Cranbrook Academy of Art (Doug Johnston)



Sep '05 - Apr '07

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    Doug Johnston
    Feb 17, '06 12:15 PM EST
    4-person placemat

    This is a project i did at the end of last semester which originated in the Charrette we did for the Fanfare fundraising dinner. I basically took my original placemat and rotated copies at 90deg. until i had four interconnected placemats. I modified the model a bit in sketchup and rhino so that it would join together more efficiently, but after assembling it, there was still some manual cutting and shaving that had to be done. the contours command in rhino is a nice way to slice a model, but i always forget to check all my dimensions to make sure everything is based on the same material thickness. anyway, it built it and then i built a small table which fit the exact dimensions of the placemat piece.
    4-person placemat
    The table is about 1 inch lower than the table in our seminar room, which mean that once you put your plate on the 1" thick placemat, the plate will be at the same height as the other table... a detail that i didn't tell anyone about because it was really just for my own satisfaction. The table was rough and i was running low on funds (end of the semester) so i just covered it in the classic red-and-white-checkered tablecoth which seemed to be a nice touch.
    The way the placemat works is that each item on the table has a holder/platform which emphasizes some ideas i have been thinking about (architecture/design as facilitator, floor a collector) and directs people's use of the table - bill would say it "choreographs" it.
    4-person placemat
    Anyway, each person has a 1/8" minijack input and brings with them some musical input device - mp3 player, cd player, cassette, microphone -whatever, and plugs into the unit. All 4 channels are mixed equally so that each speaker outputs all four inputs(actually in the one i presented in my crit it didn't work this way because the speakers i ordered hadn't arrived yet so i had to wired the speakers in pairs).
    4-person placemat
    the guts
    The participants are free to change the volume of their input on their device and no instructions are given as to how to manage the airtime each person gets.
    My interests where in several things: how music can act as communication, especially for things which might not normally be comminucated at the dinner table; how music can often be adopted as a major part of one's identity, but might not be revealed until well into a relationship; how mp3 players allow us to carry around, in a sense, our identities; and how people would manage this additional form of communication in a somewhat formal situation with equality of output. There are a few other minor aspects that were being explored, but those are the major concerns.
    I have a video of two groups of people using it, but buzznet will not accept the codec i used to compress it. maybe youtube will work...

    Anyway, i had two groups of people use it and the first was very excited and outgoing and had a lot of fun with it, which made me very happy. They found it to be a fun addition to the meal and they said it helped them to learn more about each other - things which normally wouldn't have been communicated. The second group overall seemed to find it as a distraction. They seemed to find it a bit awkward but eventually warmed up to it, though never as much as group 1. They had some similar comments about the experience, but overall they seemed not to enjoy it as much. I should probably do about 3 more groups to see what other kinds of responses it gets.

    (some of these images look kind of strange because i changed the size a bit from the sizes provided by flickr - click on the images to see them properly at flickr)
    4-person placemat
    4-person placemat
    4-person placemat
    4-person placemat



    • who cooked?

      Feb 17, 06 3:12 pm

      that is a lot of money to learn how to make placemats.

      Feb 18, 06 3:49 am
      Doug Johnston

      switters, you're so focused on money... why? can you see anything beyond that?
      Actually i leaned how to use the laser cutter, how to solder, how to wire a set of speakers, improved my hosting skills, how to use imovie, and got to know my classmates a bit more. Beyond that, it was a very valuable step in my work of exploring how design can facilitates certain types of social interaction, or perhaps new hybrids of social interaction.

      i cooked and i am not a good cook by any means, hence the cheap spaghetti (it was organic whole grain though...) I thought about having them cook together and actually there was a student here last year who built a cooking unit for groups of people to cook together. He and i have very similar intersts in design, but he is focused on marketing his designs as consumer products, which i am not really interested in. But really my focus was on the introduction of the music as a communicator into the everyday dining experience, and a design (even a rather heavy-handed design) that could facilitate this. Ted Krueger and Ken Kaplan had some very insightful comments and suggestions at the critique (they both have undergraduates degree in social sciences and graduate degrees in architecture) which have helped me to develop my studies and what i should be studying and exploring.

      Feb 18, 06 2:43 pm

      It seems to be a great opportunity of investigating the way communication works, specially in a very nowadays way where people bring to the table their favorite activities.

      In fact, it allow us to witness the way tolerance to others' likings and interests occurs. Because, music in certain way is a expression of who we are, what moves us, what we like. For instance, if you like electronic music and those that are with you like sth completely different, then its going to demmand you certain effort to listen to their music.

      I mean, the easiest thing would be to put the ear-plugs on.. but that is exactly what conviviality is about. People living together while being able to respect each other, expressing themselves and letting the others expressing themselves.

      And that is what I like about your work, how it ends up being a nice analogy to social interaction.

      Feb 22, 06 2:54 pm
      Doug Johnston

      thank you camila, i appreciate your comments - i hadn't thought of it as an analogy but perhaps it is in some ways.

      Feb 22, 06 10:12 pm

      What was the codec you had problems with on Buzznet, and what was the problem? We just launched video, and we're trying to get a handle on all the idiosyncracies with each codec. If you message me ( with the information about the video, I'll see what I can do to fix it.

      Mar 4, 06 2:30 am

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