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Designing the Map

RISD’s Creation Team:

Danniel Gaidula, Stephanie Grey and Soe Lin Post (graduate students in Graphic Design)

Digital Programming and Development:
Danniel Gaidula

Design Assistance:
Ho Eun Ahn (graduate student in Graphic Design)

Design Direction:
Thomas Ockerse (Professor, Program Head, Graduate Studies in Graphic Design)

Thinking Partner:
Anne West (Adjunct Faculty, Graduate Studies)

In concert with Sheryl Erickson,
the Fetzer Institute, Collective Wisdom Initiative, Project Director.

The Project:
Dynamic Mapping: A Digital Experience of the Collective Wisdom Field.

This project responded to the question “How do we come together in order to touch, or be touched by, the intelligence we need?”, a question vital to the efforts of the Fetzer Institute Collective Wisdom Initiative. Although the design could simply have mapped out the group’s published research appearing in Centered on the Edge, the design team envisioned a vitalizing experience: a dynamic map.

The protean quality of consciousness made it necessary to think of a new way to look at the interface as experience. Most interfaces are didactic and linear in design and function because their goal is to disseminate information to the user in a convenient manner. This practical approach is quite suitable for many types of content, but when content is of a social or experiential nature this type of methodology does not work.

The design team considered the perceptual engagement with words and images as a “poetic” partnership, a gentle co-motion in time and space to stimulate a deep sense of consciousness — of imagination, broadenned perspective, and heightened meaning. Poetics offers the user vitality via the power of grace. Grace invites a suspension of the ego, permitting receptivity and inspiration (i.e., being in spirit). From that unfolds the energy of awareness, of intelligence and the feeling of abundance.

The design is a non-hierarchical, non-linear structure — of center-points in which each “cell” is an organized principle that acts as both microcosm and macrocosm. This holistic conception applies to the entire design interface language, from its largest structure to the smallest component. Interaction is with objects in constant flux. Links are programmed to randomize the parts along with a few controls so the viewer discovers new and unexpected relationships. That dynamism empowers the participant with possibilities and co-creation.

In paying attention there is the possibility of surprise, which stimulates spontaneity and play. Every experience therefore enables fresh insights. The key is to participate with a contemplative attitude, leaving out expectations, and letting happen whatever happens.

The true depth of what the map has to offer lies in the poetic grace of the haiku-like experience itself, of being in the moment as an active participant and co-creator, and not in the world of expectation and passive consumption.

In hindsight, this turned out to be a remarkable experience for the design team, a true exemplification of the very idea of this CW project. Although the initial conversation on my vision of the map and its potential was clear, articulating this via specifics was impossible. For the design team this meant to probe and discover as best we could, to unfold what was essentially there but hidden from us. Although we worked consciously not to have any expectations, of course we stumbled into predictable (limited) realms. These were largely surface treatments, with tricks designer are so good at.

For several months we struggled with logic and sensibility, yet without gaining any resolve. Critical times developed to challenge ourselves, to re-group, to re-assess — yet none of those moments brought what we needed. Frustration grew, exhaustion set in, time was running out. Doubt of our ability set in. Could we uncover the treasure we knew was there but could not see? Then suddenly, perhaps in ultimate frustration to simplify and “at least make a skeletal construct for the parts” this formed for us the results. Clearly, what we had been looking for was there, . . . and it was there all the time! Everything felt right. What this only required were some further developments of some of the parts and refinements of the whole. The “system” was in place, the rest became a matter of making it work (technically, for the most part)!

We realized in the end that what was there went beyond our expectations, had moved us beyond our own capacities as we knew them, had formed something we could not have conceived of, and was, in fact, providing for the user an experience that was fresh with possibilities, a completely new kind of interface experience — for the web and any otther medium. Somehow, through our visual search and probing efforts we touched, or were touched by, the intelligence we needed.

- Thomas Ockerse



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