16 amazing examples of experimental design

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 some fantastic examples of how designers have pushed technologies and platforms into new, and often unexpected directions – all creating amazing work in the process.

01. Skye drone

Drones have been around for a while, but it's only in the last few years that they've started to be used in unusual or creative ways. They've become smaller, mounted with cameras, and the likes of Amazon are eagerly pushing for drones to start delivering orders in the near future. This all sounds fun, if a bit gimmicky, so what makes the Skye drone from Aerotain any different?

Well, the clue's in the company name. Aerotain inject some fun into drones, transforming them from a yuppie gadget into a bizarre floating ball that's guaranteed to grab attention. Sure, they're currently used by businesses to get their brand name out there, but with the technology filtering down to the public maybe we'll see them put to creative use before too long.

02. AKQA x Nissan

experimental design: AKQA x Nissan

AKQA partnered with Nissan in 2013 to develop an immersive virtual world, powered by the Oculus Rift

Everyone knows what a VR headset is - we've seen them in movies since the '70s and witnessed the attempts at launching products in the '80s and '90s. So is there anything amazing in the Oculus Rift? Well, it's the content that allows it to stand out from its predecessors.

AKQA and Nissan teamed up to bring a whole new experience in design within the Oculus Rift headset. With the headset on, users were able to craft their dream cars using the Nissan IDx system. Over 100 cars were completed, with favourites voted for via the public. The project allowed Nissan to complete one of their most successful surveys using a brilliant piece of experimental design.

03. Digital Fireworks

Seb Lee-Delisle is well known for his creative-coding exploits, and he's a regular on the conference circuit. One of his showpieces is a huge interactive crowd-pleasing fireworks show that is controlled by the audience.

A combination of projection and movement detection is used to 'see' when an audience member moves themselves over a digital orb projected onto an enormous screen. This interaction spurs a digital firework and when many people interact simultaneously, the fireworks generated create a fully crowd-powered spectacle of light. Check out the Vimeo video to see it in action!

04. 3D projection mapping

This advertising campaign, created by digital agency GlueIsobar, used digital 3D project mapping to paint light onto a real car and the surrounding street architecture, generating an immersive 3D experience that passers by could walk around and view from any angle.

The project used seven projectors to push out 28 million pixels, and combined real-world lighting with projection. The light-show itself comprised a mixture of key-framed 2D, 3D, algorithmic and dynamic animation alongside a few practical effects (such as an opening cabinet). Here's a making-of video that show a look behind the scenes:

05. Living Sculpture Dress

This ordinary-looking dress is based on iconic '20s design, but has been updated by wearable-technology gurus CuteCircuit. Thousands of LEDs are hidden within the fabric, allowing it to create a living sculpture of the wearer.

The dress was worn by Nicole Scherzinger at the launch event for EE's 4G service, during which the dress was also seen displaying tweets live from the twittersphere!

06. Screengrab

This amazing experimental video by documentary filmmaker Willie Witte has to be seen to be believed – although it may make your eyes go funny if you stare at it too long. Showing seamless-looking transitions between his hands and printed photos of his hands, you won't believe no video editing software was used in its making – but Witte insists "all trickery took place literally in front of the camera".

07. JPEG scrambling

experimental design: JPEG scrambling

Stephen Hislop created a method for breaking the code of a jpeg for his art experiments

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.

08. 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.

09. Abstract polygon art

experimental design: polygon art

Ben Brown has taken polygon art to a new level using code-generation

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.

10. Random thought printing

experimental design: random thought printing

Brendan Dawes' Happiness Machine prints random thoughts by happy people

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:

11. Photographic scrolling wonder

experimental design: photographic scrolling wonder

Is this Bat for Lashes interview the future of online article presentation?

We reported on this experimental design back when it was first launched and despite the format's subsequent mainstream uptake 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.

12. Pixelated prints

experimental design: pixelated prints

Matt Booth's project strips down images to their constituent parts using ActionScript

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.

13. 3D printing craziness

experimental design: 3D printing

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez based his Digital Natives project on scans of everyday objects

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.

14. Interactive web storytelling

experimental design: interactive web storytelling

'Insanely Driven' engages users by letting them control the progress of events

'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.

15. 3D neural projects

experimental design: 3D neural projects

'Rocking Dentries' is a slick demonstration of what WebGL can do

WebGL is a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D (and 2D) graphics in a supported browser without plugins. To see just what it can do, check out the experiments of Barcelona-based creative Jaume Sánchez Elias.

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.

16. Transformative Kinect art

experimental design: transformative kinect art

Chris Milk's installation transforms viewers into elegant birds using the power of the Kinect

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:

Contributor: Sam Hampton-Smith

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