GS&P just put out a gorgeous and inviting teaser/trailer for the Adobe Museum of Digital Media. It’s a beautiful, well executed virtual museum. The creatives have done some interesting things around conceiving of a virtual building that could live in any real city (or virtual rendering of a real city), and how to move about and recreate the sense of sight lines and movement of a real place.
The whole exercise is a preview, so it’s hard to know what we’ll be seeing in August, but I tend to be pretty meh about virtual anything. It seems like an easy impulse that we’ve lived with for many years: put the word virtual in front of anything and you have a concept for digital, along with a baseline for solving most of your design problems.
I did a talk last weekend to museum and art publishers about where e-Readers and interactive reading were going. To prep for the talk, I grabbed a bunch of art books for the iPad. In general, the results were far from magical. The interactions were banal, click and play kind of stuff. But, one of the books that horrified me was “The Art Authority”:
Seeing this screen gave me flashbacks to early CD-ROM designs and BOB from Microsoft. Back then, we used metaphors and virtualizations because, I think, computers were new to people and we wanted them to feel comfortable and grounded. To do that, we tried to give them a sense of physicality.
There are all sorts of problems with physicality in designing interactive/digital/screen-based experiences: 1) you use a lot of real estate for the interface-metaphor and therefore less space for the content; 2) the interface-metaphor behaves in an insistent way, continually making itself the center of attention, rather than fading back into the role of facilitator/quiet mediator of content; 3) interface-matephors pull you into a level of specificity that can actually break rather than create an illusion of physicality. As a result, most of them are cheesy or childish.
To be clear, GS&P have gone farther and built something virtually that would be impossible in the real world. Already, we’re in the realm, then of speculative architecture rather than simple virtual thinking. And, as I mentioned above, the experience is beautiful and the space is interesting, so the speculative architecture aspect of the project is quite teh awesum.
But despite the coolness of the building, there’s still a need to justify the overhead of the interface-metaphor. In the physical world, you need a physical museum to show art. That physical world has requirements that make museums great architecture: the environment to protect the art, how crowds are managed, what the space for art encounters is like, what kind of art can be shown, what the building says about the art within, what an art viewing session is like, and what the building does for the viewer as a piece of art itself.
The internet is already a ‘place’ where art is displayed. So, what do we get out of putting a virtual building in between the internet and the art that would normally live there? And is it worth the costs of the overhead (especially if people are viewing it on an iPad or something smaller)?
The part that’s really interesting to me, is the way the video for the interviews was handled. There’s a satellite transmission aspect to the video, the purpose of which is unclear:
If I ventured to guess, I would say the idea was to stylistically degrade the reality of the real talking heads to dial up the reality of the virtual building. But that graininess goes away when the trailer shows team meetings, so I can’t be sure. Leaving aside the motivation, however, the degraded scan lines do highlight, even or create discomfort with the larger metaphor by once again calling attention to what’s being done rather than than the art that will, eventually, be displayed.
In a real museum (or I should say a Real Life Museum), the trailer would be about how the curators and the museums conceived of the show — how did we choose the themes and the art, what popular and academic understandings of the artists did we want to explore or explode, how did we arrive at the final works, what collaborations and personalities came to bear on the final product — not how the space was conceived.
Enough. Twitter version:
When we do virtual things, we need to ask, what’s the star of the show, what’s the point, is there balance, and are we serving the content?