Design that makes a difference

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Distraction gets a bad rap these days and it’s often linked to technology. We can’t leave Facebook and Twitter alone, much less our smartphones and email. Distraction cops the blame for everything from car accidents to lower work productivity.

So, design that builds on distraction as a fundamental principle is intriguing; distraction that uses technology with a positive end result even more so. But learning more about the ‘Nature Trail’ interactive installation at London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital is, simply, heart-warming.

The beginning of the artwork is at a hospital ward. The end is the surgery. In between, what once was a plain corridor has been enlivened with technology, design, imagination and goodwill. The whole idea is to distract children from what is to come and to make their trip to the operating theatre more pleasant.

Jason Bruges Studio, formed in 2002, designs and builds interactive installations with a multi-disciplinary team of just under 20 people, including lighting designers, architects and industrial designers. They produce ‘innovative and engaging spaces that connect people with their environment’. Based in London, they’re currently working on projects around the world including for a shopping mall in Shenyang, China; a children’s hospice in Kuwait; and a subway station in Toronto, Canada.

For this project, they describe nature as a ‘fitting concept’ to engage an audience from newborns up to the age of 18. A wallpaper was specially designed with graphic qualities where the images of a forest are made up of large pixelated circles in half-tone patterns. Hidden behind this, along opposing sides of a 50-metre hallway, are 70 LED panels set at various heights to be seen by those in beds and wheelchairs, and all sizes of patients.

When a motion sensor detects a passerby, one of the screens will be activated and some of the 72,000 LEDs will form the silhouettes of animals: a rabbit hopping by, a galloping horse, a shy deer or perhaps, a wandering hedgehog.

The animals were modeled in three dimensions with these models translated to two dimensions and a lower resolution for the display: glimpses of sunlight-coloured forest animals through the trees. Natalie Robinson, a director at the hospital, described the benefits as a positive experience for the children and their families; the artwork is considered so successful that it will be replicated in all the hallways of the hospital by 2017.

Bruges, who trained as an architect before founding his studio based on interactive design, described the idea of ‘digital lookout points’, explaining how the inspiration for the work came from memories of childhood walks.

Magical, beautiful, unexpected and bringing comfort to those in need of it: now, that’s good design. The project won an In Book award in the 2013 D&AD Awards (Design and Art Direction, considered a major award in the world of design and advertising), is a finalist in the 2013 Design Week Awards and will be included in the 2013 Creative Review Annual which celebrates outstanding work in visual communications.



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