Computer Arts interview

Today we publish an interview we made some time ago. Donato and I were asked about two projects (listed below) and, more generally, about our design approach and research laboratory. It appeared on Computer Arts Magazine, issue #141 and the interview was conducted by Julia Sagar, production editor for ‘Computer Arts Projects’.
Enjoy the read.

Oh and, by the way, happy new year to everyone, trusted followers.

Related projects


Net@Work

The Map of the Future


Julia Sagar – Who did you create this for – was it a commission or a personal project?
Donato Ricci – Since DensityDesign is a research lab, we work both on non-commissioned projects, in which we put in practice innovative visual languages and techniques, and commissioned ones that give us the chance to apply the results of our findings to a wider audience. In these particular cases, the projects were commissions by the Italian edition of Wired magazine.

JS – What was the brief?
DR – Usually clients give us open briefs just because they know we are researchers; our contribution lies also in structuring the client’s communication needs, making these needs clearer.
Michele Graffieti – Regarding the ‘Map of the Future‘ the brief simply consisted of making the reading of the next future predicted by the IFTF (‘Institute For The Future’ of Palo Alto, CA) more fascinating, thoughtful and challenging.
In the second work, the brief was even more informal: the main requirement was to explain the current dynamics of the web, focusing on its innate collaborative nature and on its evolving trends, in both quantitative and qualitative point of view.

JS Who was the target audience?
MG – Our target audiences were Wired readers: they generally have good familiarity with technology and emerging languages of information visualization. What we were surprised of, is the great echo generated by these projects in more “traditional” contexts and websites.

JS Tell us about the design… Where did you get your inspiration?
DR – Producing a visual concept is a matter of truly understanding information, data and knowledge we are asked to communicate: then we choose the right language with which we can reach the audience. This path helps us to bend visual languages and expressive forms to data, and not vice-versa.
MG – To choose the right visual language we often take inspiration from the past. Instead of passively joining current trends of info-visualization driven by theme, we prefer to go back to the debut of that theme in social discussion, and look at the works produced when, for the first time, people were thinking about issues that are comparable to ours. Indeed, for ‘Net@Work‘ the inspiration came from the working class ideal of the Russian socialism and, regarding the inner structure, the inspiration came from the organization chart of a ’40s/’50s company, found on ‘Monogrammi e figure’ by Giovanni Anceschi.
To create the world of the ‘Map of the Future‘ instead, we decided to evoke the retro-futurism of ‘50s when everything seemed possible and the consequences of the smallest transformation were exaggerated on purpose to open people’s mind in wonder.

JS – How can you match your research activity about visual languages with editorial project on a large scale?
DR – We do that by mixing up the challenging perspective of the brief, the aesthetic representation skills of graphic designers, the analytical ability of researchers and the overall goal to communicate to a general public.
We use our expertise in graphic design to widen the concept of “speculative design” and visual epistemology, as a rhetorical strategy to raise social awareness in relevant social issues (the world of future and the new collaborative way of working over the net, in this case).
We use both the most innovative techniques of data visualization and graphic design to provoke new interpretation and discussion with our readers.
Typography, illustration and graphics are only part of a job aimed at generating an open discussion, not predetermined, nor anticipated in the design itself.

Page 15 of Computer Arts Projects, issue 141, published on October 2010.

JS – How much creative freedom did you have?
DR – As said before, we only work on project that allows us to be involved from the first step of concept-generation, so we had lots of creative freedom.

JS What was the hardest part of the project?
MG – The hardest part of these projects and, more generally, of our work is to make sense of all the ideas we generate, to let the analytical and the expressive approaches live together.
In the ‘Map of the Future‘ the trouble was not to do “Pindaric flights”.
In ‘Net@Work‘ the difficulty consisted of highlighting the single website data without compromising the conceptualized narration level.

JS What elements are you most proud of, or think are most important?
MG – In both the projects we succeeded in creating two landscapes enabling the observer to choose their preferred method to analyze the information. We think the most important aspect of our work is to let people wonder even in front of the most boring (at least, apparently) amount of data: storytelling is a very useful tool to reach this goal.
DR – And by the way, we think the human-headed-dog and the super-powerful-robot are outstanding!

JS – What programs/software did you use?
MG – Beyond the evergreen Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, we tend to use traditional collage, photography and hand-made elements to the utmost. In the ‘Map of the Future‘ the white buildings in the left hand side have been made out of paper, as well as the bridge.
DR – In addiction we often use software to fast visualize big amount of data or to automatically draw rough net. Sometimes part of the tools we need is created on our own: for example, in ‘Net@Work‘ we developed a small software to automatically generate every single robot according to four variables which defined their height, shoulder width, fatness and saturation.

JS – Given the chance, would you do anything differently?
DR, MG – No, we wouldn’t. We are always right, and if we don’t, who cares? Joking apart, we are proud of the results of these two projects and we are firmly convinced that nobody is able to correct his/her own work but has to be willing of re-think the concept when anybody else proves even one of his/her mistakes.

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