Having fun

Sometimes I have no idea where it’s all going but my sketches are an attempt to make sense of and organize my thoughts. Maybe it’s a way of looking at the world around me. Most of the time I think about logical outcomes though – that side of me took over for a while and I created a proposal for a new app. These are one set of wireframes so far (above). Now I’ve oscillated back to exploration phase, almost comfortable not knowing what it’s going to be.

In the process I’ve realized that design projects have no soul without a client. In order to activate the project it needs someone who the service will be for. A user, or audience. But with art that’s not the case. So I think that’s where I am right now with this project, closer to art than design. Anni Albers once said, “We come to know in art that we do not clearly know where we will arrive in our work, although we set the compass, our vision, we are led by material and work process. We have plans and blueprints, but the finished work is still a surprise.”

It all started after I discovered the work of the Situationists a few years ago. I created a book – a psychogeography of New York City with a protagonist named Ella.

Ella is searching for something all over the city, then wakes from her dreamlike state and discovers that what she’s looking for is actually within herself.

Shortly after creating Ella, I read Tony Hiss and began wandering the streets trying to decipher atmospheres and the factors that create one. I created a sound installation by recording ambient sounds in various New York City neighborhoods.

On top of the pedestals were abstractions of the form of an antique streetlamp.  I challenged visitors to guess which of four neighborhood the sounds were recorded but I don’t think you could really tell the difference. An atmosphere is related to our “sense of place”, and while it’s relatively clear how elements in our physical environment create one, I’m trying to figure out how digital architecture can provide something similar.

I’m also interested in how behavior is affected by our architectural surroundings. And in digital architecture? I think more than anything it depends on your purpose. Just like my acting teacher used to use the metaphor of a canoe floating down a river – the canoe is the intention and the river is the script. The movement of the river guides your intention. In architecture (the river, in this drawn out metaphor), your intention has a strong effect on your experience of the place.

Liz Danzico writes about frameworks on 52 weeks of UX, and she relates designing them to creating opportunities, possibilities for action for the user. Just as in architectural space, if the frameworks are too strict it limits the possibilities for movement – there is less freedom. However, if there is no structure or organization, then it leaves open the possibility for chaos. Designers have the responsibility to create a balance between these two extremes.

Erving Goffman, who works in the field of framework analysis, describes the delicate balance: “Frameworks allow people to locate, identify, and label an infinite number of concrete occurrences. People can move through the complex framework of a city or a website, but they’re unlikely to be aware of it or even be able to describe it if asked. People fit their actions into the ongoing world that support a set of activities—the “anchoring of activities.” It gives them context and interpretation from their point of view. Be clear, but leave room for stories to be told and to flourish.”

On the web, the framework we provide is critical – the more engaging the site, the more people will be attracted and encouraged to be themselves and interact. The framework in digital architecture can be compared to the sense of place we have in physical architecture.

So, continuing the journey of how I got to this point… When I arrived in Madrid in 2011 I began blogging about secret stories hidden among the city walls (inspired by John Stilgoe), and continuing my work exploring the streetscape by drawing windows and minerals.


 Album artwork for my brother's band
Album artwork for my brother’s band

In cities, windows comprise a large portion of our surroundings, and provide a viewpoint into the soul of the city – human and architectural. Interestingly, we enter digital space through windows – the frames of our monitors, browsers and webpages. I am obsessed with these comparisons, and my work explores the concept of viewports as windows into both worlds. I’m mainly interested in exploring the 3D aspects of digital space, hence the app idea, which plays with augmented reality.

When I arrived in London this summer I became fascinated by the space between architecture, the nothingness. I thought maybe if I focused on the empty space it would turn my experience inside-out. I drew streetscapes and wanted to create code for each piece of the city landscape and recreate the relationships in the digital world. In this way I’m creating order, priority, and simplicity from a complex landscape. Is this similar to what I do in my day job as an interaction designer – creating wireframes as blueprints for experience.

My space-between sketches are a map of my experience in a way, and I’m imposing my own order with shapes and figures. The one constant is always the outline of the skyline. There is always that break between sky and architecture. The other figures in the urban landscape have been built over centuries by various architects.

So that’s where I am now.  I‘d like to take the city prism idea forward, to break apart elements in my environment, codify and re-engineer the fractured pieces into the shape of a mineral, incorporate story and poetry just like Ella, then experiment with this and the windows concept in code to see what I can create.

 Spitalfields (first page of my new sketchbook)
Spitalfields (first page of my new sketchbook)

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.