Design exhibit has shocking way of revealing your ‘online footprint’

29 May 2017

You stand in front of a towering wall, and a colourful yet ghostly version of yourself mirrors your movements.

Thousands of tiny words cloud your hands, legs, and swim menacingly around your head.

Each word represents a portion of your online footprint, your public online presence: names, locations, work history, status updates, children’s names, details of a conversation had online in 2007, and thousands of other traces of your past swarm your extremities.

The students who built the interactive public display Street Spirit are using big data with the aim of shocking their audience and encouraging debate around data privacy.

The exhibit has been created for the annual Interaction Design Exhibit, taking place tomorrow (Tuesday 30 May) at The Edge, State Library of Queensland in Brisbane

The student groups comprise a mixture of undergraduate Information Technology and Master of Interaction Design students.

Alyssa DiSalvo, from the team that built Street Spirit, said their project was designed to highlight the benefits and consequences of a future where information is widely available and mediates our experience of the urban environment.

“The installation aims to explore the human value of privacy, and to spark reflection on our current digital practices and their future social implications,” Ms DiSalvo said.

“Street Spirit raises the questions: What are the social implications of personal big data in urban environments and how will we understand privacy in the future?”

Ninety students present their projects in the exhibit, putting a focus on new ways to interact with digital technology in the rapidly evolving field of user experience design, known as UX.

Each group developed an interactive technology prototype in the course Physical Computing and Interaction Design Studio, and visitors are encouraged to see and play with creations.

One display, Sound Garden, uses stretch sensors across fabric on vast palm frond-shaped timber structures to allow the user to create music.

As music plays, visitors have the sensation of feeling as if they are inside an expansive musical instrument, one with a light show.

The melody, harmonies, percussion and lights are all controlled by the user and depend on where and how the structure is touched, an experience the team hopes will encourage children to play while learning music.

Master of Interaction Design student Trevor Hunter said the course gave them a great opportunity and allowed the team to “dream big, fail but get back up and keep going forward, taking our ideas and truly experimenting to create a new experience”.

UQ Associate Professor Stephen Viller has been running the exhibit with The Edge for eight years and he said this was the biggest one yet, due to growing student interest in the course.

“Students explored areas like future learning, big data, healthy living, music and ageing,” Associate Professor Viller said.

“What people see when they come to the exhibit are novel interactions – many people haven’t seen anything like it before. This type of immersive, thought-provoking technology will become the norm in the future, and it’s really exciting.”

The State Library has a longstanding partnership with the UQ School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering over this annual exhibit, and throughout the year the library seeks to offer “a visionary space” for Brisbane’s creatives and innovators.