the users who we were able to chat with said that they enjoyed the aesthetics display but many did not realise that the display was interactive. This was probably due to the orientation of the screen relative to the pedestrians. Of the group of users who took time to play with the screen, after observing others interacting with it or through conversation with us, there were some who introduced and demonstrated the project to their friends and discussed the project without our intervention.

We see this as situation an ideal result for our project.
 
 

Evaluation & Improvements

After our testing, dry run, and exhibition night we took the time to reflect on the success of our implementation. Our final product was very close to the vision we conceived in our ideation phase. That being said there were a few area’s which could be improved to boost the quality in our design, especially with the transition from the GridGallery to the SmartSlab. The fundamental shift was from an environmental art piece for an urban façade to an exhibition based performance for a free standing screen. Challenges initially unforeseen while trying to satisfy the design brief were uncovered through this transition.

The use of a standard web cam over the Kinect was a decision made in response to the context of the urban setting. In comparison, a web cam is inexpensive, and still afforded us the same level of motion capture as the Kinect. What we sacrificed in this decision had some major ramifications for our presentation in the context of the Wilkinson building courtyard:

  1. No defined interaction zone - Use of the Kinect would give us access to depth based movement detection which would allow us to define a set area for interaction. Without this defined zone, a plethora of noise was generated from the large crowd of people standing in the background. During the exhibit this overload of movement made it more difficult to interpret what was going on and derive meaning from the project.
  2. Inadequate light source - Even with our calibration tool (via TouchOSC) we found a limit to the web cam’s ability to compensate for low light conditions. In theory, as the Kinect has its own light source (infrared projector) and specialised camera, it would be better suited to the lower light conditions experienced during the exhibition.

What we would potentially lose from using the Kinect is the blanket cone of movement detection the web cam gave us. To highlight the importance this, we found that the web cam would pick up the movement of traffic through the entrance of the courtyard. As an unexpected side effect of the web cam’s position, the traffic affected the screen in a unique and obvious way. We found that this triggered a connection in people’s mind between the consequences of their actions within the immediate space.

Our design didn’t include sound due to the absence of speakers at the Grid Gallery site and the concern of vandalism. This was carried over to the design at the Wilkinson building. From observing other presentations it was evident that people’s emergence was greatly enhanced by the presence of audio and music. Our final prototype incorporates sound, however, only to satisfy the performance based shift required for the exhibition setting.

One of our main concerns during the exhibition was the absence of explanation. We found that during the exhibit, people required encouragement to visit the site rather than investigating\exploring on their own accord. Once the concept was explained, people were impressed by the ingenuity, and amazed at the interaction possibilities at their command. Inspiring a person to explore and\or investigate the concept was a hurdle we had not anticipated in the exhibition context.
 

That’s a wrap!

Overall our efforts during this project have been extremely educational and have allowed us to glean valuable insights into urban design and media facades. The prototype of CITY___ shows an applied design process through the success of our presentation during the exhibit.