CD Studio Project 2: Making the Abstract Concrete

Project Overview

Designers are often called upon to engage in speculative work that is situated in the context of unknown futures. Thus, the brainstorming of concepts and the communication of ideas frequently requires the visualization of experiences and objects that do not yet exist and are abstract. As a result, it is imperative that designers learn how to engage audiences in stories that utilize and weave together visual, aural, and temporal modes of communication as a means of effectively conveying visionary ideas.

McCloud’s Understanding Comics, ch. 2

9/26 Mental Representations

We discussed project 2 and watched a few videos from past years. I liked the videos that had more of a story to them and mixed real footage with simplified symbols to explain abstract concepts. It was nice to see simple explanations using comparison and metaphor.

Image Exercise
Initial phases of tornado formation: mesocyclones form in clouds, descend, take in downdraft, made bigger by updraft

McCloud’s Understanding Comics, ch.3

  • Closure: “This phenomenon of observing parts but perceiving the whole.” Closure is our mental model of the world based on our past experiences.
  • This is important because comics unfold in a series of panels. The gap or “gutter” between each panel is filled or connect by the viewer’s past experiences.
  • Different types of closure include: moment-to-moment (similar sequence, little closure), action-to-action (transitions of a single subject), subject-to-subject (different characters or scenes), scene-to-scene (movement through space/time, requires reasoning on part of reader), aspect-to-aspect (elements or scenes from one moment in time), non-sequitur (no relationship between sections).
  • Thinking about what to show vs. what to hide is important.

Earthquakes: Initial Research

I started researching my topic by googling various definitions and descriptions of earthquakes. I looked at text-based and video-based information.

What are earthquakes?

Description 1 (source)


10/1 Verbal Storytelling

  • Scales — complex v. simple, realistic v. iconic, objective v. subjective, specific v. universal
  • Being mindful of where representations of what you create sit/consequences of those choices.
  • Icons have a symbolic connection to physical things it’s representing. Versus alphabet that needs to be learned, doesn’t have connection to thing to be learned/letterforms don’t stand for anything connected to that form). Why is this important? How are you using shapes that you’re presenting -is it connected to the natural world, are you showing something that is hidden/doesn’t have a form?
  • Connects to Don Norman and his work. The appropriateness principle: the translation happens between the “thing” and how the thing is represented.
  • Matching representation to the task at hand/appropriateness principle. What do you want people to grasp? And how do you match that rep to that task?
  • create something where you don’t give all the answers, engage audience w/o confusing them. Create something from frame to frame that causes the audience to think more critically
  • How might you think of using this approach in this project? Additive/deductive storytelling aspects, transitions** — comes up when there is a change in state, moving from one concept to another.
  • 6 transition states: moment to moment (blinking), action-to-action (dance), subject-to-subject (conversation, game), scene-to-scene (house to store), aspect-to-aspect (child-adult), non-sequitur (noodles and socks).
  • Why is this important? What are the transitions you think you’ll use most often? Think about the spirit of the assignment. Mostly subject, scene, aspect. short amt of time and describing how something works. Clarity. Need a concept to be understood.
  • Shifting attention around the frame: scale and position more jarring than the value (Appearing/disappearing). Any time you see movement- draw attention more. More than a change in value
  • Look at Moyer napkin sketching for ideas.

Concept Speed Dating

  • Things to visualize: tectonic plates, friction between plates/fault lines, epicenter, aftershock, what happens beneath the surface of the earth.
  • Motion will help translate the concept better.
  • One of my listeners brought up a really good point — our mental model doesn’t necessarily include the earth as being made up of the things that make earthquakes happen (e.g., plates beneath the surface of the earth).
  • Start with a narrative. I’m a California native, which means earthquakes are very relevant to my life. I might start my story with some sort of aftershock setup. Or with an apocalyptic scene similar to one from the movie San Andreas. But then scaling out to breakdown how this might happen. Or introduce past earthquakes that people might know (1989 SF, 1960 Chile, 2017 Mexico City). This might help the concept stick a little better.
  • Also, I’d like to use more humor (without being insensitive).
  • A narrative can really help engage an audience and also help give them a better framework for understanding an abstract concept.

10/3 Storyboarding

During class today, I mostly worked on my storyboard and outlining my script.

  • Zoom out to a view of the earth to talk about earth’s core and plate tectonics. I plan to touch on the superheated liquid mantle and gravitational forces that shift the earth’s plates.
  • Zoom in to a discussion of faults. I plan to outline the 3 different types of faults.
  • After discussing faults, what happens when an earthquake strikes.
  • While will help me move into a discussion of seismic waves and their destructive effect.
  • Ending: TBD. Dependent on my setup.

10/8–10/10 Working Sessions

The next few classes were working sessions. Things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Leveraging different channels: audio, motion, visual
  • Framing key points in a way that’s understandable

Form Explorations

I started exploring visual form by working in Illustrator. Using my moodboard as inspiration, I created illustrations in an older textbook style and in a more literal style.

Exploration: color, texture
earth’s core
tectonic plates

Developing Harder Concepts

Last class, Stacie encouraged me to think about developing concepts that are harder to communicate.

Exploration of 2D form & motion (motion shows reverse fault)
3D motion normal / reverse / strike slip fault
  • Refining my visual form to make sure all visuals work together cohesively
  • Continue thinking about harder concepts

10/15–10/17 Exploring Visual Form, conti.

I had a chance to talk to Stacie about my progress. Feedback included:

  • Think about keeping visuals all in 2D or 3D for consistency.
explorations in a very messy illustrator file
normal, reverse, strike slip

10/22–10/24 2D and 3D explorations

Things I’ve been making progress on have included my script. I revisited my script to make sure concepts are clear and coherent.

  • Fault lines and how to communicate this concept. I’m running into trouble communicating 3D horizontal movement in 2D.
  • Seismic waves: communicating seismic waves and their effect on the earth’s crust/surface.
  • Transitions from once concept to the next.
  • Paring sound to visuals.
Exploring ways to communicate plate interactions // cause & effect
  • Simple shapes/form works well.
  • Wiggle movement of shapes communicates earthquake motion.
  • Think about transitions
  • Might be better to have land run off the screen when showing fault line movements
  • Think about color contrast and making ground two different colors.

10/29–10/31 3D it is!

Over the weekend, I worked on updating my 2D visuals to 3D. I also worked on playing around with movement in After Effects and pairing movements with audio.

Updating visuals to 3D

3D Earth
Seismic movement and waves
seismic wave explorations
seismic wave motion explorations
  • Making sure my transitions work well
  • Continue refining how I communicate fault line movement and what happens as a result of that movement
  • Think about communicating seismic waves and different forms
  • Start working through the visual form of my conclusion

Iterations and finalizing the form

I continued to iterate on my wave motions. This is a concept that was very challenging. After trying out and testing concepts on multiple people, I landed on a linear animation of each wave type.

Final takeaways

  • Feedback throughout the process was essential in helping me move forward.
  • It takes a lot of work, thought, and countless iterations to come up with visuals, motion, and audio that communicate a topic or concept.
  • I’d still like to work on polishing certain concepts/motion in the video to better convey certain concepts.
  • ***It’s a process. Just looking back at where I started up to where I ended, it’s been a process of editing, tweaking, getting feedback, and starting over. I had countless iterations of almost everything — waves, plate interactions, visual form. I think this is the hardest, but most enjoyable part of any design process, to work work work required to make sure an artifact is thoughtful and makes sense.
  • Taking breaks is key. Design can be exhausting at times. Every detail needs to be well thought out. This isn’t a bad discovery at all because I love design and the process.

Final video

Interaction Designer | Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design | MDes ’21

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store