Five questions with interactive designer and creative technologist Bram Brogaerts Interview

Jack Thomas Taylor (JTT): For our exhibition Breaking News? how the smartphone changed journalism (fall 2019–spring 2020), many of the topics we discussed were centered around how the smartphone plays a part in the production, consumption, and dissemination of news. You worked with the museum to develop a data visualization that focused and expanded on this topic. How did you evaluate and select information for the content you created?

Bram Brogaerts (BB): Our initial approach was to look at available data. It meant comparing multiple sources of information. Sometimes, data about smartphone penetration rates vary wildly from source to source, so we selected the most independent and verified sources for inclusion. In the next phase of the content development, we used a subset of the information to tell the story in the exhibition focusing on presenting the information in a way that sparked a conversation by asking questions such as: why is smartphone penetration much higher in one country than in the other and how are these numbers reported and by whom? We believed it was essential to pose this type of information not as an undeniable truth but as a starting point for discussion and debate.

JTT: You could have suggested numerous ways to convey this information. Why did you choose to use data visualization?

BB: As a design studio, we believe stories are hidden in the endless stream of information and data produced daily. We aim to extract these stories from complex datasets and tell them with the audience in mind. For us, data visualization is a tool to gain a perspective on complex systems, and we believe when they are visualized correctly, they can change the way visitors perceive the world around them.

JTT: At The Media Majlis, we have an interesting layout of 56 screens (the armature) that can be seen from various places in the main exhibition space. What was your approach to creating content for this landscape of screens?


BB: Once we had the basis of the datasets we were going to work with and were clear on the stories that we wanted to tell, we tried to step into the shoes of a visitor to the exhibition. What would they see? What would the pacing be? How would we create narratives that unfold both through time and across the different screens? We developed a series of visualizations that would tell these stories in an engaging and compelling way. Through an iterative process, we kept refining them and then built a mock-up of the armature so we could understand how they would all work together. We developed tools that allowed us to simplify this process so we could test out our various visualizations and see how they would come together as a whole. In the end, the process proved quite challenging compared to designing for a single screen but immensely rewarding since the visitor can gain many different insights and experience the armature on many different levels. Audiences could zoom in on one specific theme, see the armature as a whole experience, and explore other stories through time, or find surprises. To us the armature proved to be a beautiful medium to tell stories.

JTT: What was the process behind developing an overarching visual language for the armature?

BB: We decided very early on that the visual language should reflect the form of the armature and the fact that each visualization operates in context with the others. We chose to use the same basic geometric shapes, grids, colors, and patterns across the armature and animate them to create a visual language and rhythm that was both minimal and complex simultaneously. The idea was to use a minimal approach to make the information easily digestible and create a visual identity that would be easily recognizable but to use complex animations that would inspire the viewer to explore each visualization and find new stories and insights. Using our visualization tools, we could see each graphic in the context of the whole armature and ensure they were working together to create a cohesive visual identity.

JTT: Sound and audio significantly impact how people experience visual media; however, you chose not to use sound. Why?

BB: While we are interested in sound design and how sound can alter the user's experience, in this case, the decision to not use sound was made with the curatorial team very early in the process. We believe that the visualizations speak for themselves and that the armature can be experienced in many different ways. Some visitors might want to spend more time with one specific visualization. Others might want to move through the space and take in the whole armature. We didn't want to use sound to force the visitor to experience the armature in a specific way but empower them to explore the data how they wanted. We had a desired journey in mind where teachers and students would come together in the space to discuss some of the insights on the screen and have in-depth discussions and debates. In this instance, the sound could have created a barrier very quickly. That being said, for the next exhibition at The Media Majlis—opening in August 2022—the visitor's experience with the armature will be very different. This time, the sound will play a significant role. We don't want to give away too much already, but for us, it has been inspiring to create two very different experiences for the same armature.


___This conversation took place virtually on May 30, 2022

Bram Brogaerts
Bram Brogaerts is a designer, visual artist and creative coder working with interactive media. His work focuses on the relationship between viewer and media and explores how this relationship can form a basis for tactile, aural and visual experiences. He is the co-founder of Superposition and a tutor at ArtEZ University of the Arts, an art academy in The Netherlands.

Interactive design studio Superposition explores possibilities for an emotive relationship with the digital world. Superposition uncovers and visualizes untold stories through technology, code, and design. To do so, they experiment with and improve on contemporary interfaces and technologies to engage the audience on an emotional level. They believe each project is an opportunity to question how humans interact with the digital world and make complex concepts, information, data, processes, and systems more tangible.

  • Author credits

    Jack Taylor

    Jack Thomas Taylor is Assistant Curator at The Media Majlis, and curator of Arab Identities, images in film. Recent projects include Mind the Gap hosted at Tashkeel (Dubai, 2017), and collaboration on Heritage: A User’s Manual held at the Southbank Centre Archive Studio, and Inert Matter, Then Live Wire, both in London in 2016.  He has also worked as a strategist and producer for an international creative agency, as a features writer and editor for various magazines, and in 2013 founded Alef Magazine in Qatar. He holds a MA in Culture, Criticism and Curation from Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London (2016).