She clutches at a misshapen block of Styrofoam, her voice becoming stronger as she cradles it. She places it back on a dark wooden console, filled with other strangely mundane items. She vaults herself to a high shelf, to grab yet another odd piece.
Draped in black and cloaked in mystery, Inessah Selditz of the LAB at Rockwell Group seems more like the owner of a cabinet of curiousities than one of the studio’s young Interaction Designers. A shark’s tooth sways from her neck as she cryptically speaks as to what the LAB and the Group are all about.
“Here’s an LED Matrix, a 3D model for kinetic sensing, I don’t know why there’s a baby guitar here,” Selditz murmurs as she glides through the studio. “This is the kind of stuff we collect in the office, weirdo-prototypes that help us architect the experience.” Weirdo is fairly bang-on; the LAB’s projects range in scope from: projected animations in the TAO Downtown; to choreographed lighting displays in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place; to interactive interiors at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center. For the general public, the work is abstruse; it’s easy to get lost in the “Rockwellianess” of it all. The ethos of the Rockwell Group — the internationally acclaimed design and architecture firm — is immersion: they develop conceptual and theatrical narratives to engage audiences with a variety of spaces. Often alienating and always eccentric, the Group’s heady ideals are part in parcel to the LAB.
Selditz has been a designer at the LAB for the past three years. “The best skill set I have is understanding technology, its systems, its potentials, its opportunities,” Selditz prattles, perched at the end of her cushioned and swiveled chair. She has a Masters in interaction technology from New York University’s Interactive Telecommuncations Program, which is why she’s so at home here: the LAB is the digitally driven section of the Group. They ground their work, however, in the “human element”.
For Selditz, this means copious experimentations in studio —“we do a lot of tinkering, which is really a low level word for it,” she sniffs — and working with their users at the earliest possible stage in a project. For the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, the LAB workshopped with childhood specialists and children in order to tailor their approach appropriately. They developed interactive interiors that reflect different ecosystems, one of which is the ocean. On the “Ocean Floor”, patients are invited to play with fish in a virtual aquarium. In the workshop, the children were insistent that the fish be exaggerated, goofy. Selditz looks bemused. “They wanted cartoon characters. Which, in a stressful environment, is a welcome distraction.” She fiddles incessantly with the delicate gold rings fixed on her fingers. “It’s really important to get feedback, or else everything falls apart…” she trails off, and launches out of her seat. Something has caught her eye.
She hovers at the side of one of the LAB’s software developer’s desk, which is adjacent to hers (the studio is open concept). She gestures vaguely to posters tacked to the wall, to mounds of plastic molds, swamping his desk. She mumbles to herself, “there’s no substitute for interestingness.” She’s returned to elusiveness; she’s returned to her cabinet of curiousities.