Co-chiefs of the LAB at leading design firm explore how interactive technology can bridge the gap between digital and physical environments.
James Tichenor and Josh Walton are Co-Chiefs at the LAB, an interactive design team operating within a larger architecture firm, the Rockwell Group. Through experimenting with interactive experiences and embedded software the LAB connects digital with analog wherever possible. At PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO they will discuss how to leverage digital tools to tell more persuasive stories that blend virtual and physical identities.
Your work blurs the physical with the virtual. What can you tell us about your project at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas?
That is probably our clearest example to date. The columns we did for the West Lobby of Cosmopolitan are the kinds of work that really blends what we like about the physical and the virtual. It was a great project because it was an opportunity for us to design the entire space. Each of the columns is unique, featuring LCD monitors behind a mirror designed to function as a part of a larger digital platform. So often for us we’ve seen amazing pieces of digital art done time and time again which don’t take advantage of what’s so great about digital, which is about being able to update in real-time and change over time.
We really built this piece as learning. It was amazing because we managed to design the space, build the back end software, design the initial content modules, and then see other people produce their own shows using the software and hardware we had installed in place.
It went from three to forty shows in about a year. It was really exciting to not only see our work, but also to see Digital Kitchen, the artist Casey Rees, and the Art Production Fund putting a number of fine video artists on there. Envisioning that platform and seeing it come to life through the work of other people has been really exciting.
What are the larger trends out there around interactivity that influence your work and drive it forward?
We’re definitely consumed with thoughts about the Internet of Things. I think that for us, the key idea of the Internet of Things is less about creating new products and more about how we can get all of the things in a specific space to talk to each other.
It’s as simple as a light switch. If all of those things can begin to talk to each other, we can begin to tell really precise stories. That’s something that we’ve been doing in our work and now we’re going to be releasing a toolkit to make that easier for designers.
What is the goal of the toolkit? Which challenges do designers run into regarding the Internet of Things?
It’s such a big idea that as a designer, it’s very difficult to understand where to start in the process. You spend so much time getting one object to ‘talk’ to another through the Internet, that you don’t really have time to focus on if what they are saying is at all meaningful.
The design toolkit will help people create interactive spaces where you can easily route all the things in a space to communicate with each other. We did this so people can spend their time focusing on messaging instead.
I think if you can make the Internet of Things more accessible in terms of getting things in a space to talk to each other, you can make it more accessible to the design community. I think then we’ll really begin to see people think through these pieces in a whole new way. That’s probably our number one interest right now.
The LAB is positioned as unique offering within a larger architectural firm. How does your work align with the Rockwell Group’s larger goals?
The Rockwell Group is interested in making places, and telling stories for making places; we’re interested in how technology virtually affects these physical places.
A lot of that work has traditionally been for companies such as hotels, casinos, hospitality groups, and helping them think about how technology can affect their business and their creation of unique spaces. Now we’re kind of inverting the equation where we’re working more and more with technology groups to help them think about spaces, to help them understand how their technology affects the world that we live in.
And then, underlining all that is a mixture of practice based on client-spaced work and the R&D that we drive ourselves to build a base of the issues that we’re interested in and the tools that we use to achieve these projects. And so, we still actively consult with the Rockwell Group, but our primary work is working directly with our clients.
Come see James Tichenor and Josh Walton talk more about leveraging digital to tell more persuasive stories at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO on November 1st.