The best interactive designs feel natural — like they weren’t “designed” to begin with. They just work and make sense.
Waiting in line in hot and humid Midtown Manhattan for three-plus hours makes little sense — unless you’re jonesing for good interactive design and the experience of standing in a downpour without getting wet.
Rain Room is part of of the Museum of Modern Art‘s PS1 exhibition EXPO 1: New York, a spate of works in multiple locations that broadly relate to Earth’s ecology. It’s a 1,000 square foot installation that lets visitors stand amid 220 gallons of rainwater falling per minute, all while remaining dry.
The installation’s creator, Random International, uses 3-D cameras to track visitors’ movement and shut off the appropriate water dispensers overhead. The effect is magical: standing in the rain without getting wet. The strange scene compels people to perform, sing and dance in the rain—and take pictures, which can be found here. Snapping photos is encouraged.
Only 10 people are allowed in the installation at a time. The reason is clear when people cluster in groups. In order that no one gets wet (nor their cameras and phones), the mechanism that shuts off water as it detects movement can be rather broad-reaching, making the rain in an area with multiple people sometimes stop entirely and loose the magical effect.
Interactive designers enable the same possibilities by creating products and experiences whose mechanisms are self-effacing. A good magazine app will be intuitive for the user — like it’s not there. Similarly, how to use interactive elements at a museum should be apparent without too much prompting. After all, the point of a magazine app is to read the content and view its pictures; the point of museum interactive design is to add value to an exhibition — not show off that the museum can afford interactive design.
When people are few and spaced apart, Rain Room allows them to forget about the mechanism that creates their experience and simply experience it on their own. It encapsulates the beauty of interactive design at its best: subtle, discernable and worthwhile — if, of course, you don’t mind the wait.