Category Archives: questions

The New Untouchables

First of all, sorry I haven’t blogged in a long long while. I’ve been deep into my thesis work, so I’ve been sparse with my writing. Apologies! However, I did come across a great article in the New York Times that I’d like to share with everyone. It is called The New Untouchables by Thomas L. Friedman. It’s an article about creating new opportunities for oneself during this time of recession. I think one of the major lines that can describe this article is, “those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.”

This also brings to light what our Chairperson Anne Burdick has to say about designers in her article, “Graduate Education: Preparing Designers for Jobs that Don’t Exist (yet)“.

I see the opportunity right now to design a job that doesn’t exist quite yet. As a designer, it is not only up to me to try my best to do well at what I do, but it is also up to me to carve out spaces, or rather, “design” out spaces in the working world that have the potential to do things that existing job positions just don’t do right now. What can my explorations do to enhance my own practice as a design researcher? What am I doing as a designer to advocate for the induction of new creative practices within our culture?


In preparation for my upcoming thesis review, I’ve been mapping out my process, writing down questions, pulling quotes, drawing little diagrams all in the effort to articulate this terms explorations. Where was I and where am I now and what am I aiming to do? What is my own process teaching/informing me?






Thesis isn’t just about picking something you like and running with it. It’s not about whittling down your understanding of a proposed topic into a precise outcome. It’s a push and pull. It’s about shifting your perspective from one day to the next. It’s about putting some things on the shelf, about exploring things that are hanging on by a thread, about going backwards, projecting blindly forward, and dancing around a bonfire of ideas until something emerges from the ashes.

There’s that old saying that Mother knows best. Well, Chairperson knows best too. I had a meeting with her a few weeks ago and she threw, what I call, a Golden Wrench into my work. For the last, roughly two and half weeks, I’ve been re-evaluating my explorations in relation to my interests within and beyond this program. I’ve been exploring things in relation to light, natural phenomena and it’s relation to human phenomena. I’ve mapped out past interests in relation to these current explorations, but in the meantime, had put other skill sets and endeavors to the wayside. While in the program, I’ve also been heavily involved in design research methodologies, social issues and design in education. What happened to those areas of interest? I have several answers for this. The point, however, is that I found a way to bring them back into the mix! This has caused me to redirect my focus on my thesis in ways still related to my explorations, but with a stronger emphasis on design research practices in relation to a pro-social agenda. 

While I was exploring light and natural/social phenomena, I was also exploring social structures of neighborhoods and communities. I didn’t post much on this blog about the social aspect of my exploration, but I was researching and examining how my experiments could situate themselves into urban environments, into societies. 

Current Standing:
My thesis project has been shifting towards developing a design-based practice in relation to social issues
. In specifics for this particular project, I am going to use Design Research tactics (both new and old) to understand how we can get youth and educators to think more critically about the future state of their world (“their world” being relative to the activities/workshops within which they will participate).  Through the creative means of a designed probe and workshop/series of workshops in collaboration with youth groups and educators, I will spend the next following weeks exploring ways in which we can get younger minds to spend time understanding the importance of speculation and asking questions. We are often taught to ask, Who, What, Where, When and How; but what about “What If?” 

How can I use the “future” as a jumping off point for this project? What creative and fun ways can we talk about the future? 

Can I start uncovering ways where design-based learning projects become a portal to a global workplace and/or society that values collaboration and creative means of developing ideas? Can the imagination situate itself in intellectual or academic arenas? How can I, as a designer, shape this effectively?

A Walk Into Nature

I spent about a half hour walking up and down the streets around our studio the other day, observing the foliage that lined the streets. There was a slight bit of wind that would come and go, catching the reeds, causing them to bow and sway as a furry mass. The reed bushes lined the edge of the sidewalk curbs. As cars would drive by, small gusts of wind generated from the passing vehicles would cause the reeds to make the same movements. Whether it was by nature or the movement of man-made objects, the plants moved in the same way.

The past two weeks or so have been a mix of experimentation of materials and circuitry, and contemplation about the context of my work. My work has been nature-inspired, but now I think it’s starting to go further than just being nature-inspired. I believe phenomena that occurs in nature can be used to fuel commentary on man-made impacts on our environment. 

In our society, we are informed of environmental issues by being shown the negative impacts perpetuated by our actions. Through various mediums, we are informed about the detrimental outcomes of our habits of consumption and waste with depictions that are often negative and full of decay. It’s often an ominous the-world-will-come-to-an-end-if-we-don’t-act-now approach. However, what if we were to inform people and bring attention to these people by juxtaposing the information we disseminate? What if we provided visual information about a so-called ominous issue with a beautified display of information – in particular with the affordances of light and nature-inspired objects and spaces?

So, I was thinking about sunsets and how those hazy orange skies we often see at dusk are caused by aerosol particles disseminated by man-made products. My first reaction is to think that these sunsets are beautiful. My later reaction is that they are a dreadful sign of environmental degradation. It is a beautiful decay that is unfortunate, but nonetheless catches our attention enough in a moment of wonderment. 

How is that concept applicable in my own work? With the concepts I have been developing, how can I inform an audience of other environmental issues or natural phenomena in ways that echo these sunsets? One of my aims is to produce a body of work that will be speculative, that will provide information about an issue in a visual and ironic way. These are some of my thoughts for now. I’m currently developing prototypes and sketches where the context matches the visual forms that I’m trying to create. The context and meaning of my work is starting to formulate into something more cohesive and I feel that I’m on the right track for now. There are other larger issues to confront, which I will be trying to cover in the next week or two. As of now, I’m off to go do some making!

Sound to Light Unit Made!


Today, I made a simple sound to light unit. This unit is often used for alerts such as doorbells or barking dogs. Basically, when the microphone picks up a certain level of sound, it then triggers the LED’s to flash. There is a knob where you can control the level of sensitivity, but the range isn’t too large. 

I made this in order to see how it would react to environmental sounds. In the video, I demonstrated how the lights react to music. In regards to my thesis, I started to ask how this contraption would be useful to detect and visually environmental noise or noise pollution levels in a space or city? What if there were different light behaviors or colors that indicated specific types of noises? What if a bustling city was enveloped with these lights? What would it look like from a Google Earth map? Is this an opportunity to amplify an man-made noises or population density? 

Lately, I’ve been contemplating how my work can visualize environmental issues through the affordances of light. I’ve been questioning how to get people’s attention in new ways and I’ve also been wondering how the beautification around what I’m trying to create  might allow someone to be more conscious of environmental factors often caused by man-made interferences (like noise pollution). 

Here’s the demo of the sound to light unit below:

Materials Exploration


I went on a materials exploration both at the CMTEL (Colors Material Trend Exploration Laboratory) at Art Center and downtown in the fabric district. I was in search of materials that would work well with one of my exhibition projects. I looked at strings, wires, organic fibers, plastics, fiber-optic cable, hollow tubing…

I purchased a few samples of string and satin from the fabric district and plan on doing some simple sample tests with them. The goal is to test how these materials interact with the wind or with people brushing their hands through them. I’ve also been looking for materials that appear and feel delicate but are still visible as a mass from afar. Enough of these hanging in one area could appear like a haze or cloud. I’ve been working with conductive thread for this particular project and was advised to sample other types of non-conductive threads and fishing  wire.

You might be asking what project am I conducting these materials explorations for?  I have sketches and preliminary mock-ups, but am waiting to post a more clear explanation of this particular project until it is developed out a little more. That is not to say that I have nothing to show; rather, to be honest, this opens up a whole other question about the protection of ideas and the rights of a designer/maker. At what point is it safe to expose my work? At the moment, I feel a bit uncomfortable putting my sketches on the web. I will definitely post them in a few weeks, along with a more flushed out prototype or study of my project.

May 25 Statement

This is a statement I wrote on May 25, 2009 to help clarify the goals for my thesis project.

I cannot say I have a point of origin for my thesis work. I can neither say I have had a linear process. Exploration has been about a mishmash of experimentation, chance moves, research and making. Even doing things that don’t seem quite succinct to the path of my work have been important in helping develop and edit my focus – going to workshops, spending a day at a fiddle and banjo contest, watching the shadows grow on the wall as the sun sets…

 My biggest challenge has been how to articulate my thoughts into words. I see things, I feel things, I have visuals in my head, but the one thing that I’ve been trying to do lately is anchor down my thesis work into plain English. So, what is my work all about? Sure, I’m interested in lighting and it’s relationship to human presence, but why? What do I want to evoke? What meaning do I want to convey? What’s different and how do my ideas relate to media design? 

What I am about to say is still a work in progress. The words will evolve along with the work. After sifting through my work from this previous four terms several times, and going into a mental reclusion these past two weeks, I have pulled these points together (in no particular order): 

1. I have an interest in existential experiences or in the idea that there’s something else in our surroundings that we are ignoring.

2. Light and motion are key technical elements in my work.

3. My work is inspired very much from nature and creatures in nature (i.e fireflies, water, jellyfish, translucent and bioluminescent organisms, etc.)

4. I want to create a body of work, or rather, a collection of pieces that can contrast between the macro and micro. The pieces in this collection will differ in form or scale, but will communicate a singular message. The exactness of that message is still being formulated – the first goals are to formulate a working elevator pitch and title. 

5. I want those who interact with my work to notice things not usually noticeable, that are above and below our line of sight. 

6. Things that are seemingly “empty” or blank still hold animate qualities that are microscopic or neglected by us – these are things I want to emphasize in my work.

It’s not so much that I want to surprise people, but more so that I want people to expand their range of perception and consciousness. How much do we really absorb our surroundings? Do we walk into a space and really look at every nook and cranny of that space? What subtleties can I bring into a space that will allow one to scan it more thoroughly, that will allow a person to be drawn to the otherwise ignored? I am interested in the seemingly invisible, in the things that go unnoticed but appear when they are “disturbed” by a certain level of our presence – by our vibrations, our sounds, our body heat, our physical contact with that space or object. 

My goal is to create a collection of work (as stated in point no. 4) that relate to one another in their message, but are dissimilar in scale and form. I would like to create one to two installation projects, and one to two small to medium scaled objects. I want these projects to expand the perception that one has to that particular object or the particular space (which, in this case, will be the Media Design Studio in the Wind Tunnel for the duration of this thesis), in a way that gives a sense of life or breath to that object or space. It is the idea that something else exists in that space other than oneself.