PEOPLEText: Kyoko Tachibana

Many of your works involve usability or others involve places that people associate with in their everyday life such as interaction design for mobile phones. Where do you usually get ideas for such projects?

I generate ideas by connecting a fuzzy network of things together in unpredictable patterns. It could be things I like to do, see, read or hear. One of the most inspiring things for me has to be living in a big city like New York; the sole act of walking on a street here can be so rich on energy and visual stimulus. I take photos of details of things I notice on the street, and specifically of how people use the urban environment.

For instance, the idea of browsing subway maps on the phone came after noticing how people in the New York subway tend to walk up to the posters inside the car. I noticed how this often annoys both the people who have to stand up as well as those sitting in front of the map (they have to deal with people bending over them). Since 2005 I’ve been using a NYC subway JPEG map that I sent via Bluetooth to my phone so I could check it anytime.

I complement this kind of contemplation with spending time online looking at what people, blogs and businesses do in that space, but I’ve been doing less of that since it can get so overwhelming. I play video games, I’ve always found them inspirational since they are extremely immersive and interactive experiences. I don’t have a particular formula, but I usually try to favor clever and simpler ideas with some substance over ones that can be just too technical. Also I always carry a notebook and a pen to make sure I can write or sketch any thought as it comes.

You studied Architecture. What made you pursue the path of interactive media?

I studied at the Universidad Central de Venezuela from 93-98. However, as I mentioned before, during this period I was already working significantly with digital video and animation, doing VJ sets and web design. When I got my BA in Architecture, I wanted to live in New York and study filmmaking in graduate school, but I made it only to the waitlist that year. In 1999 came to the city to interview with film schools here, but then I got a bad impression from these programs. Luckily on that same trip I also found out about the weird and fun work they were doing at ITP and decided to pursue new media instead since I wanted to learn within a multi-disciplinary environment with more openness to digital media and ideas than film schools seemed to offer.

This decision changed my career forever and I’m happy I did it.

Out of all the public art projects you have been involved, what was the most memorable response that you received?

In terms of press and recognition the Node Runner project was the most acclaimed, it won a Golden Nica at Ars Electronica in 2003 and received extensive coverage after that. However, in terms of users’ response – which is more important to me -the Urballoon really engaged a lot of people at a global scale. During its first flight in 2004 I received more than 1,000 images and texts from all over the world within a week of announcing it. I was so concerned about getting indecent content submissions at that time but to my surprise, only 3 submissions had to be removed.

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