Interactivity at the Sydney Design Festival

Orkhestra: Interactive light installation

It’s the Sydney Design Festival’s 18th birthday and the times are a-changing.

This year’s festival will showcase a pioneering array of exhibitions, installations, discussions and productions.

In particular, one event and two installations will offer us the opportunity to challenge how we interact and participate with design in our daily lives.They will encourage us to consider the implications for how we work with and experience design in the future.

First cab off the rank is Hack the Collection. Inspired by the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Hackathon, it investigates how digital technology is changing both our production and consumption of design.

3D model of the Olivetti calculator

3D model of the Olivetti calculator

Hack the Collection will match ten contemporary designers with ten collection objects which have been 3D scanned.  The designers will then wield their creative powers over a two-day period on 16 and 17 August to design and print their own interpretations of the objects on Makerbot 3D printers.

All of this will take place in the innovative live studio atmosphere of the FabLab. Visitors will be able to watch the designers at work and get updates on everything from printing tips to curator and designer interviews from the event MC.

According to Deborah Vaughan, Producer for Contemporary Programs at the Powerhouse and Hack the Collection Curator, the beauty of Hack the Collection is its inclusivity – the chance for the designers to interact with the objects and the opportunity for a variety of audiences to participate by downloading the Museum object 3D files from the website.

“This means that anyone can download and use them – teachers in regional schools, for example. The hacked 3D printed designs will be on display next to the Museum originals after 17 August,” she says.

The scanned objects used reflect the disciplines of the Powerhouse Museum, chosen in close collaboration with Museum curators. Accordingly, the designers have a rich variety of backgrounds, ranging across architecture, jewellery, industrial design, fashion, science and more.

“The designers are really enthusiastic about it – they love the idea. Most of them are quite savvy with 3D printing but for others it will be a challenge and it will encourage them to think differently about their design processes,” says Vaughan.

Next up, bathing mid-winter Sydney in celestial radiance, is Orkhēstra. A lighting installation which uses computational design, light technology and interaction design, Orkhēstra was first shown at the 2014 Luminale in Frankfurt.

Inspired by underwater coral – a perfect fit for the ocean-loving nation of Australia – it aims to redefine the boundaries of what is possible in designing responsive environments.

It’s a European-Australian collaboration, with input from the University of New South Wales, Städelschule Architecture Class, Frankfurt, the Media Architecture Institute (Vienna/Sydney) and the Ludwig Maximillian University (Munich).

Dr M. Hank Haeusler is a senior lecturer in Computational Design from the University of New South Wales and part of the team that put the installation together.

Orkhestra: Interactive light installation

Orkhestra: Interactive light installation

“Orkhēstra was developed using state-of- the-art computer modelling technology – we wanted to push to the max what is possible in terms of media architecture and computational design,” he explains.

Haeusler says that the installation is truly participatory – it only responds if visitors take pictures of themselves with the installation.

“The lighting animates the work to create movement.  Colour sequences then change when a mobile camera flash is directed towards the installation – this is what people automatically do when they see an installation and is how visitors can directly engage with Orkhēstra.”

Ever fancied having your portrait drawn – by a machine?  Thanks to students from the Masters of Interaction Design and Electronic Arts course at the University of Sydney, now you can.

Oscar is an interactive installation which brings together analogue and digital technology to draw portraits of Festival visitors. It is the brainchild of students Stela Solar, Rico Minten and Susana Alarcon, under the director of Dr Rob Saunders.

Oscar the Drawing Machine

Oscar the Drawing Machine

Oscar consists of a drawing desk, paper roll, electronic components and webcam. The camera takes a digital portrait photo of your face and, as if by magic, converts this to analogue information by drawing a portrait on paper using a mechanical pen plotter.  As the machine draws it emits an eerie squeak, making it seem almost lifelike.

Student spokesperson, Stela Solar, said that in researching ideas for a drawing machine, the students were forced to question their own ideas about creativity.

“Is it the machine that’s creative or the person that made it? It’s this very point of tension that we wanted to explore.  By engaging with and observing Oscar, we hope people will ask themselves who the artist is.”

Oscar is a perfect fit for our selfie-obsessed society – a society curious about the ways that images can be interpreted, manipulated, enhanced and changed using technology.  He challenges our perceptions of ourselves by offering a different view of the face that we present to the world. Oscar may well be a sign of things to come. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how far this idea could go?

“There are some innovative creations out there – for example, a drawing machine which tracks movement during sleep and draws an abstract image from dreams,” says Solar.

Oscar drawing machine video from Stela_is_learning_stuff on Vimeo.

Oscar’s portraits will be added to the Wall of Fame at the Festival, offering visitors the chance to participate in the ongoing story of the Sydney Design Festival.



The Sydney Design Festival runs from 16 – 24 August at the Powerhouse Museum.  Further details here