Inside the Collection

What is the role of fascination in design?

Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved
Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Good designs are often as fascinating in their finished form as the many hidden challenges that are met in realising them. But which designs actually leave the designer fascinated, wanting to use it as a learning experience to discover more about the people who interact with it? One such design is the interactive “Be a Fashionista Table”, created by the Museum’s Department of Interactives for the Frock Stars exhibition.

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Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

The “Be a Fashionista Table” interactive was designed to uncover the experience of being a celebrity at an exclusive VIP party of a fashion show by actually getting visitors to role-play being a celebrity. Using a number of cameras and a touch screen, visitors can photograph themselves in various poses, ‘rubbing shoulders’ with celebrities in digitally projected backdrops and be a stylistic trend setter for a mock fashion magazine. The touch screen also enables them to arrange their party Polaroid photos of themselves and their fashion accessories in the magazine before they ‘publish’ them (the photos are only captured for a few hours). This process of ‘expressing oneself’ in front of the camera for a fashion magazine made me wonder – What is real about the “hero shot”? Is it an artistic projection of our self-esteem and self-belief that surfaces when the cameras are out? I also wondered, what is real about being a celebrity? Is it within all of us to be one, in a sense, by wearing our pride or sense of fun on the outside? Good designs often begin with such cultural and philosophical enquiries, but some continue to make the designer wonder long after it has been a hit.

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Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

More frequently these days, designs have a tendency to play a role of revealing the logic of their hidden workings and innovation as well. It’s not so much to glorify their workings as to facilitate peoples’ many modes of learning through acting on their curiosity. For example, one of the cameras that were used to take photos of peoples’ shoes was protected by a clear window in the casing of the interactive. I designed this, keeping in mind that it would also be used, like a keyhole, for people to peer into the interactive to see the mysterious glow of LED’s, chaotic criss-crossing of cables and spinning heat fans.

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Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

The most rewarding and heart-warming experience in designing this interactive, however, was to discover that the Museum’s visitors had begun to find an additional meaningful purpose for it. One day, as I was ‘flipping’ the pages of the mock fashion magazine on the screen to see the photos people had captured, I came across an astonishing set of images. A pair of newly graduated university students had used one of the cameras to record an important moment in both their lives, their graduation in fact. They did this through displaying a photo of their iPhone which displayed a photo they had previously taken of themselves holding their graduation certificates together.

It leaves me to wonder one last question – How can an interactive mixed reality design empower people to become record keepers of their creative collaborations?

Krister Gustafsson
Industrial Designer, Powerhouse Museum

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