Letterlab: Strange Attractors

Curator: Sara Frisk
date: January 24, 2014
Categories: Environmental Design, Experience Design, Illustration, Information Design, Typography
Tags: catelijne van middelkoop, graphic design museum, Letterlab, MOTI, ryan pescatore frisk, strange attractors
Introducing: Letterlab at the Graphic Design Museum in Breda.

I’ve wandered through the week celebrating family on various levels—some connected by blood, some connected by design. In the spirit of a true finale, my last piece of Design Envy inspiration is an explosion of the two. Letterlab, a children’s exhibition at the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, was concepted and designed by Strange Attractors, a small studio in Rotterdam founded by Ryan Pescatore Frisk and Catelijne van Middelkoop—my little brother and his amazing wife.   

Letterlab was designed to empower children ages 6–13 to experience the magic of letters through sound, shape, composition and meaning. Rather than attempt to articulate their conceptual vision, I’ve captured an excerpt from Ryan and Catelijne as they described their process below: 

“To begin the initial inquiry we asked an intentionally simplistic question: How do you make children experience the history and creative possibilities of typography? 

Usage of the word ‘make’ is evidence of our positioning at the onset towards an active routine. We obviously didn’t intend on forcing the children to do anything; instead we were implying that the exhibition experience should be so inviting, so engaging, so enticing that children were compelled to interact. We knew that if the exhibition could harness the child-ness wonder and enjoyment of play then interaction would be imminent, and the rest would depend on how clever the routines of play were positioned in order to ensure that knowledge was a byproduct.

We developed a conceptual survey, abstracting the historical progression of spoken language and the written word, and structured an active curriculum for children as an engaging experiential journey using digital and analog media, colors, sounds and tactile interaction which utilized contemporary memes (text messaging, guitar hero/rock band, touch screens, video chatting, graffiti, etc.) in a manner that became an irresistibly engaging experience.”

The exhibit provides a holistic experience through the coordination of space, time, sight, touch and sound.

A giant analog desktop includes a menu, files, folders and pop-up windows.

Inside of the windows visitors can manually leave their own pixel message.

Desktop wall (left) and alley (right)

Environmental models

A custom-designed game, projected inside of a large structure built from letters, can be controlled by playing two oversized musical instruments. Each key launches a different sound as well as a corresponding letter or shape onto the game field.

Construction drawings

A custom-crafted film provides an abstract overview of the history of typography.

Letterlab inspired Ryan and Catelijne to design five custom fonts, which were used throughout the exhibit and materials.

“Behind the Theatre” was a dark alley in which children could use light graffiti to leave their name or tag on the wall. Stencils provided preset positive words like: good (goed), hope (hoop), beautiful (mooi) and nice (leuk).

Letterlab ran from August through December of 2010 at the Graphic Design Museum (now MOTI, the Museum of the Image) in Breda, The Netherlands. Despite its short life span, I was lucky enough to arrange a personal designer-led tour—which upon returning to my role as a consultant in Chicago, left me with a healthy dose of #designenvy. Uh...I mean pride.

Images via strangeattractors.com.
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