Getting Rained On
Discovery & Invention, Georgia Institute of Technology
"Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards."
-- Vladimir Nabokov
"Mapping Transitions and Border Crossings" was the first project for the Fall 2018 Discovery & Invention class at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Throughout this project, I had the privilege of working with Grace Halverson and Chris Sun to design a set of maps representing the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the experience of getting caught in a rainstorm. This project aimed to explore and answer the questions:
"What are transition spaces?"
"What does it mean to cross a border?"
"How can we capture the intellectual and emotional quality of such experiences?"
Prior to drawing our initial designs, our group met to brainstorm ideas representing transitions and border crossings (both in a literal and figurative sense) that we could potentially express through abstract visual designs. After listing about fifty possibilities, we narrowed down our options to the phenomena with which we were most familiar and which we thought were the most universally understood. Our group also took into consideration how easily the chosen concept could be mapped, in keeping with the guidelines set forth in class. We had considered transitional experiences such as “getting ready for bed,” but felt that many of them were lacking in strong emotional and tangible qualities that we intended to convey through our maps. Since rain is concrete enough that we could represent it symbolically and recognizably in our designs, as well as manipulate these representations to evoke a particular tone or mood within the design, we chose “getting rained on” as our theme.
A screenshot of the Google Drive document used during collaboration to list different concepts that could potentially be mapped. Ideas containing an asterisk next to them were anonymously "voted" on by a group member in the process to choose one central theme for the designs.
IDEA GENERATION & RESEARCH
After deciding to map the experience of getting rained on, each team member made several rough sketches based on how they individually interpreted the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the experience. All of our designs were abstract, and, since we met in person to collaborate on the project, many of our sketches echoed those of the other team members while still retaining their own unique qualities. Our initial sketches were personal to each of us, but still reflected the commonality of the experience of getting caught in the rain through their use of gray scale, directionality, abstract shapes, and bold lines. Once the group had decided which of our sketches were the strongest, we re-drew them onto white 11 x 11-inch sheets of paper using permanent black marker.
A sampling of some of my initial sketches.
Our maps as they were presented in class during the first critique. The top row consists of Grace's designs, the middle row consists of my designs, and the bottom row consists of Chris's designs.
During the first critique, the rest of the class admired the boldness, geometry, and overall composition of our maps, but still offered constructive criticism by informing our team that the designs were perhaps too abstract. Dr. JafariNaimi herself argued that the maps did not clearly convey our theme of experiencing rainfall in their own right (or independent of each other) and suggested that we revise them to better capture the event of being caught in a deluge.
Following the first critique, our class briefly discussed the roles of grammar (the actual shape of the design) and rhetoric (what the design conveys through the structure and placement of its shapes) in design. Our group was able to infer from this discussion that our shapes themselves had potential (though it would be beneficial to have them better resemble literal raindrops), but the placement and interaction of the shapes did not achieve our goal of mapping the experience of getting rained on.
NARROWING DOWN AND REFINEMENT
Based on the advice our team received in class regarding our designs during the first critique, we met again the following week to develop more self-evident maps that depicted the experience of getting caught in the rain. In my own designs, I tried to incorporate symbols that were more traditionally associated with rainfall, including lines, flat-bottomed teardrops, and concentric circles (resembling rippling puddles). Our group took into consideration the placement of our shapes to and the directionality of our designs, in order for our maps to clearly evoke a sense of transition.
Some of my sketches following the first critique that experimented with more literal raindrop shapes and patterns. A couple of sketches were not team favorites...
Our maps as they were presented in class during the second critique. The first column consists of Grace's designs, the second column consists of my designs, and the third column consists of Chris's designs. The layout was changed from horizontal to vertical in order to better mimic rainfall.
During the second critique, the class noted how our revisions improved upon our original designs, citing, once again, the directionality of the images, as well the the varying stroke weight throughout the drawings as enhancements. Our group added a title to our second set of maps that read "Getting Rained On: The Sad Life of Students Without Umbrellas" in order to help spectators better understand the experience the designs were intended to depict.
Despite the improvements, however, the class still argued that, for symbolizing rainfall- a disorderly, chaotic phenomenon- our chosen shapes were perhaps too clean. Our circles too round, our clouds and raindrops too well drawn, etc. It was advised that our drawings be less pristine and more disheveled in order to capture the true nature of rainfall and being caught in it.
FINAL REFINEMENT AND EXHIBITION
Our maps as they appeared during the final presentation; from top to bottom: my design, Grace's design, and Chris's design.
For our final revision, our team used Adobe Illustrator to digitally draw our refined maps. Two of the designs (mine and Grace's) were closely based on designs from the set of maps presented during the second critique, while Chris's design maintained the human-like figure found in one of his maps presented during the first critique. Our team explained in our final presentation how my design represented the physical form of rain (the idea of a falling raindrop), Grace's represented the emotional experience of getting rained on, and Chris's represented human interaction with rainfall, hearkening back to our original intent of capturing the full experience of getting caught in the rain through our maps.
Our final designs measured 13 x 13 inches and were mounted onto black museum board measuring 15 x 15 inches.
My final design depicting a single raindrop falling.
My final design symbolized the journey of a single raindrop as it falls from the sky to the earth below. The droplet starts out small at the top and becomes increasingly larger before flattening out and assuming a full-fledged raindrop shape, displaying the effects of the pull of the force of gravity on the water drop. Per the advice given in class during the second critique, I reshaped the second to last drop to be less curvaceous in favor of a more realistic design resembling rain just before it reaches its destination. As far as the final "flattened" rain drop, however, I could have made the shape and the lines less clean in order to better imitate the raindrop "splashing" as it hits the ground. Nevertheless, this particular design seemed to be a "fan favorite" among the class during the second critique, and so, based on their judgement, I chose to improve upon it for the final revision and presentation.
I chose to focus on an individual raindrop for my final design, as I was afraid that creating a design involving multiple raindrops would trivialize the rainfall, and, in turn, the experience of getting caught in the rain. Therefore, I chose one aspect of rainfall to scrutinize, magnifying a single raindrop and chronicling its journey to the ground by depicting the progression of its fall. During the final presentation, some classmates mentioned the "sonic quality" that our maps seemed to contain, noting that my design could almost be a visual representation of the Doppler effect in addition to rainfall. Interestingly, I made the lines at the bottom of each shape heavier in order to "highlight" the most significant parts of the raindrop- the part that hits first. Better yet, the loudest part of the raindrop.
AFTER THE RAIN: REFLECTIONS (IN A PUDDLE)
Working with Grace and Chris on the first project in Discovery & Invention was inspiring and amusing. They were creative, efficient, and exceptionally enjoyable to work with, always bringing unique voices and perspectives to our design sets. Grace received a B.S. in Science, Technology, and Society from Georgia Tech, while Chris is currently and undergraduate Computational Media major. Since I have a B.A. in English, seeing how Grace and Chris's interdisciplinary backgrounds helped guide their design processes really gave insight into how the project should be approached, as did the in-class critiques in which students outside of our group shared their thoughts and opinions regarding our work with us. For our first set, I drew designs that were simply manifestations of "how I felt" when getting rained on. While there was intention behind the designs (i.e., the placement of the shapes, the heaviness of the lines), the designs were not intentional enough. As mentioned during the first critique session, in order for the maps to obviously evoke the experience of getting caught in the rain, they had to be revised in order to be made more self-evident. I found the simple idea of making something so self-evident, however, revelatory. Though art can certainly be left open to interpretation, design should not- its purpose and intention should be clear. This particular project revolved around design, so I turned to Grace and Chris for direction on how to better incorporate technical aspects of design that would help to improve my maps in order to achieve a balance between abstract portrayal of a concept and concrete depiction of a physical phenomenon.