A Breif History of Virtual Reality and The Potential It Holds for Graphic Design.

Virtual reality is something that has always fascinated us since it’s conception in the early twentieth century. It’s origins date back to 1935 with American science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum who wrote a short story titled Pygmalion’s Spectacles. In the story, the main character meets a professor who invented a pair of goggles which enabled “a movie that gives one sight and sound, taste, smell, and touch. You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply. the story is all about you, and you are in it.”

Stanley Weinbaum’s short story cover for Pygmalion’s Spectacles. (1935)

However it wasn’t till 1956 when Cinematographer Morton Heilig created Sensorama, the first VR machine that we finally saw a real attempt towards the creation of a virtual reality space. The Sensorama machine was designed to stimulate all senses and included a vibrating chair, a stereoscopic 3D screen, scent producers, fans for atmospheric conditions like wind, and stereoscopic speakers. Morton Heilig thought that this would be the future of cinema starting that the Sensorama was “the cinema of the future.” There were six short films created for the device. 

Morton Heilig’s Sensorama machine.

Morton Heilig also had developed the Telesphere mask in 1960 which was the first head mounted VR system that displayed stereoscopic 3D images and included sound as well. There was no motion tracking available in the headset however.

Then later in 1985 Jaron Lanier and Thomas Zimmerman founded VPL Research, Inc. The company went on to develop the first commercially available headset and gloves along with other equipment which included the data glove, eyephone, and audio sphere.

VPL Research Virtual Reality equipment.

Once the 90’s hit video game companies saw the potential in a virtual reality centered gaming experience. SEGA making the SEGA VR-1, a motion simulator arcade machine, and Nintendo creating the Virtual Boy which was famous for its failure and ability to cause headaches and migraines.

1995 Nintendo Virtual Boy Console.

A defining moment in the development of VR was the Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift which generated $2.4 million dollars in the year 2012. This interest led to Facebook purchasing the company for $2 billion in 2014 and thus began an era of widespread VR development between companies like Sony, Google, Samsung, and hundreds of others. 

What’s next? Well the possibilities are being broadened by the potential of VR. For Graphic designers this means that there will be more opportunities to work in three dimensional spaces which is exciting given the occupations historically two dimensional visuals and processes. Likely we will see opportunity in the realms of UX/UI design as more and more spaces enter virtual reality. One project simply called Singularity is a visualization of how graphic design can be further pushed within the medium or world of virtual reality. Created by Madrid-based design studio Relajaelcoco for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR. It’s the first of its kind to explore the potential of VR in graphic design. Francesco Furno, co-founder of Relajaelcoco, came up with the idea for Singularity after noticing how current VR games often miss the 2D element of graphic design. The Singularity experiment shows how designs for VR don’t necessarily have to be modeled on the gaming world, but can take stylistic cues from the graphic design world instead. Who knows how readily available VR technology will be within the next five to ten years, but the tech will have a profound impact on the occupation if Virtual Reality proves not to just be a trend. 

Portion of the Singularity project developed by design studio Relajaelcoco.

A Solution for the Inaccessability of Expensive Prosthetics

Desiree Riny’s manual for creating lower leg prosthetics.
Page of the manual featuring easy to understand illustrations and directions.

Access to professional care and expensive prosthetic devices can be an obstacle in itself for many amputees, and changing systems that provide care can take too long to be helpful to amputees. Desiree Riny has however found a clever work around for lower leg amputees who lack the access to professional care. Desiree Riny, a graduate from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology created a system that allows people without access to healthcare or expensive prosthetics the ability to craft their own DIY prosthetic from bicycle parts and other scrap materials. 

Page detailing instructions for adjusting prosthetics.

She had found that many amputees couldn’t make use of the latest advances of technology because of the expenses or had lived too far away from the existing resources. Finding that 95% of the world’s lower-limb amputees live in such environments without access to professional care. 

“Devices produced with advanced technologies such as 3D printing are often difficult to repair and not always suited to rural environments,” Riny stated. “Faced with these limitations, amputees find innovative do-it-yourself responses which are tailored to local materials and traditional practices.” So her solution was to synthesize what these communities had already been doing for years and re-design them so that they fit current medical best practice. 

The three types of prosthetics that can be made in Desiree Riny’s manual.

These designs feature the use of materials such as bicycle parts, which in countries like India, Cambodia and South Africa, are key modes of transportation, so many are familiar with taking them apart. The prosthetic designs also feature the use of scrap wood, worn clothing, rice bags, and scrap metal. 

A prosthetic made of available materials to the amputee.

Riny’s thesis is titled Reclaiming Accessibility: To Lower Limb Prosthetics. Her research spanned communities in Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, India and Cambodia.

Her thesis statement serves as a wonderful way of working with amputees who are poor or lack the ability to seek professional help or acquire more expensive 3D printed prosthetics. The booklet “D.I.Y Prosthetic Manual” is made to be available online or distributed at NGO’s as well as local businesses. However I was unable to find the actual booklet and was only able to find articles about said booklet. This serves as one of the few downsides to Desiree Riny’s project, because the search engine optimization isn’t corrected to have the booklet available as one of the first searches it might be harder to find or access for the people who need it. Another issue with the booklet is the lack of any translated versions of the instruction manual, language barriers may make the ability to craft the prosthetics harder. However she does her best to remedy this by including plenty of Illustrated images of the crafting of the prosthetic. 

The Powerful Tool of Forethought in Design: An Examination of Dungeons & Dragons Lack of Forethought.

As a Designer forethought is a powerful tool that enables us to have a wider range of influence on social and environmental issues within the areas we work for. Our occupation already requires an immense amount of careful planning and execution when it comes to the products we work with, the environments we shape, and the people that interact with us or your work. However with the inclusion of extra forethought into our processes that relate to possible social impacts as well as thinking about where our products end up after their purpose is fulfilled, we will be able to see that it only benefits us all. 

Cover art for an expanssion book titled “Volo’s Guide to Monsters” for D&D’s 5th Edition of the game. Art by Tyler Jacobson

In this post I’ll be focusing on Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) and their popular role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. In light of the BLM protest that began in May of 2020 Wizards of the Coast had finally made moves in the summer of 2020 to amend racial issues that had plagued the game over its long history of nearly 50 years. One of the most prominent and important features of Dungeons & Dragons is it’s character creation. Allowing you to create a character that is human, an elf, or even something entirely different like a talking possessed handbag or a mythical creature. Generally speaking it is up to the player to make their character good or evil or even neither of those things. Unfortunately some of the characters and races outlined within previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons were depicted in wicked and villainous ways, some races even being described as “inherently evil.” 

“It is this thing lurking under the surface that really is painful for people who have faced those sorts of stereotypes in the real world,” says Jeremy Crawford, the principal rules designer for D&D.

Well this concept may not seem harmful to many white enthusiasts of the fantasy genre, often race division is an ingrained element of conflict used in fantasy story telling. This notion or idea has been around in fantasy styled games for quite some as the genre itself rose to popularity. However many POC folks, especially black and brown people who have faced racism and prejudice aren’t as willing to embrace the fantasy genre or join a Dungeons & Dragons campaign because this writing was originally flawed and didn’t promote a space of refuge for POC peoples. Especially since one of the first things you do in Dungeons & Dragons is create a character. Players had previously made comments about this before the recent protest but WOTC finally made the change during the summer of 2020. Along with a revision of these descriptions WOTC is working on having a more diverse roster of writers and creatives in teams throughout all their departments, especially Dungeons & Dragons. 

Having forethought about the way you present your product through a variety of social lenses can have an immense impact on whether or not your product or design is embraced by people or if your product reinforces harmful social narratives. This issue specifically also ties into the importance of workplace diversity which can improve design consciousness and further our ability to use forethought in our practice.

Artwork Featured in D&D 5th edition book Art by Kieran Yanner.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Widespread Appeal Aided by Fresh Look in Her Campaigns Design

Within the United States political sphere there tends to only be binary solutions to the increasingly complex and demanding issues that face our nation. As a two party system further stagnates action on issues that require immediate attention, we have also seen a stagnation in the enthusiasm and look that accompanies our candidates and their ideals, beliefs, and policies as they run for office. We continuously see the same tired red, white, and blue plastered on the name of the equally dusty, tired, and old politicians that come to represent our country with each election cycle. Even President Obama’s campaign branding and look from both his 2008 and 2012 run for presidential office has begun to wear thin as other democratic politicians and nominees co-opted the look for their own marathon to the finish line at the polls. During the 2018 midterm elections a breath of fresh air came when one of the house of representatives youngest and “most radical” sitting members came into office for New York’s 14th congressional district. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won in an upset during the 2018 midterm elections against Joe Crowley, with her platform of Medicare-for-all, abolishing ICE, strict gun control, housing as a human right, banning private prisons, and raising the minimum wage. Her revolutionary campaign branding was far different than many of her peers and has since inspired many politicians of progressive campaigns to adopt the look. 

Tandem Design NYC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posters.

After Ocasio-Cortez began her campaign, she hired Tandem, a New York-based creative firm, to design her campaign’s branding. She’s close friends with the firm’s co-founders, Scott Starrett and Shaun Gillen, who also designed for two new progressive political groups Justice Democrats and the Brand New Congress. Her revolutionary spirit combined with her loud and action based ideals came to represent a disruption in the status quo, inspiring young progressive peers running for office and certainly highlighting the democratic parties infighting between progressive members and more centrist members of the party. Her original posters included a purple blend of the two parties blue and red and boasted a positive yellow that was uplifting and exciting. This departure from the nation’s patriotic color scheme and the inclusion of a photo element as seen in previous political design movements like constructivism made sure that her loud character was set apart from her colleagues. What is most striking about it is the inclusion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the poster itself. Often most political adverts are void of the character it represents, solely relying on the name to carry votes to the ballot box. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s youth and positivity is exemplified in the photo used on the poster, her head turned up and looking forward towards a new future. The photo montage technique worked brilliantly alongside the color palette change. 

(left) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hanging one of her posters. (right) Pride varient of the same poster at one of NYC’s pride marches during the 2018 midterm elections in June.

The reason I find Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s branding so provocative is because of her performance in the house since her victory and how her branding came to represent a different group of Americans. Her progressive views are held by many Americans but those same Americans rarely found a candidate that would represent them correctly. Many democrats before her were incredibly centrist and focused on compromise with their republicans peers who wanted anything but. Well this does show a clear divide in the democratic party it has given many progressive voters hope that their voices will be heard and action will be taken. Her branding style has even been seen in Bernie Sanders second run for office in the 2020 democratic primaries. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is currently in her second term within the house of representatives and has continued to fight for progressive policies since her breakthrough branding came about in 2018. 

Polaroid Comparative Critique

It takes light to illuminate the moment, and Polaroid has always been a ray of sunshine since its beginnings in 1937. However with every sunrise comes a sunset, and eventually Polaroid’s sun had set. It’s Iconic colors, bold claustrophobic text, and all its other intellectual properties were dispersed and sold among a variety of buyers in 2008 after the company’s second bankruptcy. Following their 2008 bankruptcy a project called “Impossible Project” was born to revive the long standing instant film giant, Eventually becoming Polaroid Originals in 2017. Then finally reclaiming the name and all intellectual properties in March of 2020, with Polaroid revived it’s colors now shined bright again. But could it’s new look hold up to the legacy of it’s most Iconic era of design?

Paul Giambarba was the American Graphic designer who took the charge in leading Polaroid into a new look and identity that suited it’s need for a distinct look. The famous rainbow color block emerged from this era along with the bold font that is now ever present in Polaroid’s identity. The 1960’s saw Paul Giambarbras bold and colorful logo and branding on every polaroid product available to consumers. The horizontal rainbow situated next to the bold black font of the company’s name came to represent the range of color and possibilities of the brand’s product. It also could be associated with the engineering aspect of the company’s new integral films, representing the dyed layers and emulsions inside the integral film itself. The tight kerning of each individual letter in the brands name suggesting a closeness or bond to one another. Partially reminiscent of what photographies main selling point was for most it’s history, selling nostalgia. Uniting the brands components like family and friends, something that instant film always had the capability of doing. 

Paul Giambarba 1960-1991 logo

Paul’s logo was responsible for Polaroid’s most Iconic era of design but with the change in times and the advancement of photography to a digital format the company itself had to change in order to stay afloat. In 1991 they had completely done away with Paul’s branding, this was one of the many blunders that eventually led to Polaroid’s downfall at the turn of the twenty first century. Not only nailing the coffin shut, but also burying it 6ft under and placing a grave diggers cage over the soil where it was laid to rest so that it may never return. Luckily instant film and its ability to excite and inspire wonder could not stay dead for long. 

Polaroid was back! And with it’s revival came a new look and logo. Once the Impossible project painstakingly re-engineered the film and brought back production of new cameras and film stocks the stage was set for a metamorphosis of it’s look. Ignasi Tudela was the creative director tasked with creating a new brand identity for Polaroid. The logo is reminiscent of the 1960’s Paul Giambarba logo, boasting a bold font accompanied with a spectrum of color. This look was quite different from Paul’s branding, The look felt modern and breathable, the types kerning spread wider than it has been for half a century. The spectrum of color was no longer to the side of the name but rather underlining it partially. Each of the five colors laid next to each other in a spectrum rather than on top of one another. This logo wasn’t made to emulate Paul’s look in the 1960’s to early 90’s, rather it was made to be different while still reclaiming it’s identity with the color spectrum.

Ignasi Tudela 2020 logo

The Polaroid of today had to address completely different issues compared to what Paul Giambarba had to previously. It had to be clear and idolize clearity because of the many rebrandings of the Impossible project before it so consumers wouldn’t be confused. It had to elevate itself from the initial excitement of the new technology of integral instant film, because by now the world had already seen that. Yet at the same time embrace and attract new consumers with that same technology. Primarily appealing to many who may have never used instant film, mostly gen Z consumers. While Ignasi’s new logo and rebrand has done this successfully I feel as though they were unable to recapture the Iconic rainbow color block like they originally set out to reclaim. The problems that both designers had to address were very different and were in very different times. Paul had to make sure the branding was recognizable  and embodied creativity. Whereas Ignasi was tasked with bringing clarity as well as fresh air to Polaroid’s name. Change was necessary for the brand and it’s look but I would have loved to see a stronger use of the color spectrum that made Polaroid so Iconic. The brand shouldn’t have subverted such a memorable part of its history. 

Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”

Marshall Mcluhan’s “The Medium is the Message” is an important communications theory that has informed our creative process for decades now. It’s central claim revolves around the idea of the form that a message is in is the most important part of the message rather than it’s actual written message. Well some may argue that the medium isn’t the most important part of a message, the medium does still largely influence our interpretation of messages, the spread of a message, and a messages lifespan. 

A really good example of this may be the phonograph record that NASA enclosed on the Voyager when it launched in 1977. The phonograph record is a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk that contains a variety of media that in theory would demonstrate the diversity of life on our planet if it were to meet extraterrestrial life. This however is a large assumption made by humanity, of all mediums to send a message to advanced alien life, we sent two records. 

This instance of attempted communication proves Marshall Mcluhan’s “The Medium is the Message” to be right. If an alien lifeform does receive this message they must be able to understand the medium that was intercepted before being able to receive the message. What happens if they can’t understand or figure out how to use the records? Well then they don’t receive the message. where as if NASA had opted for another mode of communication it may be easier for aliens to receive the transmitted message. Well there are other variables that went into this decision and why NASA chose phonograph records, It serves as a prime example of how Marshall Mcluhan’s theory works. 

Bringing the theory back down to Earth where we understand a lot more about communication between two separate parties. We can see how messages and their meanings change between mediums. Another example may include receiving a collaged letter in the mail that reads “You stole my parking spot, I’m gonna kill you!” versus receiving a message in your work group chat from a coworker that reads “You stole my parking spot, I’m gonna kill you!” The collaged anonymous letter being perceived as a threat or dangerous, whereas the message in the work group chat may be perceived much differently. 

Just as the medium informes the reader of a message it is important that we are just as informed on how we use the mediums we design with to send messages. Doing so will enable us to make more informed decisions during the creative process so that we don’t send an unintended message or the wrong message. One thing we must also be critically aware of is the context surrounding a message/ medium, this has become more important today as the internet has created such a blended perception of context. Marshall’s theory is mostly right in regards to the power of the medium, but fails to address the possibility of the context it’s delivered in or that surrounds a message.  

Image of the two records sent on the Voyager, as showcased in Smithosonian Magazine.