2005 Annual Design Review Interactive Best of Category

DIM Mobile Retail Unit
DIM, a 53-foot-long rolling apparel store, travels throughout the U.S. spreading the good news of interactive design and accessible fashion. When the truck arrives at a location in America’s hinterlands it begins to transform: With the push of a button, the walls move outward, tripling the floor space and revealing a fantastic futuristic retail environment.

Rather than display clothing on racks, DIM, named for the clothing line owned by the Sara Lee Corporation, showcases wares through interactive media. The mobile unit is equipped with 200 LCD panels, connected to sensors and cameras, that serve as front pieces for drawers containing the merchandise. Each drawer has four screens—the bottom three show videos of models wearing the clothing, while the top panel displays a portrait of the last customer to open the drawer. Buyers’ images also appear on screens elsewhere in the store to create an environment that is both foreign and familiar. “This is Big Brother logic applied to retail,” Tribe said. Although he appreciated the “infectious dynamic” created by repurposed images, he was concerned that customers were losing control of their identities: “In these situations, it’s very difficult to say, ‘No, I’m not going to participate.'” Sayegh had a different take: “I see it as a way of building a sense of community.”

Whatever ethical issues the project raised, the jurors acknowledged that DIM turned the retail experience inside out: Customers represent continuity, while the store constantly changes location and appearance. “This is the kind of personalization that we’ve been seeing in the Web entries carried beyond the screen,” Helfand observed.

The jurors were inspired by the seamless collaboration between interaction and media designer Inbar Barak, architecture firm LOT-EK, and hardware and software designer Jake Barton. “All of the elements support the idea of transience and mutability, and it is impossible to determine where the architecture stops and design begins,” Sayegh said. “It’s a model of what can happen when skilled designers unite across disciplines behind a strong concept.”

DIM Mobile Retail Unit

Design Inbar Barak, interaction designer, principal, Inbar Barak (New York). LOT-EK (New York): Ada Tolla, Giuseppe Lignano, principals; Guy Zucker, project architect. Jake Barton, Local Projects (New York), hardware and software consultant. Elizabeth Goodman, research and design consultant; Shimei Faiman, Daniel Shiffman, programmers
Client Sara Lee Corporation (Winston-Salem, NC) Materials Aluminum drawers and floor; 200 19-inch LCD screens; custom sensors; keyboard inputs; VGA splitters and extenders; 22 PCs; stainless steel, Lexan, vinyl exterior
Software Custom software (VB and C)

Q+A with with Inbar Barak

What was the brief for this project?
The brief was short and unusual: to create a clothing store situated in a traveling unit. We were inspired by the nature of the program and the challenge of creating a community of users, identity, and recollection in a space that is never in the same place.

What was the design process?
I was approached by LOT-EK at the conceptual phase of the design. There was a desire to develop the interaction design architecture and media as one entity and have the disciplines and goals influence each other as much as possible.

Our initial design extended the physical space of the mobile retail unit into its surrounding environment, incorporating the use of wireless and the Internet as prominent features. The only real issue was time. We received the brief in February and had to be ready for a first trial launch at the end of April and then a second launch in May. So we made the decision to put all our efforts in the physical space.

While focusing on individual interactions was important, creating a communal space through visuals and actions was also key. The cumulative effect of all these interactions goes beyond the personal experience and commercial function and lends itself to a more abstract experience.

How did people react when DIM pulled up?
We usually went to little places and college towns. They knew we were coming and there was almost always a party. For the most part, people really enjoyed being photographed, but it was important that they not be tricked or forced to be part of the installation. Before your image would be added to the database you had to agree to share it. It wasn’t just incorporated by default.

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