The original intent of The Lightstream Chronicles was a tasty coffee table, hard-bound book with slick, varnished black pages and a sweet linen cover with LSC emblem embossed in silver foil. Sounds cool, huh? Well, if you have been following the story, the blog, or the web site, then you know that that idea died a painful death on Kickstarter some months ago. I did a full diagnosis on that in a previous post, but now that I am several weeks into what has become The Lightstream Chronicles Web Comic I’m thinking that digital is not so bad after all.
There are a couple of reasons for this change of heart:
Experiencing The Lightstream Chronicles has two foci, one for the reader-observer and one for the designer. For the designer, the experience of creating the story, the research, scriptwriting, planning, design, and production become processes of continuous challenge. Each embodies design in different ways from the not so familiar means of writing fiction and dialog, to the more familiar methods of visual thinking, planning, prototyping, rendering, retouching, selection and layout. These, however, could all be grouped into the category of doing, which are valuable exercises in polishing the craft of a visual designer. A less visible benefit of the design fiction process is accessible only if the designer embraces the intentional act of questioning and reflection. The fabrication or visualization of realistic diegetic prototypes can play a major role in suspending disbelief about change and the plausibility of near and distant futures, but at this level, they are little more than contextual support for more believable stories.
In order for diegetic prototypes and artifacts from the future to provide the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) commentary on the artifacts in use today and the interconnectedness of design and culture, the designer must ask, “What if?“ And the question does not concern the, “if ” of whether the artifact could be made, it asks what would happen if it actually was made, and subsequently used. It is this inquiry, that yields the story of human interaction, and the resulting behavioral and or social changes that occur. The experience of the designer then, can be twofold: as hypothesizing visualizer of future artifacts, adjunct to a believable tale, or thought leader who welds artifacts with human behavior in the form of narrative to provoke discussion and debate.
The latter was the intention of this thesis and project. It yielded and continues to yield an experience that drives reflection into the end-result of design and technology. Indeed, if in the storytelling, the audience of science fiction and its design sub-genre stops with the satisfying act of consumption, a strong element of the meal is left on the table. Such design fiction is intentionally made and should be similarly examined. Through reflection, these future artifacts provide form of social introspection and a way of slowing (at least long enough to converse and examine) the headlong pursuit of more, because we can. Therein the designer’s experience is enhanced through a far deeper examination of the process of design, and it’s consequences.
The second focus is deals with the zoom tool in the hands of the viewer. For the audience, in many ways, The Lightstream Chronicles is an interactive graphic novel. Though it is not built with sophisticated programming that incorporates motion and sound, it is built in a high-resolution format (300 ppi) that on most computer displays requires the reader to engage by actively zooming, panning and scrolling to navigate the pages. This was intentional. Building this level of detail facilitates the process of inquiry. It draws the reader into a more inquisitive relationship the environment, the characters and the diegetic prototypes. This sense of realism, of tangible artifacts, tactile surfaces, and atmospheric detail is critical to the design fiction experience. The resolution serves the dual purpose of having artwork that is of sufficient resolution for an eventual printing, and it encourages the reader to push into the imagery up to five times, thereby increasing engagement with the narrative.
This is a key distinguishing difference between traditionally hand drawn sequential art. While hand drawn art can be scanned or digitally built at a similar or higher resolution, it most often does not hold the level of 3-dimensional detail that would, upon inspection, yield any further value (beyond a fine examination of the artist’s technique). With CG that is built, realistically textured, lit, and rendered in virtual space the reader must adopt the illusion that the objects and people are not simply implied through the artist’s technique, but actually exist in 3D space.
In no way do I slight the sublime satisfaction of flipping through those glossy pages, but diving deep into virtual space has it’s advantages.