As a lifetime New Yorker I love the subway, but that doesn't mean I'm not constantly complaining about it at the same time. So I'm blown away by Canopy, a project by Amrita Kulkarni, Emma Laurin and Matt Batchelor (who recently withdrew from the project) to create virtual skylights which display the sky on the roof of subway train cars. The design trio developed Canopy while studying at London's Royal College of Art, and displayed the project at their graduation show.
iDesign talked to Kulkarni about the extensive research that went into developing Canopy and her hope that the project may help subway commuters reconnect with the city above them.
Jacob Kleinman: So how does Canopy work?
Amrita Kulkarni: Canopy is a dynamic display system on the ceiling of a train that renders a new perspective of the passing environment overground. Non-reflective e-paper display panels are fixed to the ceiling, allowing for an unobtrusive display. Artists are invited to illustrate the environment on ground with an exaggerated 3-point perspective suggesting depth of the train. Landmarks indicate location and journey progress, while an indicative sky offers visual continuity. Real-time travel information and contextual advertising helps travellers explore the city while engaging with the journey. The content, stored on an embedded PC in the carriage is updated via WiFi connection either at the depot or in the tunnel, depending on where service is available.
JK: What was the inspiration for this project?
AK: As a diverse group of three design students at the Innovation Design Engineering course at the RCA, we came together to address a real-world issue and fundamental concern that by design intervention could help make lives better. Living in London, we were familiar with an underground commute and we realised that commuters on the London underground today are detached from their environment, the city, the movement of the train, communities and events surrounding them. We wanted to add a new visual reference within the train to restore this sense of movement and place.
JK: How does Canopy represent your style and vision as a designer?
AK: Although we were studying the same course at the RCA, we all come from varying backgrounds: computer science, engineering, architecture and graphic design. As a team, we concentrated on using design to bring delight into everyday life and came up with a design that combined all of our skills. Our vision is to use the power of design to create tangible solutions to existing issues in society. We based our design process on extensive interviews and feedback, and used them to refine the product.
JK: How has Canopy been received?
AK: Canopy has been praised as an innovative and disruptive initiative to improve an underground commuter's journey. The project was a finalist at the RSA Student Awards 2012, under the category of 'The Good Journey.' It has been on display at both the Interim Show and Graduation Show at the Royal College of Art, 2012.
JK: How did you become interested in design?
We strongly believe in the power of design to reach out to society, and took this opportunity of studying at the Royal College of Art to focus our skills to address one societal issue. As Innovation Design Engineering students, we explored a complete spectrum of identification of design problem, insights through interviews and personal observation, product development, and social and economic sustainability.