These examples of experimental design are all pushing the boundaries of technology, from the Kinect to 3D printing. Take a glimpse into the future of design with us...
Words: Rob Carney
It's fair to say that designers are fascinated by technology. But it isn't the tech itself that's of interest - it's what can be achieved via experimental design.
Whether for commercial purposes or personal projects, here we look at 10 fantastic examples of how designers have pushed technologies and platforms into new, and often unexpected directions - all creating amazing work in the process.
01. Transformative Kinect art
Microsoft Kinect is best known as a revolutionary game controller. But it's also a platform that interactive designers have embraced - writing software and hacking the platform to create new experiences beyond the Xbox and the living room.
One such pioneer of experimental design and interactive experiences, Chris Milk, whose incredible 'The Treachery of Sanctuary' installation uses Kinect controllers and infared sensors to turn viewers into birds (you may recognise Milk's name from Arcade Fire's HTML5 masterpiece The Wilderness Downtown).
The giant triptych, which takes viewers through three stages of flight, first debuted at 'The Creators Project: San Francisco 2012' (Intel and Vice magazine's joint venture). See how it was made in this video:
02. JPEG scrambling
As desigers, we use jpegs every day. But not in the way that British graphic designer Stephen Hislop does. His experimental design with JPEGs, and in particular the data that makes them up, began with a brief for Bloomberg based on creating images on the theme of communication. Hislop created a method for breaking the code of a JPEG, distorting the image via editing in a text editor and Photoshop. See his experiments here and then follow this tutorial on how to do it yourself.
03. Pulse-timed video
Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform pitched at designers and creatives who want to build physical interactive projects. And one of the most incredible Arduino projects to date has to be Jason Mingay's 'A Beat of Your Heart'. The project highlights the physical bond between a viewer and a video attaching you to a pulse sensor via your earlobe. The video being watched is timed to their pulse, giving them a unique view according to their personal reaction. Incredible experimental design.
04. Abstract polygon art
Drawing in polygons is nothing new, but Ben Brown, a Texas-based creative who runs XOXCO, takes experimental design to the next level. His code-generated polygon abstracts are a sight to behold, demonstrating code can indeed be incredibly beautiful. If you fancy a go without any of the maths, check out this experiment, where you can use multi-touch gestures to create your own abstracts using polygons.
05. Random thought printing
Former magneticNorth creative director and Beep Industries founder Brendan Dawes could be classed as one of the masters of experimental interactive design. His most recent project, The Happiness Machine is an internet connected printer that prints random happy thoughts by random people from across the web. You press the big black button and it prints out a positive message from Wefeelfine.org. "The logic is all done on the server," explains Dawes, "so I can easily change what type of data comes back. It could easily be train times, news headlines or your day's appointments - the printer doesn't care, it's dumb. It just prints what comes back." Dawes is a leader in this field, and this video of his talk at TED on why "data needs poetry" is well worth a watch:
06. Photographic scrolling wonder
We reported on this experimental design back when it was first launched but it remains as impressive as ever – bringing the beautiful photography of Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan to life in a wonderful HTML5 scrolling masterpiece. It's a fantastic example of how technology can interweave with editorial and photography, bringing an interactive, slick and completely unique approach to what could have been a bog-standard album-promoting interview.
07. Pixelated prints
Matt Booth has long been one of the UK's pioneers in experimental design with ActionScript, creating all manner of experimental works from kaleidoscopes to real-time mosaics based on the image on a webcam. His latest experimental project is a series of prints, stripping down images to their bare bones using ActionScript. See more of his work here.
08. 3D printing craziness
Processing is an open source programming language specifically built for creatives in order to get non-programmers started with code. Since its inception in 2001, the language has attracted many visual designers who have used it to create hugely impressive generative art.
One such visual artist who has used it to the max, and combined it with 3D printing, is Matthew Plummer-Fernandez. For his Digital Natives project, Plummer-Fernandez 3D-scanned everyday items such as watering cans and used Processing algorithms to affect them before outputting again using a z-corp 3D printer.
09. Interactive web storytelling
'Insanely Driven' is described as 'an interactive experience that uses dramatisation to engage users and reveal their true character though their choices'. Less Rain's interactive film for a character profiling project at household cleaning product giant Reckitt Benckiser is a great example of using full-screen interactive video. Another great example of this kind of project is Being Henry - again by Less Rain, this time for Land Rover Evoque.
10. 3D neural projects
There's some stunning work - but a particular favourite is Rocking Dendrites where you control neural projections using custom music and sliders. There's a wonderful DOF effect going on - slick and smart as a piece of experimental design and example of what WebGL can do. It's only supported in a number of browsers though: try Chrome.
Have you seen an eye-popping design experiment? Let us know about it in the comments!