N vision


Archive for April, 2012

April 16th, 2012

What to do with a QR-code….

I recently visited the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, a museum dedicated to book printing and off course the birth of print, housing the Gutenberg Bible and early presses. A very well designed museum with great display of the historically significant books, book design and printing presses. The amazing books on display reminds us of the importance of the reproduced word  and how far we have come in this Gutenberg Galaxy

In a temporary exhibition called  Moving Type a wide variety of animations and videos are presented, showing film titles, commercials, music videos, art and experimental film, all centered around the use of ‘moving typography’. No doubt many of them are available on YouTube or elsewhere on the net, but the beauty of this exhibition lies not only in the selection but more so in its presentation. For how do you present nearly 200 animations in a single space?

At the top of the museum, this exhibition is no more than the size of a single room.  On the side walls a continuous loop of animations is projected and further there are flat-screen monitors with headphones, presenting interviews with designers and some special 3D examples. So far so normal and this does not really invite you to sit through the hundreds of examples of the best of moving type. The real magic lies in a forest of white poles that occupy the central area of the space. Each pole has a small Perspex cube attached to it and lit from within, each cube shows a title and a QR-code.

Until this exhibition, for me, QR-code, or QR-tags, have been those mysterious squares made out of little black and white blocks that loosely resembles something between a barcode and a crossword puzzle. With its increasingly appearance in print advertising and other print communication I knew I had to get to grips with them, but so far never really felt the need to further investigate, most tags would lead to more of the same advertising, so best ignored.

But here it’s the QR tags that make it possible for the viewers to dip in and out of the animations, in their own pace following their own random paths. Dotted around, engaged visitors alone or together stand or sit, and stare at i-pad screens. They walk up to the cubes and with their i-pads ‘grab’ a new film when they pleased.

At the entrance each visitor is handed an i-pad, or if they wish they can use their own smartphone. With the pad or phone (on which you download a specially dedicated app) you can ‘scan’ the QR tag using the camera function,  and ‘voila’ the machine takes over and transports you to the animation you demanded to see, which immediately starts playing. Furthermore your collection of viewed animations are stored in the memory of the i-pad and at the end of the exhibition you are given a print-out of the tags, so you can revisit the movies at home.

Where the physical exhibition space and digital space have been linked in an imaginative way, so it continues for the design of the catalog. How do you make a catalog that is dedicated to movement, and to lots of different versions of movement?  And why print a finite, linear and static book, in a time where we have such easy access to digital publishing platforms that mastered interaction, movement and sound? Isn’t it easier, cheaper, more portable to hand out a web address, or app? But after a museum visit, where you cannot take anything away but impressions, I’m the kind of person that likes to come away with something tangible, an artifact, something that solidifies the memory. A postcard, or if I really enjoyed it and want more, the catalog. It’s the only option for further exploration, and in my book cupboard it will become the constant and gentle memory-jog that brings me back to the inspiring experience of the show.

But this particular catalog does not give you the default historic-critical context and the still pictures representing the various exhibits, this is an imaginative portal to the ‘real’ object- to the moving animation, and it does this again through the exploitation of the QR code. Here each page presents an illustration or design as a visual tribute to an animation and woven into the fabric of the image is the tag. Sometimes placed as a straight forward design element, sometimes the tag is transformed into ‘something else’ an becomes a pictorial elements in the narrative. They are drawn with a biro or resembling a typographic maze. The illustration of the Superman animation is Superman himself revealing the QR tag where once was an ‘S’ or on other pages the tag has become a butterfly or scratches in the wall.

This imaginative catalog is linking print with new media possibilities, creating a hybrid experience. It links what is good and valuable about print, like the materiality and physicality, but also the reflective quality carried through the illustration and connects this with what is good about new media, the multimedia possibilities and the luminosity of the screen, next to the ability to archive, view and transport you from one experience to the next.

In this context this hybridity in experience is perfect, it exploits and plays with the possibilities of each media platform, whilst questioning their deterministic nature. You can enjoy the book, but only get the full understanding with the multi-media extension. You can only reach the multi-media when you have the book. The book is both the navigator towards as well as a breakaway from the hypnotic lure of the screen. The screen enlivens the book, but needs the stillness of the page to reflect. Are we going to be unable to read print without grabbing our smartphones to comprehend the content? Perhaps, sometimes and in this case yes please.

Gutenberg-Museum Mainz,


Moving Type

October 21st, 2011 – August 12th, 2012

QR page to Typolution animation 2007