After building addictive interactive installations for high-flying brands like Infiniti, Showtime and Nokia, the Brooklyn-based techoculturalists at HUSH decided to go back to school. University of Dayton, to be specific.
The private Ohio institution was looking for smart creatives to design a brand experience capable of enrapturing prospective students. HUSH was looking for another opportunity to employ its immersive design instincts to tell a human story that would make an immediate impact. The result is a massive, motion-sensitive digital wall undulating with real-time geometric animation and hidden, first-person video demonstrating the university experience in a personal way.
"The advertising industry always asks about the return-on-investment in terms of millions of views, pages or attendees," HUSH co-founder and creative director David Schwarz explained. "University of Dayton might only get around a hundred students a day walking into that admissions building, but the impact is much greater. Prospective students are at a critical juncture in their lives, and this interactive experience could seriously affect and encourage them."
HUSH's sprawling wall of computer-generated waves and hidden video footage, shot by a crew armed with wearable GoPro digital cameras, resulted in a visually impressive hello for newfound Flyers. The project originated with Philly-based agency 160over90, who tapped HUSH to adapt the colorful, geometric brand language it had already created for University of Dayton to a 21st-century generation better adjusted to console and online gaming's real-time physical environments. After a month-long discovery phase established its vision, HUSH set to transforming a huge wall in the university's new admissions building into a living, breathing welcome mat.
"Kids assemble there before touring the campus, and they're probably pretty nervous or excited or a mixture of both, as most teenagers are before they go to school," Schwarz said. "So we found it cool to work on a project where we can affect people who are in a very particular emotional state. Much of advertising involves broadcasting out into the world, with little idea what viewers are thinking or feeling. But these students are at a crossroads in their lives: where to attend college is a big decision. We wanted to make an impact that could be a real testament to University of Dayton's investment in their students."
HUSH, with art and technology directors, Flightphase, developed the installation's real-time interactive visuals with Open Frameworks, a widely used opensource toolkit. The team leveraged the brightly colored graphics of University of Dayton's brand language to develop the grid of colored cubes that morphed into hypnotic arrangements whenever a viewer approached the wall. The three-dimensional digital cubes would then flip over entirely to reveal GoPro footage of activities unique to the Dayton campus, infusing its computational design with a decidedly human point of view.
"It's deceptively simple, because all the waves of patterns were the result of slight tweaks of the application's parameters," Schwarz explained. "All of these small refinements created beautiful, massive visual variations. The whole thing felt alive.
The video footage in particular gave the project life well beyond its intentionally lo-fi origins. It wasn't an epic, global shoot. But you feel like you're there, mixing in a chemistry class, going for a run on campus, or cheering at a soccer game."
HUSH's project for the University of Dayton logically evolved from earlier forays into interactivity that taught instructive lessons. Its Webby-nominated installation for Infiniti at the Classic Car Show gave HUSH formative insight into the group behavioral dynamics of its interested audiences. Ranging from hesitant observers to type-A experimenters, HUSH's immersive interfacing often pulled everyone into a communal experience. It also challenged the studio to work with a major automotive brand's legacy of multimedia assets outside of its creative control, a top-down arrangement HUSH enthusiastically traded in when University of Dayton came calling.
"We were able to control every pixel this time, which is something that I was really adamant about," said Schwarz. "With Infiniti, we had to retroactively build an interactive experience around existing content. But with the University of Dayton, the entire project was conceived and executed from the ground, up."
Meanwhile, HUSH tapped the party vein created by its personalized architectural spaces for Showtime's annual SHOHouse extravaganza, whose interactive purpose was to blow minds with a bold multimedia tableaux, which it did well enough. That installation was a heart-stopping red neon room awash in interactive sound and animation, but it still shared kinship with the University of Dayton project in the sense that both were designed to be brain-tickling funhouses of pixels and lights. HUSH graduated with flying colors.
In the final analysis, the University of Dayton project inserted yet another interactive feather into HUSH's continuing evolution into an immersive design industry standout. It helps leverage the studio nicely against those that excel in either the creation of visually rich digital content or high-impact personal narratives, but not both, added Schwarz. HUSH is teeming with creative geeks who enjoy freaking media for humans seeking soulful connection through design and technology. Early-adopters can check that philosophy in action this fall at the 2011 Esquire House, where HUSH has built an interactive media experience for Acura, defined by a table topped with an interactive lycra surface, buzzing with real-time projected animation, that attendees can actually press to communicate and even make beautiful music together.
"I've really enjoyed our active transition to interactivity," Schwarz concluded. "Our technologists and developers get the user experience and also value visual design and story. I think we're a great mashup."