We all know our surroundings affect nearly every aspect of our life, and sometimes it’s the smallest, silliest things that make a big difference. I discovered one of these in my new city: the Seattle Design Nerds.
Headed by licensed architects Jeremy Reding and Trevor Dykstra, the volunteer non-profit group is dedicated to designing in the public realm as well as engaging designers with the public. I spoke with Dykstra to find out more.
KBB: Why did you start Seattle Design Nerds?
Dykstra: We wanted to form a group that focused on interactive outdoor projects, and that eventually lead us to the Design Nerds Society (founded in Vancouver, B.C.). Each Design Nerd chapter operates autonomously, and each one has slightly different goals, but they all focus on their city, public space and collaboration.
KBB: What is the purpose behind the organization?
Dykstra: We like to say that the Seattle Design Nerds are here to make Seattle (more) awesome. That means we’re focusing on what we love about a place and highlighting that rather than ascribing ‘problems’ that need solutions.
We have no paid staff or employees, we’re all doing this in our free time and we have over 200 members, but the core group is around 20. The membership is made up of architects, graphic designers, interior designers, furniture designers, interaction designers, mechanical engineers and yes, even non-designers. We’re free to join and open to all, and that includes making our entire process open to anyone who stops by. Because we believe in design by doing rather than simply generating ideas, we typically brainstorm as a group by making prototypes and quickly testing ideas physically rather than sitting around a table.”
KBB: What have some of your favorite projects been?
Dykstra: Our very first project as a group was a 120-ft.-long, 16 ft.-tall inflatable space we called CREATURE. It was installed in Nord Alley in Pioneer Square, and we assembled the entire thing in public parks using shipping tape and bits of plastic, because we had no access to a workspace and no funding. We inflated the entire thing using half a dozen fans we found at Goodwill and filled it with beach balls; it turned the entire alleyway into an indoor playground. That project has a special place in our hearts, not only because it was the first but also we literally didn’t know if it would all work.
Earlier this year we collaborated with a school district in Spokane to create an Augmented Reality Sandbox using software developed by a researcher at UC Davis. We designed it in such a way that the plans could be downloaded and sent to a computer numeric control (CNC) anywhere in the world. The parts work like Legos so that they can be assembled without any tools or construction background. We’ve since made those prototype plans and cutting files available as a shareware download for other schools and museums around the nation.
Augmented Reality Sandbox
Another favorite is a project we call the ReFractor. The ReFractor is another inflatable space made from triangular pieces of plastic, reflective mylar and cardboard. It’s a mobile event space that has popped up around Seattle and packs down into a small box. We’ve had dancers in it, created a lounge, projected the football game and more all in public spaces on a moment’s notice. This year we took it down to Austin, Texas, for SXSW Eco, where it appeared downtown in Brush Square Park and served as a lounge for the conferences after-party.
KBB: Explain your most recent project, Redmond Lights, and what you expect to come of if.
Dykstra: The Redmond Lights is a new experience for us, and we’re excited by the images of past years. When we were considering the theme of the event [holiday traditions, cultures and faiths in the city] we gravitated toward an inflated option as they not only create excellent lanterns, but they also have a friendly and comforting look. We’ve experimented with inflatables and lights in the past, but we’re ramping up the scale of that for Redmond Lights.
We’re working on creating a 200-ft.-long inflatable called the GlowWorm, which will be filled with color-changing LEDS and feature inspirational quotes from Leonard Cohen and Dr. Maya Angelou. The piece is so long that we’ve been using the hallways of Inscape Arts (the building where we’re assembling) as our workspace.”
The Redmond Lights