The installation looks at the way cars, and a person's ability to be mobile, depend on a range of services  and how personal freedom creates a range of consequences. Were trying to show the link between individual experience and global effects.

shiftcontrol: Automobility

Jørgen Skogmo and Patrik Svensson are on the move — and so is their work. Their Copenhagen design studio, shiftcontrol, creates computer-mediated interactive experiences that are generated in real-time. They appear in venues as disparate as high-tech installations and high-fashion shops for clients that include the Italian design house Prada and Danish TV.

Since for shiftcontrol it’s all about motion, their portfolio naturally includes work related to automobiles. Recently, the firm developed a sophisticated information visualization project for the Volkswagen visitor center called Autostadt, located near the company’s factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the first VW was made.

Close Partnerships

Tight partnerships and creative use of technology were essential to shiftcontrol achieving the cutting-edge effects on display at Autostadt. Skogmo and Svensson worked closely with the team behind the Mac OS X-based 3D game engine and development tool Unity, their preferred platform for next-generation interactive media, and Markus Schaefer from the Swiss firm Hosoya Schaefer Architects, their preferred partner for next-generation concepts. The Swiss graphic design firm Büro Destruct also contributed its visual expertise.

© Hosoya Schaefer Architects / shiftcontrol

© Hosoya Schaefer Architects / shiftcontrol

For Skogmo the project began when Schaefer invited shiftcontrol to collaborate on the Volkswagen assignment. “We helped develop the interaction model and screen layout,” he recounts. “My background in natural geography and as a bicycle messenger, coupled with Markus’ strong conceptualization and research work, allowed us to look at the automobility theme from many facets. We worked as a team, bridging the usual gap between designer and programmer, and it became a defining project for both our offices.”

Global Mobility

Skogmo and Svensson depend on a robust toolset. In this case, the kit essential to creating and displaying their algorithm-controlled animations and sensor-driven interactive installations includes a varied line-up of Macs and Cinema Displays running a list of software as long as your arm.

Skogmo says the Autostadt project, “Mobiglobe: Visualization of Global Mobility,” which runs on ten Macs in the Volkswagen pavilion, is the biggest thing shiftcontrol has done. Visitors interact in real-time with touch-screen displays at four stations, choosing from among a whopping 48 topics.

The site itself is high-profile; Skogmo calls Autostadt “the Disneyland of cars.” In addition to the pavilions for each manufacturer within the Volkswagen brand, Autostadt has a museum, a center where visitors can tour the enormous factory and where German customers can take delivery on new cars, and a movie theater in-the-round. For the curious, it also happens to be the home of the world’s largest glass doors and longest (four-plus miles) printed line.

Beautiful Information

Mobiglobe is so content-rich that, according to Skogmo, “you could stand there for hours, studying it.” Like Edward Tufte’s exemplars of information design, it takes complex ideas and renders them beautiful. “It’s a big step forward, compared to the current generation of installations at Autostadt,” says Skogmo. “Most of the others are, like, ‘wow!’ — they’re nice entertainment — but they have a limited amount of content.”

In contrast, says Skogmo, “Mobiglobe looks at the way cars, and a person’s ability to be mobile, depend on a range of services — and how personal freedom creates a range of consequences.” The 48 topics are organized into three chapters — culture, economy and system — and 12 themes ranging from the evolution of the automobile to recycling in today’s car manufacturing.

Each theme is then examined on the scale of the individual auto, the region, the world — and time itself. “Throughout the project,” comments Schaefer, “we are trying to show the link between individual experience and global effects.”

Complex, Weird Data

Despite their sweeping vision, the partners don’t take themselves too seriously. “The installation spans all this complex, weird data from many points of view — that’s Markus’ specialty,” says Skogmo. “But the way it’s displayed, it’s meaningful and easy to understand and learn from.”