work blog about search

LDF10: Outrace

We nipped across to Trafalgar Square last night to check out Outrace, one of the centrepieces of this year's London Design Festival.

Outrace is a large scale installation of eight industrial robots (on loan from Audi), each of which has a powerful LED head attached to the end of its arm. If you log on to the Outrace website you can submit a message of up to 70 characters which the robots will then recreate in a 3D cursive graffiti font written in light (assuming they deem your message interesting enough - we quite liked "Bow to your robot overlords puny humans" which someone has already posted). Long exposure cameras placed round the base of the installation then capture these interactive light paintings, and display them on screens just below the robots, as well as sending them to their YouTube channel (it's 2010, nothing exists unless it's on YouTube), and emailing them back to you. Here's ours (with a couple of stray characters, guess those robots aren't infallible...):

The project was designed by Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, who in the newspaper handed out at the installation are described as being very different from standard 'professional designers': "You will know these genteel people by their office pallor and their dainty Apple iPhones. Reed Kram and Clemens Weisshaar do not fit this mould."

Well boys, judging by your bio shots on the Outrace site, you fit the mould just fine:

To be fair, the newspaper has a fairly tongue-in-cheek tone (in parts - other parts are dripping with painfully sincere academic analysis of the project) so perhaps us genteel folk shouldn't get too worked up...

The project is evidently mind-blowingly complex as a piece of software engineering, which is all well and good, but what's the actual experience like?

Well, it's kinda groovy to have a gang of beautiful robots girating around in Trafalgar Square - you can check out the live stream to see them doing their thing - they're like a nest of rhythmic vipers, dancing to some unheard tune (Bjork's All is Full of Love perhaps?) Very beautiful.

As an interactive text piece though it works far better online than it does as a physical piece - when you're in the square you can't see the letterforms left by the light traces (unless you photograph them at night as we did, which means taking an SLR and a tripod along), and the screens below the robots showing the messages don't feel entirely connected to what's going on above them. And while we were there they'd run out of the explanatory newspapers, which was leaving people in the dark, as it were. The online films are great though, and the graffiti font works well for the kinds of messages that are being sent in ('Kirstin, I love you with all of my heart. A xxx' being one of the latest), pleasantly undercutting the mechanical movements of the robots.

All in all a fine centrepiece to the festival. Outrace continues until tomorrow evening (23 September) so get down there sharpish if you want to take a look.

Larger versions of our shots are on Alistair's LDF10 Flickr set.

posted: 22 September 2010
categories: Events | Street Art | Technology | Typography
recommended reading

Ace Jet 170
One of the finest individual design blogs (it’s been going as long as I have!) from Irish designer Richard Weston. Covering found type, print and stuff.

Casual Optimist
If you want to know what’s happening in the world of book cover design, keep an eye on this excellent blog by Dan Wagstaff.

Design Declares
A growing group of designers, design studios, agencies and institutions who have declared a climate and ecological emergency. As part of the global declaration movement, we commit to harnessing the tools of our industry to reimagine, rebuild and heal our world.

Eye Magazine
The best graphic design magazine out there, from editor John L. Walters and art director Simon Esterson.

Flat File
A fantastic collection of online publications based on pieces from the Herb Lubalin Study Centre.

Justin’s Amazing World
Justin Hobson, of Fenner Paper, is a bona fide expert on paper & print, and a charming chap to boot. His blog features in-depth analysis of the projects he’s worked on, including a few of our own.
One of the oldest blogs on the web. And one of the best.

Spitalfields Life
The anonymous Gentle Author of this wonderful blog has promised to write 10,000 stories about the life & culture of Spitalfields in east London, writing one story each and every day.

St Bride Library
The St Bride Library houses one of the world’s finest collection of books (& related objects) about printing and design. It also hosts unmissable design talks and events.