My group at Microsoft recently moved into a new facility called Studios West, a welcome change from our converted document retention cavern vacated by Safeco Insurnace. One of the interesting new features of the office buildings in Studios West is a massive, interactive LED wall in the atrium of the four buildings.
We had been briefed about the installation as part of our orientation for the new building, so I knew it would be there. But upon entering the building the first day, hearing the washy, occasionally dissonant ambient sounds that accompany the undulating lights made me think a little more about it. How does it work?
In addition to the array of LEDs hanging in the atrium, the Wall also features directed sound beams emitted by Sennheiser AudioBeam speaker arrays, a telescopic microphone, and a video camera, all mounted to the ceiling and pointed toward the entrance from the Commons. My best guess on how it works is that it’s a Max/MSP/Jitter program, and being the inquisitive engineer and scientist types we are, there has already been interest in hacking the LED array to bend it to our will. Honestly, I hope the system remains closed to us. I’d much rather see what the artist had in mind on those lights than stock quotes or other random lapses of aesthetics.
So sure, the Wall is fun to play with and nice to look at, but is it frivolous? Why does it matter?
Over time, I began to notice how many people would do the same thing I did in front of the sensors. Hi, I’m here! I’m waving my hands at you, Wall, and are you going to respond to me? Groups tend to gather for lunch at the door where the sensors are, and the Wall is frequently a conversation piece. People share how they think it works, what it makes them feel (usually one or two words rather than poems with flowery language), late night stories of how it changes when you walk from left to right but not the other way…
It finally struck me that this is the point of the Wall. We’re in the business of delighting our consumers based on the products, services, and experiences we offer, and we spend a lot of time crafting what we do. The march of creating products is frequently long, difficult, and fast-moving. Microsoft is also a huge company with peculiar parlance and culture, so sometimes it can be easy to get lost in the acronym soup of software jargon and process. The Wall is there to spark those non-sequitur conversations, both inner and with our coworkers and friends. The Wall, for me at least, places my mind in a lighter place and whets my creative appetite. Can you really measure the impact of that?Posted: July 5th, 2009 | 4 Comments »