Weak Signal: Collections
I am fascinated by the ways creativity and taste are related. In the past several years, I’ve noticed a general decrease in the publication of original content and thoughts among my peers, and a much sharper rise in the careful curation of existing content.
An example of this might be the Instagram Feed. A user’s Feed is the 3-wide grid found on their profile. For those more savvy with the platform, the feed operates as a collective unit that speaks clearly of that user’s taste more than any single instance of a photo. The more photos in the feed, the clearer the communication of taste.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. — Ira Glass, This American Life
With so much content to consume now, I feel as though there is a certain creativity in the discernment of what to consume. Furthermore, I think someone’s collections speak deeply on how they perceive and see the world, which is actually something quite difficult to communicate, though entirely important for any creative practice, perhaps even more than their skills.
Ultimately, my hypothesis is that a collection can be interpreted as not only a sample of taste, but also a language in itself—a repository of inspiration that can be called upon to explain and clarify obscure concepts. And furthermore, the language becomes the way to think and perceive the world. If designers are hired by these languages, perhaps many good things could follow.
If you think about it abstractly, even the alphabet itself is a collection of letters and phonemes, but it is the platform on which our culture is built.
“Language is the foundation of civilization—it is the glue that holds people together” (excerpt from Arrival)
While exploring the idea of collections, I realized that a person’s taste is really comprised of a collection of collections. My love for architectural details tells you only of a single facet of my taste—understanding also which books I read will extend your understanding of me all the more. The more collections you witness, the more accurately you can understand my taste and pattern recognition.
Seeking a solid metaphor on which to build this collection of collections, I thought about forests, gardens, and eventually museums. Museums are special because they are a physical space with many different sections—each one containing a collection of artifacts and pieces. They are very intentionally designed for the best possible experience of gaining an understanding of the culture the museum is trying to portray. Here are some of my insights on how museums are set up:
The first thing I noticed upon entering the first exhibition was the wall of text delineating the details surrounding the collection and the pieces within it. It allowed me to have the proper expectations, which was very helpful in easing any anxieties I might have had.
Each one of the pieces had a specific way of being displayed. They had labels displaying origins and materials used, but I also found that each of them also had a unique frame that would suit the piece. This led me to understand that it matters not just what you show in the collection, but how you show it.
Though there were many pieces on the walls, I noticed that there could be a sub-collection within the larger collection just through certain attributes such as proximity and size.
There were some pieces that were emphasized above others. This was sometimes done with light or by spatial placement.
The separation between collections was interesting, too. Often times, the flooring itself would be different for the different collections, shifting the atmosphere of the environment drastically. I also observed that there were often some transitional elements if the collections were going to be very different.
I would sometimes come across rooms with only a single piece. I was intrigued, and I started to see how it added more to the collective rather than portraying a collection itself.
Museums largely engage only the ocular and spatial senses, while ignoring aroma, audio, tactile and taste for the most part. However, there were some opportunities to engage in some interactions, which were very helpful to the understanding of the piece when necessary.
Hierarchy of Collections:
When studying collections, I realized that there seemed to be different tiers of collections, each one offering more richness than the previous. Ultimately, I wanted to create through my prototype a “dynamic collection system,” where there is a collection of collections, but each item can also be tied to items in other collections, adding a cohesion between all collections. In environments such as museums, we don’t have much of this, as each collection exists almost in isolation, where the connection between them is purely location-based.
One possible future scenario is that tools will eventually interface so naturally with us that skill will no longer be of value, but taste and creativity will be the primary attributes assessed in any hiring process for creative occupations. If this is the case, we will need a way to demonstrate taste in a clear way. Thus, I am attempting to create a “Museum of Taste” as a metaphor for our own taste.
The current paradigm for hiring is that a portfolio site is the main touchpoint through which to better understand an applicant and their work. These sites do have some trace of collections, but the extent of that is usually just a simple hyperlink.
For this speculative project, I was either thinking of creating a virtual environment to portray the Museum of Taste or creating the “portfolio of the future”. I realized that perhaps they could merge and I can do both.
For the duration of this project, I decided to focus mostly on the onboarding experience, home base, and a single collection.
I decided that the onboarding was a necessary experience from my visits to the museum. It prevents visitors from being overwhelmed and grounds them in proper and controlled expectations.
Honestly, I didn’t put too much thought into this. The main points I wanted to get across were the purpose of this museum environment as well as the navigation paradigm. I wanted to explain a bit about the information architecture of the collections in the museum, but that is still to be fully determined.
This framework is also relatively simple. In most complex environments, you will have a central hub through which you can access more specific rooms. Think about a train station, for example. I figured it would be convenient to have a central hub you can access at any given time, where you can enter any of my predetermined collections.
There are several components to a specific collection. One is the environment it exists in. I think the background of each collection could be an excellent indicator to the actual environment in which this collection might live, either physically or digitally. There might be a cohesion formed through the place in which some things exist.
I realized that there could be more thought in the way these books are arranged. Instead of a static grid floating in space, they could be more engaged with the environment, and be more a part of it.
The last thing is the description/ informational side. Each item has a brief annotation/commentary on its significance, and furthermore has other related items in other collections. I think this is important because suddenly, multiple collections become connected more deeply, further realizing my earlier point about a “dynamic collection system.”
No matter how thoughtful the process, a design project is only as good as the delivery of its communication. For class, the deliverable for this project was a 5-minute presentation, which meant that I definitely could not portray the full extent of my design process.
For my presentation, I focused primarily on two limitations of current portfolios: that they are largely unnecessarily reductionist and that they don’t acknowledge our trajectories into the future. I talked about how designers are not just floating points, but rather vectors, and that our direction can be mapped qualitatively by a portrayal of our taste. I talked about how gardens or museums might be good metaphors/ foundations upon which I can build my interface. Then I showed a demo to solidify my claims and give a concrete mental image of what the interface/ experience might be like.
Lessons Learned / Future Directions —
I had a very difficult time during this project to arrive at the correct scope and channel through which to portray my thoughts and ideas. I had a rich and enjoyable time talking to my professor about these concepts on a high-level, but converting those thoughts into a tangible experience was challenging. I hope that in the future, I can come to more concrete decisions more quickly, so I can have more time to iterate and experiment with how those ideas manifest.
I also hoped to have a much higher fidelity of a prototype, as I do believe my blocky and repetitive forms might deter the level of legitimacy of the presentation. During the presentations, I appreciated when people were able to frame their projects in the context that it was given, and prepare their prototypes to look and behave like a real thing.
Ultimately, I had a great time with this project and I believe that I now understand more deeply how I can think about and communicate visions of the future with greater clarity.