I'm going to preface this by saying: I am a huge geek, and I'd like to pose a question. When is it appropriate to let the technology drive the concept of a project, and when should you let the concept lead the charge? Surprisingly enough, I'd argue that the vast majority of the time an installation will be vastly more successful if you allow the concept to drive the technology.
I love to learn about what's new and what's so new it hasn't even hit the market yet. That said, rarely do I try to put something in a project just because it's available. In my first post I talked about the tools in my toolbox; I'd like to expand on that a bit. The technology, the sensors, the 6 mm panels, the transparent mesh, etc., are all the tools that allow us to create; allow us the freedom to use some of the world's biggest structures as our canvases. But we shouldn't let that overshadow the fact that we need to have the right concept behind the application before we unleash the tools. You wouldn't build a staircase just because you figured out how to use a hammer and nails — first of all, a staircase in the middle of nowhere would look ridiculous; secondly it would fall over either physically or metaphorically because you have no walls, no ideas supporting it.
We've all had the client meeting where there's excitement filling the room because the client felt they saw something amazing they wanted to use for themselves, only to find out there was no real substance behind the flash. Our responsibility as specifiers and designers is to make sure we're giving our clients what they really need. Sometimes, that means making the hard decision, illustrating to them that even though they'd really like that new flashy 3D high-def display to raise and lower on pistons based on the proximity of their customers, what they really need is a poster. These decisions go right back to the concept of technical translation. They need to trust us to let them know when they need the right technology based on our technical and artistic expertise.
The other thing this can help us avoid is over exposure. As a theatrical designer, it was always important to keep some lighting tools close to the chest. That way when you have something that really warrants the special feeling, the once-a-show moments — the balcony scene or the final kiss — you have something that will wow the audience with something totally unique. I'm not saying that every installation shouldn't get the technology they deserve, quite the opposite in fact. If projects and people are analyzed well, the concept will always drive the specification; this, ladies and gentlemen, is the takeaway. In this humble designer's opinion, get to know your situation and client because what they're trying to achieve will ultimately lead toward the best tools for the job. Don't pick up the wrench to drive in the nail just because it's there.
Larry Zoll is the creative integration manager for digital media consulting firm Sensory Interactive where he is responsible for the success of projects from concept design through operational management.