New Shift


This is the archive blog of my musing and RISD MFA thesis writing. I’m moving everything over to my independent practice Design Axl. Please check out new work or drop me a line


Joy’s vision of Venus

Joy (my 3 year old daughter) impressed me once again with her artwork. She drew this picture (far left) for me to take to work and I immediately thought it was beautiful. I said it looked like an angel. She said “no, it’s a statue!”. It dawned on me tonight what statue it looked like. The gesture of the drawing is uncanny. I didn’t do anything to tweak her original drawing, I just overlaid the two images and was blown away with the relationship.

I don’t want to speak for Joy, but I feel the interpretation liberates one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. I know I’m bias, but this is pretty incredible and Joy has a vision beyond my comprehension.

Behind-the-scenes: Rocky Morphology

Happy New Year! One of my new year’s resolutions is to blog more — we’ll see how that goes.

2013 was pretty busy with the birth of my second daughter Flora and settling into a new home. Beyond my personal life, work at Fathom has been quite busy and rewarding. We continue to work on a lot of interesting data visualization projects, but unfortunately I can’t share most the of the work I’ve done at this time.


Rocky Morphology screenshot

One personal project—released in early December—I’m happy to share is Rocky Morphology. You can check out the full project and description here (or tap on the screenshot above). Below is some of the process that went into the creation of Rocky Morphology.


Rocky Morphology paper sketches

First, like many personal projects or sketches at Fathom, they start around the lunch table. I was sharing some of my childhood stories and the topic of Rocky movies came up. We were debating what the best Rocky movie was. In my mind Rocky I was always the best, but Rocky IV is the overall crowd pleaser. What’s more interesting was our discussion about the narrative arc and overall formula the movies all seem to hold. I started looking into examples of narrative arc to see how similar plot points within the Rocky movies overlap.


I thought about some books I’ve read dealing with narrative structure and character development. In particular Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by by Joseph Campbell. Both books break down stories into their most basic narrative and character components. I wanted to see how this could be applied to the Rocky movies.


Rocky: 1 frame per second (detail)


Rocky: one frame per second (detail)

We generated a quick processing sketch that ripped one frame per one second of film in each movie. This was a really nice way to have a visual overview of all the movies. I found it interesting to see all the movies recompiled in this way. Immediately I saw some clear overlap within some of the scenes. Looking at the frames both horizontally and vertically, it created a new narrative which I also thought was interesting, but it wasn’t enough. It was a bit confusing and I didn’t think people would understand what I was trying to get at.


Rocky Morphology data collection

I finally realized what I needed to do, there was no getting around it. I sat down, opened a beer, and watched all six Rocky movies. With Adobe Premiere I started marking In and Out points for all the different scenes in each movie. I then distilled down all the different scenes into six categories (Dialogue, Training, Montage, Pre Fight, Fight and Credits). With a basic excel doc I was able to parse the data to create the bar charts and structure of Rocky Morphology.

I’m excited to find so many other people interested in this project. We got over one hundred thousand hits in the first couple days and the numbers keep climbing. Thanks for all the support and be on the look out for the next random idea that might come up at lunch.


Fast Company: The Plot Of Every Rocky Movie, Deconstructed

BuzzFeed: Extremely Detailed “Rocky” Breakdown Deserves A Nobel Prize In Movie Science

FlowingData: Rocky movie breakdown

Deadspin: Where Are The Sweet Montages? Breaking Down The Rocky Movies By Scene

boing boing: On the structure of Rocky movies

news by design: Rocky Morphology

Spring has sprung!

Spring has sprung a little early this year in the Grady household.

We are thrilled to announce the arrival of Flora Mae Grady. Flora arrived Friday March 1, 2013 at 2:29pm. She weighs 8 lbs 5 oz and is 19 ¾ in long. I can’t compliment my wife’s strength enough for delivering completely natural, again. I was fortunate enough to be by her side for every unforgettable moment. We also had the support of her sister which was amazing. Everyone is doing well. We are truly blessed with two beautiful girls.

Much love, James, Christina, Joy, and Flora

Roots of All in the Family Tree

It’s been over eight months since I started at Fathom full-time. I’ve been having a great time working on a lot of interesting client and personal projects—a few are still under wraps, but hopefully they will be released soon. One personal project that was particularly enjoyable was finished in late November. All in the Family Tree came from my obsession with TV reruns and TV show spin-offs from my childhood. I posted about my inspiration on the Fathom blog, but I thought it would be nice to show some of the process that led me to the final result.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailFirst, I found a few sources that outlined a majority of TV spin-off shows of all-time. Totally Useless TV Trivia, Wikipedia, and IMDB. I started plotting out shows by seasons (on-air) and Nielsen ratings.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailNext, I looked at where the spin-off show began and mapped it’s Nielsen ratings on the Y axis. Although this was an interesting exploration I didn’t feel like it did the best job illustrating my idea.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailI realized it was more important to focus on the cast members, and see what characters broke out of the original show to create the spin-off.

Spin-Off Sketch DetailThe TV show All in the Family was particularly interesting because it spun off so may shows, and successful ones at that. Most spin-offs usually tank.

All In The Family logoI started to look at the All in the Family logotype and see if I could imbue some of the character of the nostalgic letterforms into the visualization. I started to create a dot matrix pattern from the logo. I thought I would make each dot one of the characters from the show and then connect it to their spin-off.

Then it hit me. It was right in from of my face. All in the Family, Family Tree? That’s it! All in the Family Tree. Inspired by this new name and the autumn leaves, I started sketching.

All In THe Family Tree finalEach leaf represents one character from the show. Each color group represents the cast within the show. Hovering over the leaves reveals the name of the actor, their title, and if they have a connection to a spin-off show. Some gems like Sally Struthers appear in more than one show. See if you can find the others here Enjoy!

Questions about RISD

Happy New Year Everyone. I’ve been on a hiatus from writing since graduation in June. I clearly needed a break. But, it’s 2013 and one of my resolutions is to get back on the blog wagon. I’ve had a few potential RISD GD MFA candidates contact me with some really good questions about the program. I thought I’d share them in case any other candidates have similar questions about the program. Hope it’s helpful. Good luck.

What is your BFA background and why did you choose RISD over any other program?
I went to UMASS Dartmouth and studied Digital Media/Photography with a concentration in Graphic Design. I was very happy with that experience and it prepared me to get a really good job at kor group in Boston which I worked at for over 10 years.

But, I was looking to push myself theoretically and conceptually. I was looking at some other programs like Yale and Cranbrook, but I felt RISD was best for me because it offered the theory and had not forgotten about the form as I feel Yale and Cranbrook have.

How would you describe your overall experience at RISD?
Tough but rewarding.

Are there any particular classes and/or teachers that stuck out to you?
My 1st Grad studio with Nancy Skolos and Bethany Johns made a huge impact on me. I found those first projects really helped me shape my thesis. I also loved my 1st grad elective “the urgent vignette” with visiting professor Cavan Huang, but I’m not sure if he will be teaching again? Finally, I highly recommend taking classes outside the department. I took 3 photography classes, including Issues and Images with Lisa Young which was extremely impactful.

What are the different areas of focus within the program and which did you choose?
The focus is really open and up to you. I really wanted to work on more screen based and time/motion based projects. So I did incorporate that into my work.

How hard would you say it is to get into the program?
I know they get hundreds of applications and only accept between 6-8 students per track. So I’d say it’s pretty hard to get into.

Is there anything you would do differently in the program now?
I would have trusted my intuition from the beginning, but I don’t think I would have found my final outcome without my struggles.

What are you doing now?
Working at Fathom Information Design in Boston on web based projects and data visualization.

Do you attribute any of your success as a designer to RISD?
Certainly, I wanted to go to RISD ever since I was a little kid. I looked to RISD as the pinnacle of creative thinking and making. So RISD helped me succeed even before I started the program, and having gone through the program and now on the other side it continues to help drive my success.

Did RISD help you find employment after graduating?
Not directly, but a classmate a year ahead of me was interning at Fathom and an alum of the program was working at Fathom, so it gave me a foot in the door.

Any tips you can give me regarding the statement of purpose and portfolio?
Be honest. It sounds cliché but describe yourself as you are now and why going to RISD is something you must do. Be creative. As I mentioned, there are hundreds of applicants so try to write something that makes you stand out. This holds true with the portfolio as well. Don’t show work you are not totally proud of. If you’ve done client work that’s weak don’t include it just because it’s out in the “real world” or something like that. Show process and thinking not just the final outcome.

MFA Thesis book: Shift

Shift: Intuition. Transformation. Feedback. is available through my blurb bookstore.

Enjoy, James

0.0 Abstract

train blur

Shift, in concept and method, is a view on empirically based graphic design.

Inviting constant shifts of perspective—from one place, position, direction, or person, to another—I assume the stance of observer and documentarian of the transitory. My work, which operates in the liminal space between ordinary and extraordinary places, things, and people in everyday life, is a time-lapse archive (whether in print or on screen) of localized experience. Within this role I capture the “qualitative data” of my daily commute, both as record of the everyday, and as a perspective on a culture in motion. The blurred color gradient of dawn seen through the window of a speeding train, the minute observations of a tattered ticket stub recording the travel zones in eight point Helvetica type, or the off-glances of the commuters trying to ignore the quotidian space, are the fragments that construct a document of the rituals of everyday life.

Shift is an inquiry into an empirically based graphic design methodology based on a process of observing and synthesizing amid constant flux, organized into three parts: first, intuition enables me to understand that my surroundings are the primary source for design inspiration. Second, transformation is formulated by using tools such as still photography and video to capture my intuitions. Then, I distill, edit, and reflect on the captured footage in order to uncover the essence of the original inspiration. Finally, feedback occurs when the transformed content is presented in a new context: whether it be a printed matter, a video vignette, an interactive screen project, or a physical installation. Although the process is based in science, it is anything but rigid or didactic. I do not seek predetermined outcomes so much as the awareness necessary to inspire further explorations—whether mine or that of others—in this method.

0.1 – 0.2 Point of View

Boy with a Movie Camera, Kona, Hawaii 1992

0.2 Point of View
When I was fourteen, my family went on a trip to Kona, Hawaii, and I brought my first video camera with me, a Sony HI8 HandyCam; I was rarely seen without it. Although most tourists capture Hawaii’s environmental beauty, I, for some unknown reason, mostly chose to film anything but the typical scenic viewpoints of majestic volcanoes, black sand beaches or botanical gardens; instead, I documented the ordinary events of the everyday: the hotel elevator, the front desk attendant, the other tourists coming and going in the hotel lobbies, the bathroom, and the TV in the hotel room that was continuously showing a loop of activities geared toward getting tourists out of their rooms. Little did I suspect that this unique point of view would continue to influence my work twenty years later.

During the intervening liminal period, the state of the ritual subject (the “passenger,” or “liminar,”) becomes ambiguous, neither here nor there, betwixt and between all fixed points of classification; he passes through a symbolic domain that has few or none of the attributes of his coming state. — Victor Turner

Past points of view continue to influence present work. They both operate within a liminal space, between ordinary and extraordinary people, places and things in my everyday life. Throughout my methodology I act as an ethnographic researcher using a set of conceptual tools for investigation to observe these categories. The term liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”)  is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”) and in the anthropological theories of ritual by such writers as Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner. In ethnographic research, the researcher is in a liminal state, separated from his own culture yet not incorporated into the host culture—where he or she is both participating in the culture and observing the culture. The researcher must consider the self in relation to others and his or her positioning in the culture being studied.

0.3 – 0.5 Methodology

process diagram

0.3 Experience
Before coming to graduate school, I spent eleven years working at a graphic design/brand strategy firm. We used qualitative and quantitative process models for integrated branding strategies. Although I see the value in this research I became frustrated with the imbalance clients put on quantitative research versus qualitative research and creative work. Quantitative research marginalized certain creativity and limited experimentation through design making. One of the main reasons I came to graduate school was to investigate my own creative methodology. In How do you design? Graphic designer Hugh Dubberly evaluates a typology of over one hundred descriptions of design and development processes in hopes to foster debate about design and development processes. Is there a system that works better than another? I suspect that they all can work. Creative methodologies are moving targets. In order to stay creative and relevant, designers need to adapt and evolve – that seems to be the only constant in design.

0.4 Empirical Methodology
Empirical evidence is information that is derived from the trials and errors of direct experience rather than controlled experiments with expected outcomes. Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. The structure of my empirical methodology is organized into 3 parts:

1. Intuition enables me to understand that my surroundings are the primary source for design inspiration.

2. Transformation is formulated by using tools such as still photography and video to capture my intuitions. Then, I distill, edit, and reflect on the captured footage in order to uncover the essence of the original inspiration.

3. Feedback occurs when the transformed content is presented in a new context—whether it be a printed matter, a video vignette, an interactive screen project, or a physical installation. Although the process is based in science, it is anything but rigid or didactic. I do not seek predetermined outcomes so much as the awareness necessary to inspire further explorations—whether mine or that of others—in this method.

All artists and designers have some type of creative process, but I believe as Buckminster Fuller states, “If each project is unique, the process should be unique.”

0.5 Feedback Loop
According to Robert Mattison, “Robert Rauschenberg’s greatest strengths are his instinctual responses to images, materials and formal structures and his ability to absorb the complex surface of life.” My work reflects a similar immediacy and reaction to an ever-changing environment. I use feedback from my environment as well as feedback from the designed form transformed from that environment. I am not necessarily looking for a finished outcome but for an action that will inspire me or someone else to take the next step in the method.

0.6 Full Circle


On August 3, 2011, my daughter Joy was born. Seeing her develop an awareness of her environment, while I am simultaneously developing my thesis, teaches me to be more aware than I could ever learn to be on my own. It is astonishing to see how she interacts everyday with her environment, and I try to look at my environment with the same newfound curiosity and bewilderment, and apply it to my work. Full Circle, juxtaposes my self-made, childhood home videos and my daughter’s in utero ultrasound images. Through manipulation of speed and rotation, the two forms are a representation of life’s cycle through the past, present and future, merging together in a dream-like experience.

0.7 Interview (excerpt) with Vaughan Oliver


Vaughan Oliver is an award-winning, legendary graphic designer, artist and author of several books, including Exhibition/Exposition and This Rimy River.

James Grady: I had this revelation, and it was through my daughter, Joy, and all of these different things going on at once. Then reflecting back on the workshop* I had with you where I felt really liberated, and I wasn’t forcing a conceptual narrative or social policy on what design should do instead of designing and letting the design influence me. That was the shift in my thesis, and that’s where it is now. It’s really about the everyday—I’m equating the everyday with my surroundings and asking what is observed with these surroundings? I wanted to know where inspiration comes from in your work? Does it come from your surroundings, or does it come from another place?

Vaughan Oliver: Well it’s going to be a mixture of both. I get inspired by high art and high culture. Exhibitions inspire me. Documentaries on art, and documentaries on politics inspire me, that kind  of feedback of information. But I can be just as inspired by a walk across the park, and seeing somebody interact with somebody else, or interact with his dog. Being a graphic designer, I might get inspired by new posters that are put up in the park or old posters that have decayed. There are two maps in my park about the park and the local surroundings that have been totally washed out with time. They’re fairly modern maps—they might go back twenty years. They are on metal. All of the information that was on there and that withstood time in full color is being washed out and it’s almost like an old engraving—well, what’s left. I still haven’t used that in my work yet, but that touches me.

It’s that kind of thing. I think I was kind of inspired hugely by my tutor at college thirty years ago [Terry Dowling]. He used to work in the same space as us. I was very inspired, and I think I told you guys that you have a studio environment, and that is so rare in the U.K. now. You have your books in there, you have your bikes in there, you have things to inspire you, and that’s good. On top of that I used to have my tutor’s work on the wall, which I never understood. He would put on the wall pieces of packaging from Chinese noodle packets, which he got at the Chinese supermarket, which was very exotic thirty years ago in the north of England. And simple crisps packets. When he’d come to visit me, he’d be walking along the street and then just pick up discarded sweet wrappers among other things. Things, which would appear to be rubbish to anybody else, and he’s apologizing for it. So I said, Terry, you were teaching that to us thirty years ago. It’s all around you. In a sense, I think this is what somebody said. For inspiration you don’t have to look far, you just have to look closely. I think that is really a simple observation. If you look closely and hard enough, it’s right there.

JG: I totally believe in that as well, and sometimes it seems over simplistic to feel that way.

VO: You’ve got to be brave enough to go with it.

JG: I think those are things that I am learning through this process, to follow my instincts and not be afraid to not always have the answer or the theoretical backing, or the precedence of where certain things have come from.

VO: Or where they’re going to. You don’t have to have the final solution, and that shouldn’t stop you from accumulating inspiration or ways of seeing. It’s an accumulative effect really. You might see this, or you might see that. It’s a moment in time. It’s a change of light. It’s about just being observant.

Ways of seeing and appreciating what happens with the change of time, with the change of season, with the change of light. Which I suppose is training you to think in an artist’s way. I almost remember the penny dropping on one or two occasions realizing, this is a great view in front of me, and it’s down to light. It’s not going to be like this everyday. It’s down to this real moment in time that illuminates things for you. Does that make sense?

JG: Absolutely. That’s a good segue into another question. It’s about the observation, but it’s also about the transformation, which is something that I really admire in your work. This transformation, where does it come from? In my work I feel it comes from my surroundings, but then it’s transformed into something else. I’m in a class now called, “Betwixt & Between,” and it’s really about the in-between space. There’s a lot of talk about liminality, which is neither here nor there. It’s this threshold place.

VO: That’s great! You’ve just given me a title for my next exhibition—Neither here nor there.

JG: Nice! The work that you create has really inspired my work; sometimes it’s hard to describe your work. It’s not that it’s so abstract; it comes from someplace. It’s not so abstract that it doesn’t mean anything, but it really oscillates between reality and this other place. Just like the project we worked on, the thirteenth month, which was a fictitious month where anything could happen; it could represent anything, it really frees you. It puts you in this space that I think a lot of graphic designers are afraid of because they can’t quantify it.

VO: That’s right. I find it difficult to go further than that. You know you’ve kind of intellectualized that very well for me. Again I struggle to quantify it. In a similar sort of way people have commented and said to me, You’re really brave highlighting that, going for that. You’re a free person. You seem free from the intellectual quantifying of things. It just is. Not sure where to go from that to be honest.

JG: When you look at your work after you’ve gone through the process and edited it down, when you’re looking at it, is it amazing you, or bewildering you when you look back at the work? How do you edit?

VO: I suppose that’s where intuition comes in. It might seem an airy-fairy concept, but it feels right. I don’t know why it’s right, but it feels right. The majority of my work is dealing with music and the nature of music. This feels right for that sound. It’s the old concept down at post design analysis is a better way of putting it. But I can explain it to myself later in time. That’s why I did it.

Hopefully the musician is on my wavelength. Hopefully I’ve connected with the music. That’s why it makes sense, but I’ve been working intuitively. I’ve never tried to define the music, just to suggest the parameters of it if you like. There’s a great quote, well for me it was a great quote of course, because it made me feel better, and it made me realize that people are thinking like that. It was a photographer. Robert Doisneau said, “To suggest is to create, to describe is to destroy.” Now I don’t know about the second half of the quote, but I believe in the first half. This idea of suggesting—and I think that’s a really powerful thing. It puts something on the table, for people, that’s not defining. They’re not totally describing, and it allows room for interpretation. I think that’s kind of a sensible philosophy in the kind of field that I’m specializing in.

* During the Spring of 2011, I had the pleasure to participate in a weekend design charrette with Vaughan Oliver. It was a liberating shift in my work and thinking. I look forward to future conversations with Vaughan about design and life.

1.0 – 1.1 Input: Accumulate Inspiration

Trapper Keeper

1.1 Trapper Keeper
Coming back to school after eleven years in the professional field was daunting and uncomfortable. School brings back so many memories and anxieties for me. I’ve always had these nightmares that I was in school and didn’t know what my schedule was or where my next class was to be held. In order to calm my anxiety about being off schedule or lost, I embraced my Type A personality and pulled out my old Mead 3-ring binder with a full zipper closure Trapper Keeper, to keep myself organized through graduate school. Although this may be nerdy, it is an indexical, archival and accumulation system. Individual tabs identifying each class divide my current semester notes and sketches.

How should we take account of, question, describe what happens everyday and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infraordinary, the background noise, and the habitual? — Georges Perec

Once the semester is complete, all the contents move into a larger archival binder to be accessed from my desk at a moment’s notice. I treat these binders with the same consideration I would treat an inspirational object, photo or memory. Apart from their archival system, I love to look at the material qualities of the notebooks: the irregular hand writing, the highlighter markings, the intimate codes that meant something to me at the time I wrote them. They represent the unpretentious struggle I have with the written word and the simple gestures of an idea that inspires me—probably while riding the train. These binders also hold the notes and references that link my formal inspiration and making, to conceptual, historical, or personal content.

1.2 – 1.3 Ephemera Collection

1. Videotape
2–3. Brass Number Three
4. Project Description
5. Paper Swatch Book
6. Pantone Swatch Book
7. Name Card
8. One-way Amtrak Train Pass
9. Button
10. Small Clip
11. Pantone Chip
12. 10x Loupe
13. Reflective Sticker S
14. Reflective Sticker T
15. Reflective Sticker E
16. Reflective Sticker P
17. Respond Design Sticker
18. Claim Check Ticket
19. Parking Claim Ticket
20. One-way MBTA Train Pass
21–27. 12 Trip MBTA Train Pass
28. Calendar At-A-Glance
29. Silver Number Three
30–33. Reflective Sticker 1
34–35. Reflective Sticker 3
26–37. 12 Trip MBTA Train Pass
38–58. Train check-in tickets
59. Clam Cake Bag
60. Color-Aid Box
61–65. Chap Stick
66. Book
67–68. X-Acto Blade
69. Paper Angel
70–72. Marker
73. Pen
74. Pencil
75. Pen
76. Marker
77. iPhone
79. Student ID
80. Altoids
81. Emergen-C
82. Lighter
83. Hole Punch Reinforcer
84–86. Rubber Bands
87–88. Small Clip
89. Pencil Sharpener
90. Baby Photo
91. Bottle Cap
92. Small Clip
93–94. Penny
95. Dongle

1.3 Reading a Collection as Possibility
Any one of the ninety-five previous objects could be a piece of trash or a spark of inspiration. Each object has the ability to be examined, studied and elaborated into its own thesis topic. The Train ticket stubs (38-58) may relate to the history of the Industrial Revolution or the first locomotive. The brass address numbers (2-3) perhaps unpack the history of the single-family home, suburban expansion in America or social class structures defined by Marxism, or they could relate to the current U.S. economic and political environment. The calendar page August 3, 2011, (28) may be the impetus to discover the Gregorian or Egyptian calendar or elaborate on one of the most amazing days of my life, which was when my daughter Joy was born. The iPhone (77) potentially investigates the current state of technology and how it is just one device in the future continuum of mobile technologies and communications. The paper angel (69) may speak to the concept of kitsch, religious iconography or good luck charms.

1.4 – 1.5 Form + Content (or structure) = Graphic Design

RISD GD Studio Providence, RI

1.4 Form
Ephemera Collection is just a small sampling of everyday objects that inspire me; initially, they inspire me in a formalist tradition—how something is made, looks or feels based on my canon of aesthetics: imperfect surfaces, vernacular typography, kitsch iconography, repetition, scale, nostalgia. I take great pleasure looking at these objects; first, in their indeterminate haphazard state in my studio. Second, understanding that creating them in an organized poster composition decontextualizes each object; thus, each signifies structure and meaning. As contemporary artist Deborah Fausch states “The very act of labeling a part of experience as ‘everyday’ alters its fluid character and its immersion in an ongoing stream of events; substituting a hypostasized mental object formed according to the rules governing theoretical operations.” Therefore, I feel nothing is really an everyday object. Everything has meaning and falls under the umbrella of structuralism no matter how mundane.

1.5 Structure
Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm that emphasizes that elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or “structure.” Alternately, philosopher Simon Blackburn summarizes Structuralism as “the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture.”

Form + Content (or structure) = Graphic Design is nothing new, but my work aims at being conscious that we are completely surrounded by these elements everyday. Furthermore, it is not just about the function of the object or how it looks, but the intangible lives in how it feels. I ask myself metaphysical and epistemological questions when observing these things. Why is that object inspiring? Where does this inspiration come from? This is where the Japanese tradition of Wabi-Sabi plays an important role in my methodology.

1.6 – 1.7 Wabi-Sabi

macro corner

Wabi-Sabi can be called a comprehensive aesthetic system. The more systematic and clearly defined the components of an aesthetic system are, the more conceptual handles, the more ways it refers back to fundamentals, the more useful it is.

Metaphysical Basis
– Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from nothingness

Spiritual Values
– Truth comes from the observation of nature
– “Greatness” exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details
– Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness

State of Mind
– Acceptance of the inevitable
– Appreciation of the cosmic order

Moral Precepts
– Get rid of all that is unnecessary
– Focus on the intrinsic and ignore material hierarchy

Material Qualities
– The suggestion of natural process
– Irregular
– Intimate
– Unpretentious
– Earthy
– Murky
– Simple

Wabi-Sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace. — Leonard Koren

1.7 Aesthetics
These Wabi-Sabi principles are a guiding light in terms of how I approach seeing and experiencing my environment. Ultimately my inspiration comes from what I see and accumulate from my surroundings. I do this as much as I can to make up for what I don’t know. Since there is so much knowledge that I crave, it’s nice to know there are endless points of inspiration. As novelist William Burroughs asserts, “What I want to do is to learn to see more what’s out there, to look outside, to achieve as far as possible a complete awareness of surroundings.”

1.8 Tools of Capture

Tools of Capture: Canon 7D, Day 6 Plotwatcher Time-lapse, iPhone

Beyond accumulating physical objects and written words in my database, I am also passionately accumulating still and moving images. I use a range of high, medium, and low-resolution cameras, and oscillate between still and moving digital devices. Although quality/resolution is always a consideration when I am using a particular camera, I’m more interested in the access a particular device provides. Whether it is the med-res iPhone camera in my pocket at all times, a rugged Day 6 Plotwatcher low-res time-lapse camera I can duct tape to my bike and film while riding (or leave it somewhere all day to capture the environment in-motion) or the high-res Canon 7d DSLR with that allows me to investigate with interchangeable lenses (including a 15mm ultra wide, 100mm macro, or 35mm standard lens).


The digital aesthetics of these tools each provide a particular look to the final output. These tools are used primarily for sketching, and I attempt to capture the immediacy of the moment. Many times the poor or compressed digital quality offers a genuine quality to the piece. As filmmaker Hito Steyerl describes, “The poor image is a copy in motion, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.” The beauty of the high or low-res digital camera is that they can all be remixed, rechanneled and shared quite easily. Still and video sketching is another tool that graphic designers can access without creating a subcategory of a separate discipline. My intention is not to undermine the tradition of film or photography but to imbue the disciplines with a shared philosophy.

Objects, writing and images all create a large database of inspiration for me to access like memories in my mind. Capturing ephemera and my surroundings is just the first phase in communicating my methodology.

1.9 Interview (excerpt) with Daniel Paluska


Dan Paluska is an artist, engineer and educator who works with kinetic, robotic, and cultural systems. He has a BS, MS and ABD from MIT in Mechanical Engineering.

Dan and I have a mutual obsession with the Day 6 Plotwatcher Time-lapse Video Camera. I was delighted to find someone with the same compulsion and greatly appreciate his insightful perspective.

James Grady: I started shooting time-lapse back in November. I was just shooting… I was fascinated with what was happening. I was asking myself questions like, what happens when I put all these days in chronological order? Where does the narrative go? Is there a narrative? Can it be like William Burroughs’ Cut-ups, creating narrative from randomness? Or is it just interesting to see my life in time-lapse? I don’t know what it’s doing. I’m just exploring and liking the form that I’m finding, but I’m trying to dig a little deeper into it.

I’m really more interested in what you’re doing. What drew you to time-lapse, why did you shoot time-lapse everyday (for eighteen months)? When did this start? Why?

Daniel Paluska: It’s a process of capture. Then sometimes I look at it, I’m like, “Why am I watching this?” At least theoretically speaking, the original thought was OMPD, one minute per day of review. I can afford… If I’m gonna sit eight hours at a computer to watch one minute of a video, which presents to me how I spent my eight hours at the computer. That was kind of the initial input as for that. It’s continued now; maybe I feel it’s almost like a theatrical thing, and it has some amount of thinking about privacy, and all these other issues. In terms of that my phone company, and my internet service provider, and G-mail, and all these other people know all this stuff about me. So I was like, well I’m gonna capture myself, and put it into the public domain as well, so it’s not some corporate thing.

Another thing that came to me from taking a lot of time-lapse movies is that of course we’re taking pictures all the time. We’re taking movies all the time. We accumulate a lot of inventory, right? Just massive amounts of inventory. Most of that zooms in on time, and time-lapse zooms out on time. So that seems to me to be an interesting feature of it that brings these different textures and tempos out that you’re not used to seeing because other devices don’t usually act this way. So it’s a sort of a slightly unique feature of time-lapse.

JG: That’s nice to think about as opposed to seeing a small vignette of time. We’re really able to look at a whole span over the day even though it’s at a phrenetic pace. It gives a wider angle.

DP: I made six-month compilations of time-lapse videos—these in terms of the pace of life, like the trees versus the building. This is something that I really started to notice a lot more of. That the trees and the natural things are always moving, and so much of our life is. A lot of times, indoor spaces are really boring, and outdoor spaces shot in time-lapse are never boring. There are always clouds, there are always trees, there’s always something happening, and that to me I found to be quite an interesting piece of the feedback. All that said it still is whatever it does, the time-lapse camera does its one thing, and I spent a certain amount of time with this one particular thing. That thing will reinforce itself to me. I certainly enjoyed carrying it around.

JG: Did it give you a sense of—I don’t want to say purpose—but some sort of connection to your surroundings that was different than if you didn’t have it?

DP: I did quite often have this feeling that if I was standing in line, it’s like, oh I’m standing in line—this is it. Going back to the capturing, and publishing my information that this is my life, and with this camera it’s not like I stop and I select this moment. It’s like if I really want this moment to be captured, then I have to sit here. I can’t quickly take the picture, and run off. I’ve gotta sit there, and if I want it to be a significant portion by movie, then it’s a significant portion of my time. So in that sense it made me appreciate time and attention as these real functional characters of my experiential existence. I always have two ways of viewing my life at any given point in time, there’s the experiencing self, perfectly in the present flowing through, and there’s the remembering self who has the pictures, the narrative, the stories. I went on a vacation for two weeks—the last day was really good. And that’s how I remember it. What about the rest of the two weeks? How was I flowing through the rest of the two weeks? With time-lapse of course it gives me a record of the entire thing. It is still a narrow record of the experience. It’s only visual you know. It’s choppy, whatever, it is a variable. But it tells a different story of time.

JG: Totally agree. I think when people are on vacation or they’re taken out of their routine, they’re in this space of awareness or openness, but I think that space can be captured all the time if we are more aware, if we’re paying attention. There doesn’t need to be differences between your “regular” time and your “vacation” time.

DP: Twenty-four hour tourist.

JG: That’s a good name.

DP: I think that’s very powerful. A very powerful mindset. To be in the observational. To be in the present.

JG: I think that’s what this whole process is about, discovering more and being in the present. Then you find these moments, and they inspire you and lead to more and more.

DP: Exactly.

JG: How does the point of view of the time-lapse camera play a role in your work? It has no viewfinder, so you can’t see what you’re shooting. You have a general idea but you never know until you download the files. Do you have thoughts on this position?

DP: People have said to me that… it’s really nice that the viewpoint can be in the third person. It’s really nice that I can set it on the far corner of the room, and I can see myself from a distance, and sometimes it is in more of a first person perspective. But it’s cool that it can be a third person perspective.

JG: When you show your work what are some of the other questions you get, beyond “why do you shoot time-lapse?”

DP: I guess a lot of people say what do you learn? I’d say I learned lots of things in the eighteen months. You notice the trees more. The things in this room don’t move, well they do move, but they are in very  slow decay. Everything that we build that’s nice and shiny, and has very round corners is in very slow decay. The plants are always bubbling. The sky is always bubbling. And then me, myself, I am having some pattern of breath, some pattern of heartbeat, some patterns: I’m stressed, I’m not stressed, I’m hungry, I’m not hungry, I’m sleepy, I’m not sleepy. In the time-lapse is this focus on a particular rhythm. Be that the ten-second rhythm, or the thirty-second rhythm, and so on. I think it really made me think a lot more about the pace of life, and how I interact with the machinery around me. The ticking of the clock, the nine to five bells, these are all these external timers that we have. This is this timer that’s like taking a picture every thirty seconds right? How that relates to my internal state and my experience in the world. I think that’s something that really seems was tied to this process of observation.

JG: I think that’s great, and I haven’t thought of it, but I think that’s sort of what I’m searching for, a process of awareness.

2.0 – 2.2 Output: Transform Awareness

Shadow of the Photographer, 2011

2.1 The Gap
There is a gap that drives awareness in my work. It’s the phase in my process where I transform my awareness of places, things, and people within my surroundings, from my observation to an edited piece of communication. I believe it is possible to accumulate inspiration everyday, 24 hours a day. Awareness and being present-minded is critical within my process, but it is more than just being aware. It’s a transformation that begins typically with a camera, both still frame and moving images. I attempt to capture what my eyes see as well as what the camera’s eye sees. I feel there are actually three parts to seeing and capturing: first, what my eye sees; second, what the camera sees, and finally how the environment looks at me once it’s captured.

If I am looking at an inanimate object, it has a certain presence—it looks back, and again I can understand that as the echo of my gaze. — James Elkins

I relate to historian James Elkins, who describes, “…as I look at someone or something, it looks back, and our gazes cross each other. My gaze finds its answer in the person I see, so that I can see its effect in her eyes. If I am looking at an inanimate object, it has a certain presence—it looks back, and again I can understand that as the echo of my gaze. I see and I can see that I am seen, so each time I see also myself being seen.” Observing my footage that the camera captures is the part of the transformation that bewilders me. When I look at the still or sequenced images, I feel places, things, and people are not only looking at me, but they are also speaking to me. These images are telling me a story as if I’m watching a movie or reading a book someone else has created. My relationship to these images, and this gap in my process is a strange one for me.

As I separate from my own captured footage, I see with fresh indeterminate eyes, but I am still unclear how this transformation occurs. Elkins continues to describe, “…we want to be pictures, not just to be in them, and so when I look at a picture I am also looking at myself, at a way that I might be. I want the relationship between my self and my world to be like the relationship between the parts of a picture, and so I look to pictures for advice on the ways that might happen.” The relationship I have with my captured footage in terms of transformation is a process just like navigating and adapting to our daily life. Typically, we are not actively out in search of finding something particular. Most days we passively move through life, letting our environment present itself to us, and we adapt accordingly. I feel the latter is how I relate to my captured images’ transformation in order for me to form a dialogue with it. It is how I choose to transform the information presented to me, and that is the key to this gap in my process.

2.3 Commute


Sometimes the most obvious spark of inspiration is in front of our eyes. Commute was the first studio project I worked on in the Fall, 2010. The assignment stated, “Select an object that inspires you. This object along with one of the categories from Aristotle’s The Organon will be your starting point.” My object was a train ticket stub that I collect everyday while commuting on the train from Boston to Providence, and my category was time. The Organon is about Aristotle’s works on logic. Commuting back and forth from Boston to Providence for school may not be the most logical thing to do, but using the obstacle of an hour-long commute as an opportunity to glean inspiration for my thesis is quite logical. The first time I held the ticket stub in my hand I felt nostalgia for the train. The analog process of collecting money and leaving ticket stub receipts to keep track of the passengers is a uniquely personal experience. The process is an endless ritual of repetition just like the back and forth of the commuter line. The similar horizontal proportions of the ticket stub and the digital time stamps reflect the shape of the train cars. In addition, the large time boards that hang in many train stations, including Boston and Providence, also fascinate me. As I repeat and overlap the forms, I achieve a sense of multiplicity and motion. Adding a random variable to the repetition of the forms creates a bit of chaos within a system that can easily be off schedule. A poster as context for this content allows for the framing of north and south. This provides an opportunity to highlight the first departure time in the morning out of Boston (6:42am) and the last departure time out of Providence (9:42pm), which is the schedule by which I am living.

Frames of Reference
Simple relationships of form applied to the Commute poster allow me to play with our typical observational frames of reference. In particular, filmmaker Michel Gondry, who is noted for his inventive visual style, manipulation of mise en scène and frames of reference, inspires these moves. His films are filled with home-crafted materials and visual tricks. You could almost say he makes films for the child in all of us, and that’s exactly what makes his films a delight to watch. Gondry states, “…childhood occupies the biggest part of your brain, so a lot of my memories subconsciously (and consciously) enter the videos I do.” Gondry creates spontaneous, childlike creativity and an out-of-control imagination, yet he still maintains a fairly calculated approach to his work. This is what I most admire about his work: the balance of sophisticated high-tech visual effects created with low-tech materials and inspiration from our everyday environment.

Michel Gondry, Chemical Brothers, Let Forever Be, 2003

2.4 Color-aid Cut-up


Color-aid Cut-up, is a stop-motion video that uses Color-aid paper, an excerpt of Gertrude Stein’s avant-garde poem, Tender Buttons and the pianist, Alexander Scriabin’s musical composition, Sonata No. 8, Op. 66. The form is developed by printing each word of the poem on a separate sheet of paper, and then thinly slicing the sheets into small strips to represent piano keys. Using an algorithm to recombine the poem—slice-by-slice and colored sheet on top of colored sheet, I shoot each placement of the paper separately to create an animation of the poem in motion. Once I finish constructing the poem and stack all the colored paper, I deconstruct the slices, and shoot each move of that process. The deconstruction allows for a random chance of the colors to shift and the slices to move. There is an indeterminate outcome to this process; it is not until I extract the still images and recombine them into a film sequence that I can see the new rhythm and pattern. There were over 3,000 frames shot for this minute and a half video.

Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable. — Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, 1914

In The Open Work, philosopher Umberto Eco outlines indeterminacy, rhythm, expectation, prediction, open structures and play, mostly in terms of musical composition. Eco describes, “…the listener expects that the process will reach its conclusion according to certain symmetry, and that it will organize itself in the best possible way, in harmony with the psychological models that Gestalt theory has discerned in both our psychological structures and external objects.” In other words, Eco equates rhythm and repetition to determine outcomes. When people hear rhythm, they develop expectations of how a song will proceed and even end. Eco asserts, “…an open structure is less a prediction of the expected than an expectation of the unpredictable.” Eco goes on to discuss information theory and entropy, which is a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable. These examples and theoretical models are key components in much of my work. Pattern and repetition along with random variables play an important role in any form I am creating.

Home Studio, Boston, MA

2.5 fail sail

The American Coast Pilot, 1793

Long s Character and Ligature

Uncovering an Archive
fail sail begins with an investigation in the Lownes Science Collection within the John Hay Library at Brown University. This collection is an archive of significant books in the history of science as a bequest from Albert E. Lownes. His final gift of over 5,000 volumes plus hundreds of prints and manuscripts spanned the centuries of scientific thought from Ptolemy to Einstein. Its physical site has a distinct presence with eccentricities, treasures, rules, and hours of operation particular to it. Our prompt was to create a narrative based on any object within this archive. I was drawn to the book, The American Coast Pilot. Printed in 1793, it is a nautical journal without any illustrated charts or cartography, relying solely on text-based descriptions of sailing directions, tide tables, navigational landmarks, as well as other critical information of use to sailors. I find the letterpress typography, simple layout, aged leather cover and frail parchment paper to be exquisite qualities of this book. Reading through the book I was intrigued to find a typographic character I’ve never seen before. The long, medial or descending s or ſ is a form of the minuscule letter s formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word; for example the word sail (ſail). The modern letterform was called the terminal or short s. The long s is subject to confusion with the lower case or minuscule f, sometimes even having an f-like nub at its middle, but on the left side only, in various roman typefaces and in blacklister. Everywhere I was supposed to be reading the word sail I was reading fail. fail sail examines the peculiar typographic forms within the The American Coast Pilot. I can imagine the confusion it would cause if a navigator needed to use a guide with the long s character today. This is an example within my methodology where concepts develop naturally from form as opposed to being predetermined in research.

fail sail, 2010, 6 x 9” Postcard (Detail)

2.6 Twenty-Four Hour Tourist


In an essay by novelist Alan Lightman, he describes one of Einstein’s dreams as “a place where time stands still: the place where we idealize life like a photograph,” capturing a perfect moment. Philosopher Michel Foucault describes, “A heterotopia or space of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror.” The irony is that in that heterotopia, where time stands still, there is no life. Lightman describes time traveling outward in rotating concentric circles, resting at the center. The things that are the closest to the center of time move at a glacial pace, picking up speed in greater diameters towards the outer rings. Present life only exists in the outer rings, where things are moving fast and uncontrollable.

In Twenty-Four Hour Tourist I examine this concept of time standing still in an autobiographical and nostalgic way. Through three-dimensional typography, I visualize
the concentric rings of time, starting in 1977, the year I was born, and moving outward to the present day. In contrast to the typography, I juxtapose self-made childhood home videos to represent memories of a place where time stands still in my mind. The footage shows clips of a family vacation taken in Hawaii in 1992. The image of a surfer represents a place where time stands still. The surfer riding a wave is a metaphor for trying to capture and hold onto something that is ephemeral. Just as the video almost stops and fades to black, the viewer is quickly pulled back to the high speed pace of life that exists on the outer rings.

2.7 Everyday Observations: Light

Everyday Observations: Light, 2011, 8 x 10” 48 Page Book (Detail)

Embrace Limitations
With access to the camera on my iPhone in my pocket at all times, I’m able to collect a visual archive of my observations at a moment’s notice. For the past few years, I’ve been developing this database and uploading select images to flickr, an online photo sharing community. The process of uploading the files from my iPhone to flickr creates an algorithm without me even realizing it. Due to its file size, the iPhone to flickr transfer only allows five photos to be uploaded at a time. I’m sure there are other apps that allow a larger number of photos and files sizes to be uploaded, but I enjoy this limitation. It relieves me from thinking too much about how many photos I want to share. At the same time it gives me the opportunity to create a mini-series based on a particular theme. Often I will shoot fleeting moments, abstract graphic forms, or light and shadows that catch my eye.

Everyday Observations: Light evaluates a typology of these images and identifies a dominant visual theme of light: natural, artificial and reflective. I select and remix fifty images of light from the database. Just as I embrace the limitations of the upload to the database, I apply algorithmic rules to the extraction of the photos from the database that are transformed into the visual narrative of the book: all selected photos must be used in chronological order; and formal relations and juxtapositions from the shape of light must relate to each image combination as well as from page to page.


Everyday Observations: Light (Cover)

Open-Ended Algorithms
Along with the visual narrative of iPhone images, excerpts from conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg’s essay, 50 Helpful Hints on Art of The Everyday, support the structure of Everyday Observations: Light. This essay is a conceptual user’s manual on how to operate within everyday life. Ruppersberg discusses his work by explaining, “I always thought that I should just work within the basic parameters that I establish for myself, and so all the early work—I just went through a lot of ideas, because that’s what I felt like doing, and all of those ideas were open-ended enough that I could go back to them any point and work on them some more. And this is what I always thought, while I was doing things in the ’70s as a young artist. I realized that I was moving fast through lots of ideas, and that if I liked them in the future, I would come back and do more. And so everything was left open and made available for further work. And so eventually, I think that’s what happened. The idea of rearranging my life and the work is an ongoing subject.” I admire the basic parameters Ruppersberg’s sets up within his work and I apply his open-ended yet systematic philosophy to Everyday Observations: Light with addition to my methodological foundation.

2.8 13/13

You don’t have to have the final solution, and that shouldn’t stop you from accumulating inspiration or ways of seeing. — Vaughan Oliver

13/13, 28 x 40” Poster

13/13 is an experimental approach in which a designer conceptualizes and visualizes a 13th month. The 13th month is an abstract notion of time and space outside our standard culture or society. Cultural anthropologist Victor Turner describes the study of a modality of social interrelatedness, which he calls communitas; communitas is a Latin noun commonly referring to an unstructured community in which people are equal. 13/13 reflects the space and spirit of communitas.

Turner outlines three groups that are endowed with the belief of a non-social-structure. They are described as liminality, outsiderhood, and structural inferiority. The 13th month particularly illuminates liminality between calendar months. 13/13 is in-between time and space or as Turner describes it, “…being in a tunnel in transition”. Turner states “…the liminar becomes ambiguous, neither here nor there, betwixt and between all fixed points of classification.”

13/13 Installation Space, Providence, RI
James Grady (left) Camila Afanador (center) Milan Nedved (right)

Unstructured Collaboration
This project was developed in collaboration with fellow classmates Camila Afanador and Milan Nedved. 13/13 was created during a weekend design charrette hosted by graphic designer Vaughan Oliver. Having only forty-eight hours from start to finish on this project, students needed to work quickly. The first day started at the hardware store; we bought as many 1’s and 3’s as we could find—brass and silver house numbers, reflective stickers for mailboxes, and cardboard number stencils, to name a few. With a 50mm macro lens we started to experiment by photographing these objects in a variety of exterior environments. Many beautiful images emerged from this process, but it wasn’t until we went back to Milan’s house for dinner that we started looking at the images through a digital projection on the wall. Immediately we started moving the projector towards different surfaces within the house. We then started capturing macro images of the different projections of the original images. After shooting 1300+ images over the two days, we selected and created thirteen (28” x 40”) single image posters that hung in the center of a large studio space. The gaps between the posters reinforced the liminal spaces and sense of communitas, inviting us to experience a threshold space. We also produced a 400-page book with a portion of the images captured that weekend.

2.10 Blink

There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis. — Malcolm Gladwell

Subconscious Intuition
Every year during the first week of classes, the Graphic Design MFA Department photographs the entire group of current and incoming students. It’s a great way to get to know everyone within the group. The night before the first day of classes, I had a dream that my fellow classmate, Dinah Fried, and I were discussing the class photo. In the dream she said we should create mini-animations of everyone’s faces blinking. I thought that was a great idea! The dream was so real I woke up the next day and was not sure if she had actually suggested the idea to me before or if it was a dream. Sure enough I talked to her about this, and she assured me it must have been a dream. But she agreed it was a good idea, and along with another classmate, Adam Lucas, they agreed to help me bring this dream to reality. Over the course of the semester, I expanded this idea into a printed poster and an interactive website, (with the help of another classmate, Ali Qadeer). Finally, with the help of Fathom Information Design (where I was conducting an independent study), I turned Blink into a large-scale physical interactive installation.

Waking Up the Wall
Blink, an interactive projection, was featured in the RISD Graphic Design MFA 2011 Biennial at the Sol Koffler Gallery. Blink showcases all thirty-eight students within the Graphic Design program in the large lobby outside the gallery that was home to this piece. In order to interact with the projection, a viewer enters the marked area on the floor in front of the projection. A camera on the ceiling senses the movement, and the faces on the projection blink. The faces on the wall correspond to their names that are marked on the floor. If one is standing on one particular name, it makes only that individual blink. The more people that are in the area, the more faces will blink. If no one stands in the area, all the faces on the projection close their eyes as if they are asleep. While enjoying the opening reception, Blink became a recursive interaction and a great conversation piece. It was also my first experiment with interactive installation, using motion detection. For the first time, I experienced the sensation of feeling design with my whole body.

Camera Set Up Top View
1. Motion Detection Camera
2. Projector

Blink, Video Still

Blink, Video Still

2.11 Incarceration Vacation

Enjoying the Ride
Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life explores the everyday operating in society. He describes strategies and tactics that identify behaviors in the everyday. Strategies become a way for corporations, governments and big businesses to control people as well as the environment around them. Tactics are ways that individuals negotiate these worlds. Certeau claims, “individuals employ strategies by constantly manipulating events in order to turn them into opportunities.” Certeau describes the experience of riding the train as an example of the chasm between the strategy and the tactic: the train is a strategy—it is part of a larger system that incarcerates passengers. However, I feel that a passenger like myself can use tactics to overcome this system, making each trip a mini-vacation of sight and sound.

Slice of Time
Certeau eloquently describes the literal and figurative separation of the train and the travelers as “The iron rail whose straight line cuts through space and transforms the serene identities of the soil into the speed with which they slip away into the distance. The windowpane is what allows us to see, and the rail, is what allows us to move through.” Travelers are incarcerated within a controlled system, and at the same time, they are set free by a sensorial experience.

The repetition of the commute has become a compressed slice of time for me. Incarceration Vacation visualizes this concept through video, simultaneously capturing both the interior of the train car and the view out the window. In both the interior and the exterior, video time is compressed. The interior view is sped up, showing only one frame for every thirty-seconds of footage. The exterior view compresses into a one-pixel vertical slice per video frame; thus, visualizing the landscape similar to an impressionist painting.

2.12 Burroughs Time-Lapse

Process of Observation
In my interview with Daniel Paluska, he said, “…time-lapse makes me think about the pace of life and how I interact with the machinery around me: the ticking of the clock, the nine to five bells, are all external times. The time-lapse camera is a timer that is taking a picture every thirty-seconds. How does that relate to my internal state and experience in the world? I think that’s something that really seems tied to a process of observation…” I have been capturing my own time-lapse footage every day over a six-month period, searching for this process of observation. As Paluska asserts, “…time-lapse allows us to experience self and remember self.” Burroughs Time-Lapse showcases the first month of my time-lapse capture in chronological order as a constant element. Using a cut-up technique of editing split screens and juxtapositions, allows me to craft a unique relationship to create an open narrative. The cut-up technique is an aleatory technique in which a text, image or film is cut up and rearranged to create new content. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing. The concept can be traced to the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts. Burroughs describes the process of Cut-ups as “…establishing new connections between images, and one’s range of vision consequently expands.”

2.13 Vertov Time-Lapse

Dziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, 1929

Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, Man With a Movie Camera, is a brave attempt at visual epistemology, to reinterpret the often banal and seemingly insignificant images of everyday life. — Lev Manovich

Recursive Loop
Vertov Time-Lapse uncovers month-two of my time-lapse database; it echoes the avant-garde editing style of Soviet Montage filmmakers of the 1920s such as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. Soviet Montage emphasizes dynamic, often discontinuous, relationships between shots and the juxtaposition of images to create ideas not present in either shot by itself. Vertov’s film, Man with a Movie Camera, influences this piece. Vertov’s film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and a self-reflexive style. Vertov was one of the first to be able to find a mid-ground between a narrative media and a database form of media. He shot all the scenes separately, having no intention of making this film into a regular movie with a storyline. Instead, he took all the random clips and put them in a database. Vertov Time-Lapse is imbued with many of these editing techniques in order to represent one month as a recursive loop.

2.14 HITE Screen

HITE Screen, 2012, Video Still

Make something which cannot ‘perform’ without the assistance of its environment. Make something which the ‘spectator’ handles, with which he plays and thus animates. — Hans Haacke

Double Feedback
Technologist Kevin Kelly states, “Last year, digital-display manufacturers cranked out four billion new screens, and they expect to produce billions more in the coming years. That’s one new screen each year for every human on earth. With the advent of electronic ink, we will start putting watchable screens on any flat surface.”

With the high speed Internet downloading of videos and music, we are clearly seeing the end of physical media like CDs and DVDs, but what about physical media devices like flat screen TVs, laptops, tablets and cell phones? Marshall McLuhan asserts, “…we are the television screen. We wear mankind as our skin.” Does this mean anything will be a screen sending and receiving content? This seems like a terrible end to physicality and retail storefronts if we live in a Minority Report world. The abandoned HITE Radio and TV storefront façade in Boston foreshadows a tombstone to the eminent demise of physical media devices.

HITE Screen, 2012, Video Still

HITE Screen, 2012, Video Still

HITE Screen brings life back and monumentalizes HITE TV and Radio, and at the same time, looks to the future of media screens. The steel roll-down door covering the storefront presents an opportunity for a video projection installation. A motion detection camera is mounted on the storefront, and captures the environment of the sidewalk and pedestrians walking by. A small projector is mounted to the bus stop marquee and receives the capture, simultaneously projecting a black and white pixilated environment back onto the screen. The black and white pixilated projection represents how contemporary media devices represent resolution and is a nod to the original black and white TV. The projection is in contrast to the horizontal stripes of the steel roll-down door, which reference the traditional resolution
lines on a traditional CRT tube TV.

Camera Set Up Top View
1 Motion Detection Camera
2 Projector

This ironic twist of old and new aims to shed light on our awareness of screens; how will we interact with them in the future as well as preserve this historic building for educating future generations of past, present and future technologies.

2.15 Panopticon of Joy

Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791

False Security
In Discipline and Punish, philosopher Michel Foucault builds on philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s conceptualization of a panopticon as he elaborates upon the function of disciplinary mechanisms in the prison, while illustrating the function of discipline as an apparatus of power. The “panoptic” style of architecture may be used in other institutions with surveillance needs such as schools, factories or hospitals. The ever-visible inmate, Foucault suggests, is always “…the object of information, never a subject in communication.” As hinted at by the architecture, this panoptic design can be used for any “population” that needs to be kept under observation or control, such as prisoners, schoolchildren, medical patients or workers.

Panopticon of Joy Camera Set Up 1–7 Top View

With all the documentary and time-lapse work I have been developing, many people have mentioned they think I am using surveillance techniques to capture my subject matter. I don’t consider that my work uses surveillance as a tactic, but I can understand that misinterpretation. In Panopticon of Joy, I undertake a tongue-in-cheek experiment that makes me realize that no matter how many cameras I put on my daughter Joy, I have no power or control, just a false sense of security.

Panopticon of Joy, 2012, Video Stills

Panopticon of Joy uses seven different cameras to document Joy’s behavior and displays the footage in an interactive split screen application. Within the application the user is able to select the camera view options and manipulate the speed as well as forward and reverse the file. The user may feel like he has control over the videos, but soon realizes that controlling the cameras speed and direction of the video is fruitless.

2.16 Interview (excerpt) with Ben Fry

Ben Fry is principal of Fathom Information Design, a design and software consultancy located in Boston. He received his doctoral degree from the Aesthetics + Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab.

James Grady: Lately, everyone seems to want all content and design on all channels, and all media. I feel that people just expect dynamics and modularity in design immediately. It does seem like common sense—scalability and modularity in design—but I was just wondering where, or how you think about that in the design process?

Ben Fry: I think part of it comes from the digital thing. It seems like when it’s digital, it can just go in all these digital formats. People are starting to talk about screens now. That it’s like, oh they’re all kind of the same as far as delivering content. Everybody from ESPN to MLB, HBO, Comcast, it’s all screens. You view it on your mobile, or your desktop, or your laptop, or through your cable box, it’s like all the same stuff. I think that’s also contributing to it, because it’s like, oh yea, it’s just the same thing, and you put it in each thing, but it’s like a director who’s like, I can’t believe you’re going to watch this thing on this tiny little device. Also it wasn’t made to do that, right? Given the chance to watch a movie or not, you’ll probably watch the movie even though it’s not optimal. You really have to rethink stuff for all those different formats.

JG: I think this a huge design challenge. If I see one more commercial where they’re like, TV, tablet, it’s all the same. But you can’t represent that same content on all devices equally. You really have to think about it for those different forms.

BF: I think it’s not just space and scale—it’s also about resolution. The difference between print and screen is so different. Now we have as of two days ago, the iPad3. That’s going to get even weirder, but the thing is like all of the pieces that matter are about how you interact with it, how it’s going to be situated. The size is the easiest thing to solve. The next step that’s scary is that people start thinking about how we can automatically design for all of these different platforms. It’s solving the wrong problem, because that’s looking at it as a layout and space problem, or layouts and scale sort of problem. Even something as simple as news articles read online; there is actually some interesting psychology about reading on mobile devices. If you have a five hundred-word article, and it’s on a screen, and you’re just reading it off of a site, that’s one way. If you give somebody the same article on a mobile device, and you fix the design and all that, and have it in nice mobile, readable format, the article, it still feels twice as long because your expectations are so different for small screen and how you interact with it. What they found is that, five hundred words on a screen feels like two hundred and fifty words on a mobile. People don’t actually realize it’s a different number of words at all. It’s all perception. The change in type size, and fixing the layout on the phone is the smallest problem. How are you going to make an article go from five hundred words to two hundred and fifty-words? How to actually make sense of that?

JG: I think that some print designers, looking to go into digital or screen-based, work are many times still translating brochures into digital assets. Space and grids and all that stuff is still considered like print but it’s not. How grids work, and how it works on different scales is something that I’m really interested in.

BF: Muriel Cooper who originally was a long-term head of design over at MIT press during some amazing years ran the visible language workshop at the media lab. She came to the media lab, that was one thing in particular that they were looking at, but they were very graphic design plus computer science heavy, and so they’re saying now how do we do graphic design with the computer? They had a lot of different experiments with how do you do automated layout in different formats, and things like that. It’s interesting background material. Also because she was a designer, she never turned it into a straight programming problem. We’re looking for the algorithm for the optimal design, and how to automate it. How do we do a mobile algorithm or an on-screen algorithm, then things like that?

JG: I’m also thinking about designing in other spaces. My wife and I bought this new car when my daughter was born. It has what seems to be a really fancy interface: GPS and all these things, but the interface is absolutely terrible. You’re driving and there are four knobs that are all the same size. One is the radio, and one is the heat, and there are two others knobs on the other side, and there’s a GPS. I’d love to redesign the user interface and ergonomics of this. It makes me think about design in terms of multi-channels. I was wondering if there was anything outside of the screen base or something that you would love to design?

BF: Certainly, stuff like that intrigues me. I think what it’s more about is the whole design process. It’s one of the more pervasive things I took from design school—the process bit. To go back further, part of the reason I was interested in design at school was that I was interested in how you problem solve. Here’s this thing that doesn’t work, and why is it not working, and how do we improve it? It’s not even so much as like you just want to fix stuff. It’s the right direction and the right way to do this. How can you think about design process to actually address that? Rethink whether it’s a system for doing something, or an actual physical thing, or what do I need the work to do here, or whatever? I think it’s that. The thing I’m trying to do, plus another human trying to do it. Trying to put that together in an artful way too. It’s not a do it to get it done thing, but do it in a way that you actually enjoy the experience. That stuff can be so subtle. If those knobs just had a little bit of texture on them or they were sized differently, it would be a subtle shift of improvement, but so important.

JG: Its functionality, design, design thinking, aesthetics and emotions. Those sorts of the components are what I’m trying to think about. It’s not just about solving the problem or making it functionally correct. There is also the emotional element to it. I think that’s what I admire about the work that goes on at Fathom. There is a connection. It’s got a feeling to it that’s different than a lot of data visualization work. I really don’t like to say data visualization when I’m explaining what Fathom does because I feel it’s much more open than that. There is so much more. That’s what I admire about the work here.

BF: I feel like there is a particular direction we’re headed with this stuff that we’re still trying to sort out. I know we’re not doing the same thing as the data visualization folks. It’s not a traditional design shop. We’re angling around that. I think it will be helpful over time to figure out ways to articulate that with people to say, yeah it’s functional, but it’s also pretty. It’s functional, but it’s not, oh it gives you happiness when you use it. There is some sort of emotion there as far as like, you have to care about it a little bit, and you have to find it beautiful, and you have to want to look at it, or use it, or think about it. I don’t know. There are probably some wonderful non-English words about how we should talk about this.

JG: I’m sure.

BF: I hate the discussion about functional versus beautiful or all these other axes that are really just tired and boring, and like really have no bearing on what you actually make. Or they have so little bearing on the actual, the success of the stuff that you make.

JG: Totally agree. I’m trying to think about where design is going in terms of what I’m seeing, and also in the things I’ve always wanted to do and how it transcends so many more things.

During the Summer of 2011, I had the privilege to intern with Ben Fry and the team at Fathom Information Design. It was a fun, creative, and intellectually stimulating experience. I look forward to the future of our relationship.

3.0 Next Stop

For two years, I’ve commuted to Grad school from Boston to Providence by rail. The initially redundant trip has become a peaceful, productive and integral part of my creative process. Today I’m headed home, thinking about a conclusion for my thesis. The train tracks whizzing below me are an endless ribbon, a mobius strip, taking people by the thousands where they need to go. I see the continuation of my design career as an endless ribbon also—countless permutations of my own methodology that I grappled with, explored and unpacked in this thesis. I plan to “look closely,” and absorb the inspiration that is all around me, all around us, using different media as input and output, and blurring boundaries between mediums to create what will become known as 21st century design. The end of this book is just another stop along the way. All Aboard.

The next stop begins (6.11.2012) when I start my new full-time position at Fathom.

Thanks for reading. My entire thesis is outlined on this blog (starting at 0.0 Abstract and ending this post 3.0 Next Stop). Look for new work soon. Cheers, James