Perception Icon



Within real world interactions, people take varying amounts of time to complete tasks. They also stop and reflect on past experiences for extended amounts of time. In designing an interface, slowness and reflection can aid in the creation of individualized interaction and counter the fast-paced, rationalist efficiency that exists in typical interfaces. To design a meaningful system, "the diversity of users is a basic premise of appropriate design (Kutar et al. 343)." No two participants will interact with a system in the same way. In designing such a system, individuality should be noted and incorporated into the design of interfaces. Perception is an interactive art project that addresses these issues. The interface for the project was designed as a slow, reflective system that consists of thoughtful interaction and is mindful of human individuality. It also attempts to acknowledge and use human sensory experience to engage participants in interaction as they take an abstract walk along a virtual ocean shoreline.

Outside of the Installation at the Beall Center A Beach Still from the Video A Visitor Interacting with the Installation

A visitor entering the installation at the Beall Center (above left), a still of the beach and seaweed from the video (above center) and a visitor interacting with the installation at the Beall Center (above right)

Project Description

Perception is an art project that was initially designed for the Arts, Computation and Engineering first year exhibition Hybrid Vigor at the Beall Center at UC Irvine in June of 2004. The idea of the project was to create a walk along an ocean shore at the individual pace of the participant. Typically, people alternate between walking and stopping to observe nature as they walk beside an ocean. The video for the project was filmed to focus on the shoreline and waves as opposed to the horizon. In developing a more abstract interpretation of the real-life experience, the idea was that one would look at the ground in a contemplative mode as he/she experienced the ocean. At a certain point within the video, the participant can actually experience seeing the complete ocean shoreline. Within this moment, abstract elements come into focus and the complete idea of the video can be grasped.

When the project was exhibited at the Beall, visitors could navigate through the video (i.e. along the ocean shore), which was projected on a wall, using their bodies as interfaces in relation to a sensor system. Distance from the sensor in the physical space of the installation indicated whether a participant could move forward, backward or pause in moving through the video at his/her own pace. A central point of discovery in the physical space of the installation created the location of pause. Motion away from the point allowed faster movement through the video. Location closer to the point perpetuated slow movement. Forward and backward movement could also occur respectively through moving toward the projection wall or away from the wall toward the back of the room. Within the physical space of the room, a point also existed where the video was in focus. At other points, the video became distorted in a wave-like fashion. The concept was to create different points of interaction in the physical installation space to allow participants to explore the spatial environment and the video with varying modes of perception. Audio speakers were also located on either side of the video projection on the floor. Within the installation, sound served as an emotional backdrop for the interactive experience. The sound composition was layered to combine lapping water sounds with the roar of ocean waves.

Technical Realization

Technically, the project consisted of a real-time ultrasonic ranging sensor PIC circuit interfaced with Max/MSP/Jitter by Cycling ’74. Max/MSP is sound composition and digital signal processing software. Through the use of Jitter modules with Max/MSP, video and 3D graphics can be added to a project. Together, Max/MSP and Jitter can be used to create real-time interactive installations. In the development of Perception, Max/MSP/Jitter was interfaced with a sensor that was connected to the serial port of a PC computer. The sensor was used to detect the presence and distance of visitors that interacted with an abstract video of the ocean shore in the physical installation space. The physical installation of the project in the gallery was enclosed within a black curtain with a door on the back left-hand side (when facing the video projection) to create a quiet environment for the participant. Only the person closest to the screen could interact with the video. Additional visitors could stand in the background of the enclosed space and watch the interaction.


Hällnas, Lars, and Johan Redström. "Slow Technology - Designing for Reflection." Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 2001. London: Springer-Verlag, 5 (2001): 201-12.

Kutar, Maria S., et al. "The Cognitive Dimensions of an Artifact vis-à-vis Individual Human Users: Studies with Notations for the Temporal Specification of Interactive Systems." Cognitive Technology 2001. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, LNAI 2117 (2001): 342-355.


Concept and Implementation: Margaret Watson
Special Thanks: Tom Jennings, Ryan Schoelerman and Erik Conrad


PIC circuit with Ultrasonic Ranging Sensor and serial interface to PC
Stereo speaker system



© 2004 Margaret Watson