Graphic Design Students Explore New Territory

December 1, 2021

This fall, Graphic Design students at UArts experienced a new evolution in the School of Design's curriculum. In Design for Interaction, a class co-taught by Graphic Design Program Director Angela Riechers and designer Ksenya Samarskaya, the students engaged with immersive media through a playful, experimental approach, a critical element of the school's new pedagogical strategy.
Riechers and Samarskaya adapted lessons they learned while teaching remotely during the pandemic to re-envision the traditional class structure. The class pairs the instructors' differing backgrounds—print for Riechers, typeface and interactive design for Samarskaya—with a flexible hybrid schedule. Remote learning technology also allows guest lecturers worldwide to inspire students from a distance as they prepare to explore unfamiliar territory.
"With the students, we test boundaries, learn and pivot as we go along," Riechers said. "Co-teaching makes it a true laboratory, where everyone is learning alongside each other."

An image of a game called Nice to Meet You created by graphic design student Alexandria Kenny
Alexandria Kenny's game, Nice to Meet You.

Students were tasked with creating something, sans technology, that people could interact with physically for their first assignment. Alexandria Kenny '23 (Graphic Design) responded with Nice to Meet You, an icebreaker game that is a box filled with thought-provoking questions for players to ask one another.
After opening the box, which requires at least two people working together to do so, questions such as "What is the best thing that has happened to you?" and "What was the last exciting experience you had?" await the players. 

Kenny said she got the idea for the game from the time she spent in the foster care system as a child. Gathering around classic games like Twister or Candyland was often one of her first interactions with new families and other children. But Kenny recalled that playing together while making small talk never eased the anxiety of living with strangers or helped form new bonds.
Recognizing that many students were setting foot on campus for the first time this fall, Jojo Scott '23 (Graphic Design), Vanessa Dinh '23 (Graphic Design) and Kayla Klavins '23 (Graphic Design) created a six-page zine that contains a scavenger hunt meant to guide students through UArts' different buildings and resources. After students make their way through three rounds of progressively difficult questions, they are led back to Hamilton Hall and presented with instructions to create an origami version of the university's unicorn mascot, Arty.
Later in the semester, the class gathered in the Center for Immersive Media to bring one element of their project into a virtual or augmented reality space. To do so, they employed tools such as Google's Tilt Brush, which allows for 3D painting in virtual spaces, and smartphone apps like Overly and Lens Studio.
After successfully testing the game with a group of strangers in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square, Kenny turned to IKEA's proprietary room-planning application to construct different virtual atmospheres in which people can play Nice to Meet You. They range from an aquarium to a customizable living room.
"I really like video games, specifically ones that are very open world where you can do whatever you want. I wanted that aspect in my game," Kenny said. "I have prebuilt worlds. You can move cushions and furniture around, or you can upload your own things and make it your own space."
Scott and her teammates enhanced their scavenger hunt with augmented reality, using elements of a virtual campus tour created by the Office of Admissions. Using Overly, they added scannable markers to bring UArts' spaces and student experiences to life through a smartphone camera's lens. The group also planned to expand its use of the technology to create a map of affordable food options near campus for their fellow students, specifically those who commute.
For many students, the class was their first foray into melding design with immersive media, which can be an intimidating venture at first, Scott admitted. However, she added, for them to be more well-rounded professionals it's crucial to have a working knowledge of the rapidly evolving field.
"It can be overwhelming to think of an entirely new form of design and how you can use it," Scott said. "It's not just digital screens anymore or print editorial. There are so many options, and it's opened so many new doors."