Special thanks to Maureen Quinlan from Philips Color Kinetics for writing the following blog post.
Five pulsating light clusters shine from the rows of glass windows in Ryder Hall. Students look up with curiosity, passers-by wonder what the odd pixelated light could mean. Then the words “How do you feel?” scroll across the bottom of what seems to be an art installation in Northeastern University’s Art, Media, and Design building.
The words, the light clusters, and the meaning of their sizes are part of a final project for the newest Northeastern class in the MFA in Information Design and Visualization program. In the third part of this series, we introduce the culmination of a semester’s work on an interactive urban light installation.
Philips Color Kinetics collaborated with Northeastern University to offer Information Design for Dynamic Media and Light, a course that focuses on how to present data sets with an interactive element through light display. Philips Color Kinetics City Innovations Manager Susanne Seitinger and Assistant Professor Dietmar Offenhuber co-taught the class of six graduate students.
The first part of the class involved projects in ambient display made from live data feeds. The second part was a group effort to create an installation using Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex LMX full-color LED strand lights and custom software programmed by the students.
The goal for the final project was to take information about the campus, students, or a specific building and translate it into an information display. Proposed ideas included showing the library’s capacity or how many miles have been run at the gym. The group settled on asking a question about the mood on campus during finals week.
“We thought it could be nice to let people see their voice or to complain in a visual way,” said Miriam Zisook, a Ph.D. student studying emotional displays in healthcare.
The poll, taken online, through a mobile app, or on wireless doorbells in front of Ryder Hall, asks students if they are feeling anxious, relieved, determined, excited, or exhausted. Once a vote is tallied, an individual iColor Flex LMX node lights up in the installation. The more votes each emotion gets, the bigger the light cluster becomes. Text scrolls across to label each cluster with an emotion. A bar chart then appears with percentages of each emotion.
“It’s not a truly accurate measurement of sentiment, but rather it is creating a common identity through active engagement and a signaling device,” Offenhuber said.
As the clusters get too large for the simulated screen, they divide in half and continue growing. The votes are constantly collected, but show best after the sun sets. This is something the students had to adjust to when they started thinking about using light as their medium.
It is also something they will keep in mind as finals week ends and their installation remains. The plan is for the lights to stay in Ryder’s windows for the next few months. They have thrown around ideas about how to maintain the installation and what data they can display.
Weather animation, a low-resolution map with student locations, a signaling device for the nearby train station, or a different question for the current polling system have all been suggested. No matter what the group decides, they would like the installation to be functional and helpful.
“It needs to be something useful that the campus gets used to, so we can incorporate information design and make it fun,” said Rania Mona Masri, an Information Design student from Michigan.
The students will move on in their programs, but will always remember the project on which they came together.
“We hope it’s glanceable, but that people walking by will know what it means with the information, symbols, and text we are trying to display,” said Lauren McCafferty, an Information Design student from Cleveland.