University of Oregon Ford Alumni Center
Second Story was invited to be a part of the Oregon Ford Alumni Center through a creative partnership with Opsis Architects who were leading the architectural process of the project. Second Story has increasingly focused on the integration of architecture, technology, and user experience and the design intent of the project fit well with our core capabilities.
How did you (your team) approach the creative process?
The University of Oregon Ford Alumni Center presented a unique challenge for Second Story of telling past history and honoring alumni while simultaneously acting as a recruiting center for prospective students and their families. While most university alumni centers are heritage repositories celebrating the past, the Ford Alumni Center equally cultivates the future. Serving these multiple audiences with non-traditional interactive surfaces integrated into an architectural space presented interesting challenges but also great opportunities.
Initially, the studio conducted a broad onsite survey. We interviewed an array of both students and alumni to hone in on what they considered the university’s most important qualities and the areas of overlap for both audiences. This intersection of ideas and content was the guide to our early thinking and conceptual work of the different interactives.
Our process was iterative and collaborative with the diverse parties involved in the creation of the Ford Alumni Center. Careful coordination was required to ensure that the input from university stakeholders, architects, contractors, and more, was considered and incorporated into the final designs of the experiences. Second Story approaches every project with an open process that focuses on sharing information and the constant evolution of the creative results.
What was your inspiration?
Second Story is a company that creates experiences that are focused on creative storytelling. In the earliest stages of every project, our deepest inspiration comes from the content of the experience itself. In this instance, we took our inspiration from the University’s brief and the relationship between the University, students, and the alumni where each shapes the other. We thought about the transformative power of water across the surface of the Earth—how the bedrock of the University both informs but is also changed by a river of students and alumni over time. Ultimately, one can see this concept in the final form. The Oregon Cascades appear as an abstract waterfall of content and the Alumni Table directly references the look and flow of a river coursing through the building.
Can you briefly describe how the user would interact with each element?
As a welcome center to the University, the Ford Alumni Center is the epicenter of inquiry for first-time visitors, student tour groups, function and event attendees, meeting attendees, and the dozens of people who work in the building every day. Nine towering “Oregon Cascades” serve stories, information, and artifacts; a large interactive “Alumni Table” recognizes every alumni in the school’s history, and the “Entry Wall” reveals the day’s campus events while recognizing those whose contributions made the Ford Center possible.
The Oregon Cascades are touch-sensitive floor-to-ceiling displays that present movies, images, slide shows, text, infographics and maps reflecting the university as a whole. Like the sections of a bookstore, each Cascade is devoted to a different subject matter: LEARN (Academics), COMPETE (Athletics), LIVE (Student Life), EXPLORE (Campus and Community), and HONOR (Notable Ducks). The media was designed to flow through the Cascades like a waterfall of content, introducing the diversity of opportunities—academic, athletic, social, recreational—that define the University of Oregon experience. Visitors can simply stand and watch to see all the university has to offer, while more active visitors could swipe across the Cascade to navigate through stories, touch to dig deeper into specific areas, or access menus to go directly to the information they seek.
The Alumni Tables are a long horizontal display that reflect the vertical proportions of the Oregon Cascades and display a constantly flowing stream of particles. These streams playfully respond to the visitor’s touch, redirecting and creating iconic “O”s in the flow. When a visitor touches the UO icon, they reveal an interface where the names of every Duck can be called up and filtered by school or class, or searched by name or activity. When alumni are found, their names, school, major, class, and activities are displayed, as well as a quote or message from those who contribute through the Alumni Association.
The Entry Wall incorporates two large displays into the top of the wall that serve as a portal into the day’s events on campus. On one side the event titles are listed alongside associated featured content. A second screen broadcasts current energy consumption and efficiency information for the building as well as the building-specific events information (this screen is part of a campus-wide system and was not designed or developed by Second Story). Hidden within the wooden slats that comprise the wall substrate are LED signage displays connected to an Alumni Foundation database that constantly cycles through the thousands of names of individuals who contribute to the university each year. Names emanate through the fir veneer, constantly cascading across the wall. On the surface of the slats are laser-etched names of the individuals and organizations whose major contributions made the Ford Alumni Center possible
What were the challenges with the project and how did you overcome them?
There were a handful of creative challenges in the project—unique form factors, scalable interfaces, and an incredible amount of content—that have become some of the strongest features of the final installation.
The Oregon Cascades are architecturally unique in that these tall, totem-like structures, sit in track system that allows each column to be easily repositioned. Merged together, the presentation extends across the multiple surfaces creating a different tier of experience for the visitor to the space. The Alumni Table are also unique, requiring iterative refinement to the user experience and developed software to best work within the well illuminated environment.
The experiences were designed to be visible at multiple distances, offering different kinds of engagement and interactivity. Close-up, the touchable interfaces react quickly for the visitor and content is displayed at fairly high resolution. Stepping further away, larger imagery and content tie the experiences together, but also act as an overture for the entire experience that becomes populated with an incredible amount of content. Over 1,100 stories containing in excess of 4,500 content elements were culled from hours of video and approximately 50,000 images giving immense content power to the experience
Was the project effective and how?
The project is a success. The Interpretive center is now the hub for campus tours, where campus guides use the installation as a tool to highlight behind-the-scenes features of the University and prospective students seek out their areas of interest. “This is the first place prospective students will visit when they come to campus, and the first place they will return after they graduate,” is how Roger Thomson, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, describes the Alumni Center. “It will be our home base to begin campus tours, conduct orientation sessions, and show everything the university has to offer.”
The end result is not just a static presentation, but also includes a powerful suite of administrative tools to allow the experience to change over time. The custom content management system allows stakeholders across the university to log on and modify their respective content areas. They can select between dozens of templates, upload and crop images, add videos, create slide shows, and add whole sections to their themes.
Why are you a member of AIGA Portland?
Second Story has a strong relationship with AIGA and we are proud to be members of the local chapter. Second Story has also worked closely with AIGA in the past, creating the online presence for the AIGA Design Archives. Additionally, Julie Beeler, Founder and Managing Director for Second Story, serves on the national board.
Credit for all three installed components:
Executive Producer – Julie Beeler
Creative Director – Brad Johnson
Studio Director – Jen Guibord
Technology Director – Thomas Wester
Exhibition Architects – Lars Uwe Bleher, Jan Schmelter
Environmental and Physical Designers – Aaron Walser, Shoam Thomas
Media and Lead Designer – Chris Dewan
Interaction Designer – Matt Sundstrom
Visual Designer – Aaron Walser
Environmental Graphics – Meagan Greer
Preliminary Experience Design – Christian Bannister. Shoam Thomas
Lead Systems Developer – David Brewer
Digital Media Developer – Aubrey Francois
Developers – Donny Richardson, Matt Arnold, Thomas Wester, Sreekrishnan Jayadevan
Prototyper and Preparator – Sam Jeibmann
Systems Developer – Thomas Reynolds
Integration Engineer – Matt Arnold
Media and Content Producer – David Waingarten
Writer and Content Producer – Scott Smith
Production Coordinators – Jen Dolan, Elizabeth Bourke
Quality Assurance – Heather Daniel, Jen Dolan
Production Artist – Sara Siri, Lisa Kennedy
Producer – Heather Daniel
Architects – Opsis Architecture
General Contractor – Fortis Construction
A/V Systems Integration – MAD Systems
Fabricator – Lexington