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Give + Take

A wave of interest in interaction design is bringing the world a new kind of interior that turns users from innocent bystanders into active participants.

By AnnMarie Martin

A wave of interest in interaction design is bringing the world a new kind of interior that turns users from innocent bystanders into active participants.

As advances in digital technologies and devices continue at lightning speed, the instantaneous connectivity capabilities they provide have inevitably begun to morph interiors, creating public spaces that are on their way to becoming as interactive as the gadgets and websites that fill our lives.

This has forced design into a two-way conversation, where people aren’t just impacted by a space, but can leave their mark on it as well.

“I define interaction design in an unorthodox manner: as the capacity to create experiences that change and are changed by the visitors themselves,” says Jake Barton, principal at the NYC-based Local Projects.

Local Projects integrates architecture, graphic design, filmmaking and performance to elevate spaces to a new level of learning and purpose.

“We think the future of interaction is exactly that—a multidisciplinary way to prompt the world into action. The question is to what end,” he adds.

The answer remains to be seen, but the intent will always be the same: to empower and engage the user.

the brand experience
“The advance of multi-touch technology will continue to allow for more fluid interaction between spaces and people, and that will extend experiences in retail and dining. With this development, the technology will not need to be so heavily tied to objects, and will become more spacial and experiential,” says Georgianna Stout, partner, creative director and a founder of 2x4, a New York City-based multidisciplinary firm.

“We work with some of the most design-savvy clients worldwide to develop strategy, design systems, content and projects that draw on both modernist traditions and the exuberance of contemporary life. Our work spans all kinds of media, from print and branding to environment and interactive spaces,” she says.

According to Stout, at the moment technology is very tied to devices and concrete objects, such as screens, objects and furniture. She says the future promises spaces where there is less of a need for that, and that these experiences will be more open-ended and less directed.

For now, these firms are taking cues from the smart devices that have overtaken our everyday lives to make public spaces as user-friendly as they are. One market that has particularly reaped the benefits of interaction design is retail.

“We want all our displays to be as intuitive as using an iPad,” says Anthony Battaglia, global vice president of store design and visual merchandising for Clinique. The brand uses its flagship counter in Bloomingdale’s New York City as a testing ground for ideas. “The locale is a crossroads for all types of consumer nationalities. Whether it be a new lamp or iPad usage, we get to see how all these different types of people are interacting with it,” he explains.

The Clinique Smart Bar™, powered by Microsoft Surface®2 was one such initiative, installed in 2011. This oversized touchscreen counter could detect objects and gestures using the embedded Microsoft Surface unit. This makes for an immersive shopping experience, as customers are able to place specially tagged Clinique products on the counter, which pulls up product information and adds their favorites to a virtual browsing basket. They can then print out a barcode and present it at an express service counter, or even share the virtual browsing basket on their Facebook page.

“That new counter was a service innovation,” says Battaglia. “It was designed for the transaction, rather than dictating the transaction, as many do.”

More recently, the brand unveiled the Clinique iPad® Skincare Diagnostic tool, which took its shopping experience a step further and integrated the iPad into beauty counters around the world. This initiative accommodates a variety of shoppers,

from those looking for express service to those who are more interested in browsing privately. The iPad works in store and in conjunction with the counter to process personalized product combinations for each customer. They can choose to print a list of custom product recommendations or receive an email with the information. Each iPad device at the Clinique counters can also scan barcodes and educate consumers on product details.

Gene’s@CO-OP, a new restaurant at Barney’s New York, takes a similar approach to engaging customers and educating them about the brand. A 30-foot long digital banquet table in Gene’s allowing viewers to browse Barney’s content and shop while they eat was also created by 2x4.

Custom-designed and built under the direction of Barney’s Creative Director Dennis Freedman, with assistance from Perspective Pixel—the company known for creating CNN’s intuitive election results screens—the tabletop houses 28 individual screens in one seamless surface, and is animated by a “digital river” of content that flows from one screen to the next.

“The river engages the entire table, but each user has their own screen on which they can order food, browse content, find things in the store through a digital directory and shop Barney’s online store,” explains Stout.

impactful exhibits
Local Projects has worked on a variety of spaces, but two museum projects particularly exemplify the true impact interaction design can have.

“Our work extends and leverages stories for new opportunities that make for better stories and a new way to share through social media,” explains Barton.

The Contemporary Issues Forum at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia does just that. Visitors can respond to the most challenging questions of today, such as those related to traditions, freedoms, race and religion, extending the theme of “choices and challenges” that the museum is built on.

Visitors enter the gallery and find a table stocked with three types of custom cards that are color-coded and labeled with either “Yes,” “No,” or “Um.” Four walls present different questions to respond to. Visitors write their responses on the cards, have them quickly scanned and then “post” their cards to the wall. The walls display the dominant opinion on the question. Scanned cards are also transferred to, where visitors can later see their cards and other opinions, as well as continue the debate. Questions are programmed and changed out regularly.

“Right as the so-called ‘9/11 mosque’ was captivating the nation, they posted ‘Should the government be determining where houses of worship are built?’ and received tons of responses, polarized and impassioned. However, the act of asking their question, soliciting intelligent feedback and engaging the public in big questions make this institution one that reflects the intelligence and fearlessness of its audience,” Barton says.

Also within the National Museum of American Jewish History is an exhibition entitled “It’s Your Story.” It asks visitors to add their own story to the museum’s working collection, combining their experiences with other visitors by answering questions like “What traditions do you share with your parents?” and “Have you ever had to move to a different place?”

“This is one of the last parts of the exhibition, creating a point of reflection about the museum and its meaning, and reinforcing that each visitor reflects and refracts the themes and journeys that the museum celebrates,” explains Barton. Visitors record their own stories and then share them either online or through a central screening location. Anyone walking by will also hear short snippets and clips from others’ recordings.

“It’s Your Story leverages the visitors’ sense that they participate and embody the narrative that the museum is sharing. They fulfill the story of America and of immigrants, because in some ways we all embody that arc. So creating an experience that affords visitors a chance to reflect on that with their family, to share memories with their friends and to donate thoughts to the museum’s archive is a natural way to fulfill the museum’s mission to engage and embrace America and the immigrant experience,” he says.

Sound Off

How do you foresee the deli counters, drug stores and banks of the future shaping up? As consumers continue to expect more from public spaces, how will firms deliver? And will they need to become more multidisciplinary in order to properly respond to the need for interactive spaces?

Tell us what you think on our Facebook page.

We’ll publish your responses in a future issue of our weekly e-newsletter, DesignFlash.

Finally, the world will also be able to see how impactful Local Projects’ work can really be with “We Remember” at the 9/11 Museum, set to open this coming Sept. 11. Similar to It’s Your Story, We Remember invites visitors to tell their 9/11 experience, which then becomes a permanent part of the museum. They enter a soundproof booth, locate themselves on a world map and then contribute their story to the introductory exhibition.

“From the beginning we envisioned the media for this museum as embodying the collective memory and witness of that day,” Barton says. ”It’s estimated that one-third of the world watched the event live, and another one-third knew about it within a day, so this really was an unprecedented moment, and We Remember represents that within the exhibition.”