GLOW in Eindhoven is one of the most popular light art festivals in the world. The designers of De Bende were asked to design innovative route signs for GLOW.
In 2017, the GLOW light art festival in Eindhoven attracted more than 740,000 visitors. But how do you show them the route to follow in a manner worthy of GLOW? Because a simple information sign just does not cut it at one of the most popular light art festivals in the world. An interesting challenge for the designers/creators of De Bende and Interactive Matter.
The signs had to be legible in the dark, tower above the crowds, withstand wind, rain and vandalism, and match the overall presentation of GLOW. That meant creative, attractive, innovative and striking, without drowning out the light art installations on show. It had to be possible to incorporate text, so that people knew what they were looking at and who created it, and the signs obviously needed to be kept affordable. Because if the pilot product was successful, the design would be used on a much larger scale in the future.
No easy task!
Hugo Nagtzaam, an industrial product designer who works for De Bende, likes challenges. De Bende ‘designs experiences’. “People are increasingly less interested in things, and increasingly more interested in authentic experiences, creating great memories”, Nagtzaam explains. “They want to be surprised and experience a feeling of wonder. Achieving that makes us feel good. The contract for GLOW was right up our street: creating cool shit for great people.” De Bende also really enjoys producing this kind of cool shit in co-creation with other companies. In this case, in collaboration with Serge Offermans of Interactive Matter in Eindhoven, which specialises in interactive software and electronics. Dick Rutte from Philips Lightning, an important participant in GLOW, also contributed his ideas.
De Bende's approach was to thoroughly investigate what the customer needed and the context in which the product would be used first. The next step was to devise a creative solution and then develop a prototype as quickly as possible. That prototype was tested and presented to the customer, and then improved based on the test results and customer feedback. After which, the customer was involved again for further testing. The result in this particular case: metal frames holding laser-engraved plastic plates and LED lighting around the periphery of those plates. The light shines through the engraving to project text and images.
The ‘signs’ were connected to the Internet. Hugo Nagtzaam: “The signs had to draw attention to the light art installations, which can be quite understated. We developed an app that allowed us to match the colours, effects and ‘liveliness’ of our product to the work of art and the actual environment around it on the spot. In consultation with the artist, of course.” The creators of the signs also wanted to make their products react to movement in the vicinity. “We like giving our products human traits”, says Nagtzaam. “A sign can be shy and dim its lights as you approach. Or it may be a show-stealer, which really goes to town when people walk past. This is all technically possible and worked perfectly in our workshop. But we soon discovered that it did not work during GLOW itself. There is always an unrelenting flow of people during the event.”
The challenges were mainly practical in nature. Such as making the signs windproof and waterproof. Nagtzaam: “We placed all the software and electronics in one compartment. That meant that we only had to make one part of the sign completely windproof and waterproof.” That solved the problem, but we also learned a lesson from our experiences during the 2017 edition of GLOW. “If you want to change or repair something, you have no access because the sign is hung up out of reach, at the top of a tree for example. In the version that we are currently working on, this compartment is no longer part of the sign itself, but located close to the power plug to ensure easy access at all times.”
The innovative light signs created by De Bende and Interactive Matter received enthusiastic reactions during GLOW 2017. The customer was also happy. GLOW's website proudly states: “In comparison to other light festivals, this shows that Eindhoven also leads in this area in terms of expertise and technology.” The new version will be even better, Hugo Nagtzaam assures us. “We noticed that the effect of the signs was strongly dependent on whether they were standing at ground level or hanging. In one location, the effect was fantastic and it looked as though the words were floating in a tree. At another location - close to an explosively lit work of art - you could walk past the sign without seeing it. We will take that into account for the next edition of GLOW. You can also hang the new signs up in many different ways.”
Each year in November – when the days are short – the GLOW light festival invades and takes possession of Eindhoven. The city of light lives up to its name during this period and changes into a huge open-air museum. A six-kilometre route, open to all at no charge, takes visitors past works of art produced by domestic and international light artists and designers. Both famous artists and young talent, because the emphasis of GLOW lies on innovation and developing talented people.
GLOW Next, a permanent element of the eight-day festival, is where design meets high tech in an environment of experimental collaboration between artists, designers, researchers and technology companies based in Brainport Eindhoven.
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