DML Blog

New to the DML: Carlin Soos

posted on 21 Oct 2014 17:59 by carlinsoos

Carlin Soos
Seed Packets, 2014
From thesis exhibition: Semiotics of the Garden
Digital print

Hey, everyone! I’m Carlin, a first year MA student at the Bard Graduate Center, and the newest addition to the Digital Media Lab.

As one would expect when jumping into graduate study, the past few weeks have been filled with a lot of very exciting changes. I recently moved from Portland, Maine, where I did my undergraduate studies in graphic design and art history at the Maine College of Art. With this location switch, from a medium-sized city in New England to the largest on the East Coast, I am also launching a change in professional focus: from a practicing graphic designer to a researcher of the discipline.

For the past four years I was deeply involved in various graphic design practices. I interned for a moderately sized advertising firm in Portland, switched to a smaller design studio where I focused more on identity and print design, worked as an in-house designer for an art college, and did historical research for two type designers currently creating typefaces for N’ko and Ge’ez scripts. I’ve tried a bit of everything, and had some great experiences. However, as my academic studies turned more towards art history and theory, I began to think about graphic design not solely as a contemporary practice, but as a field with a rich history—a history that is, sadly, often neglected in contemporary art historical study. I’m excited to fuse my passions for graphic design and historical research, and seek to add contributions to the growing field of typographic history.

Carlin Soos
Superstition, 2013

I have found at the BGC an amazingly supportive community that is encouraging of my research interests, which (at the moment) focuses mostly on twentieth-century graphic design, advertising, and print propaganda from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the history of typeface design. The DML is just one more place at the BGC where I can combine my various interests in material culture, design, and technology, and help others engage in the various fields I love. Over the years the DML has become a project hub at the BGC, supporting faculty and students in creating incredibly accomplished projects. During my time in the lab I hope to show others the amazing opportunities technology offers, and give them the support and encouragement they need to use it to the highest degree.

Carlin Soos
Wormwood Wordmark, 2014
From thesis exhibition: Semiotics of the Garden

Comments: 3

Cooper Hewitt's Digital Transformation

posted on 20 Oct 2014 15:31 by Andrew Gardner

Cooper Hewitt.

New York City has been short a design museum these past three years—not the only one, but certainly an important one. That’s all about to change this coming December, when the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopens its doors after extensive renovation. Located inside the historic Carnegie Mansion along Museum Mile on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the museum, which claims to be the nation’s only museum dedicated entirely to historic and contemporary design, has been working to transform its image from stodgy and inaccessible to inviting and technologically hip. To that end, the museum’s digital department has completely transformed everything about the museum experience.

I spent the summer at the museum as a Peter A. Krueger fellow, immersed in the digital museum transformation, working closely with the Cooper Hewitt’s digital and curatorial departments as they prepare for reopening. The centerpiece of the museum’s strategy is what they are calling the “digital pen.” Shaped much like your common writing implement, these pens are handed to visitors the moment they walk into the door and purchase a ticket. Each visitor will then use the pen to “collect” objects they find interesting or want to learn more about. The operating principle is simple: see the object, look at the label and wave the pen in front of it, where a sensor registers pen data. This selection of objects will be accessible after the visitor leaves the museum by accessing a unique web URL printed on each ticket.

The pen can also be used to interact with the second part of the museum’s digital transformation: the digital table. Scattered throughout the museum, these 8-foot by 4-foot touchscreens are the digital hub of object information within the museum. Here, the user can use the digital pen to learn more about the objects they have collected, see related objects not on view and even draw on and manipulate images of their favorite objects. The immersion room will allow the visitor to go wild designing a wallpaper via the digital table and pen, which will then be projected on the wall to give visitors a taste of what it might look like in situ.


Much of what I worked on this summer was writing and editing object chats for each of the 170+ objects that will be on view in the museum’s reopening special exhibition entitled TOOLS: Extending Our Reach. This also included drawing specific relations between loan objects and some of the 217,000 objects in the Cooper Hewitt collection, a difficult task considering that the collections of Cooper Hewitt and those of some of the 12 loaning institutions, including the National Museum of Air and Space and the National Museum of the American Indian, cover wildly different subject matter. It was, in many ways, a monumental task and something that I think more museums with even larger collections will struggle with in coming years as collections are digitized and the museum experience becomes seamlessly integrated into an online experience.

Considering the sheer magnitude of the museum’s effort—which has also included a rapid capture digitization that will attempt to take a high-resolution image of every object in the collection, a brand new website built on the seamless Wordpress CMS (find it at, an easily navigable collections website component, and a Chester Jenkins designed (and freely downloadable) typeface—the digital pen and table initiative is certainly impressive. But the bigger question: will it work? And will visitors care? From the beginning, it seems that the museum has tempered expectations partly because it acknowledges that this is one big experiment. Because, truly, who knows?

The Cooper Hewitt digital immersion room (left) and mocking up the Digital Pen experience on paper.

I have my ideas, however. I am worried that visitors will lose their tickets that unlock that precious unique URL, or, worse, break or steal one of the pens. Or that they simply won’t know how to use the pen or won’t care to. That’s the worst case scenario. But I think the digital pen and corresponding table speak to a larger initiative to make museums institutions that are accessible to a number of different kinds of people who learn and see differently. For the person who may not be so interested in the museum experience of object + vitrine + wall label, this may be the perfect option. They can look at cool things, look at objects that are similarly cool, read about them, draw on them and track their visit through the museum when they get home. Or, it could revolutionize note-taking and information capture and help guide the interested visitor to other things that may help in research or otherwise. For others, the pen may come across as a pesky nuisance. I suspect that all of these are possible. But what I will say is that the museum is trying. It is trying to reinvent the idea that the museum has to be a place of siloed information where only the most esoteric can truly unlock the secrets of the objects. And for this reason, I give Cooper Hewitt one massive round of applause. It’s trying something and who knows? It may just be the next great revolution in museum-going.

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