Project ‘Screen as____’

A compilation of images and clips created over the course of research about the screen as a material space. 


They slip into our pockets and palms and sit on our walls and desks, seamlessly extending our reach into the world. Screens are everywhere but what if we grabbed a hold of this convenient interface, recognised its materiality and played with it? UTS Visual Communication Design Honours graduate, Joanna Shuen, conducted a research project that explores our relationships with ‘the screen’ and poses these questions…

Screens are everywhere. From the mobile phone in your hand to the computer you’re viewing now, these display surfaces have saturated our world. They have become embedded objects in our daily bodily activities, and it has become the medium with which to interface with the world. They are omnipresent yet overlooked. As these screens continue to evolve and grow in ubiquity, we must stop and ask the questions, What is a screen? How do we understand them better, and consequently better design for screens?

The research project Screen as____ is an ongoing suite of experiments that adapt technology in unusual ways to create new understandings of screens. It follows a process of deconstructing the problem and understanding it in its smallest elements to better understand the whole. In this case, this research presents the screens not only as a display device but a sophisticated material space.

Thus far, I have completed 15 tests, some of which include Analogue Feedback, Composite and Visual Jockey. In this article, I will reflect on the first two experiments listed here. To read more about the others visit the project’s website.

The screen eventually degrades the image


Screen as Analogue Feedback was the first experiment conducted. Informed by French artist Corinne Vionnet’s artwork Total Flag, the method is to upload an image onto the screen, photograph the screen, upload the new photo to the screen and repeat the process until the desired result is achieved. This experiment showed me the screen could have a performative role in the design process and contribute to the final aesthetic. By having first-hand experience of Vionnet’s method, I was able to shift my view of the digital screen as merely a display surface to be designed on, to view the screen as having unique visual qualities; this new thinking filtered into following experiments. The visual aesthetic of Analogue Feedback led to further investigations about screen pixels and moiré patterns.

Overlapping screen layers


Screen as Composite follows on from Screen as Itself. The Itself experiment involves reverse-engineering laptop screens, where I uncovered the many different layers found inside a screen. The Composite experiment uses LCD matrices, discovered in Itself, to create beautiful compositions. The name is a reference to photo compositing, which is the process of combining images to make a single picture. Like a composite photograph, splitting the matrix and overlapping the layers creates an image. Screen as Composite came about through playing – I rotated, overlapped and moved the different layers around and unexpectedly realised overlapping glass panes from the LCD matrix layer created patterns. At the time, this moment of discovery increased moral and highlighted that, as a hands-on designer, I should return to the physical when I feel stuck or uninspired. More importantly, this experiment demonstrates the physicality and alternative visual modes of using the screen as a material.

For me, this research was a fun, experimental way to work through materials and adopt unusual and hands-on methods for academic research. For designers, this research highlights the complex relationships between humans and screens and, encourages practitioners to take new and responsible approaches to work with this complex medium. For the general audience, this research invites screen users to realign themselves with the screen by being more aware of the surfaces they regularly view; how and why screens operate and, the screen’s impact on how they feel, behave and think.

If you want to contact Joanna about this project, please email her here or visit the project website for more information here.

If you have a postgraduate design project (Masters, PhD etc) that you think needs a wider audience read this and get in touch.


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