Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Not Your Eyes

Yilin Liu, Sienna Sun (2020)


“Not Your Eyes” is a fictional pair of glasses that allows people to escape from the chaotic, nerve-racking experiences in which they are haunted by competing advertisers. It speculates a dystopian future that is populated with millions of flashing ads and people have to wear the glasses to exchange for a moment of peace. The ads that are still could even be appreciated by the consumers and thus get more attention. We surrender our freedom of choices to the “default option” of goods and conform to the ideology of consumer capitalism. The project aims to challenge the status quo of us getting used to the attention-seeking ads that are currently ubiquitous in our daily life by speculating a future where the advertisers have further pushed the boundary of exploiting our senses and forcing our attention to be directed to the ads.

The Narrative

In 2050, through successful lobbying, advertisers have started installing gigantic billboards in public spaces that are nerve-wracking and flashing with two or more alternating ads. Consumers receive discounts or coupons from retailers if they wear pairs of glasses provided by the retailers that are tuned to reveal ads of specific products. Those products are what the retailers hope to promote and think would have the best chance to be appealing to individual consumers based on their habits and interest. By wearing the glasses, consumers will no longer see the billboards as flashing. Instead, they will be able to see still ads, which makes the world less busy for them.

(In the narrative, the "Uber" and "Lyft" ads in the above image alternate and flash at 30hz.)

Not long after the glasses and billboards were introduced, more and more people choose to sign up for those glasses not really because of the coupons, but for those “peaceful moments” they receive when walking outside in the public space. In other words, consumers have “voluntarily” chosen to watch the ads, just like what they always have been doing since ads were introduced.

The Design

The form development refers to the deconstructivism in architecture and adapts it to reconstruct the form of television, the physical embodiment of the once-popular mass media platform. The form intends to provoke us to question the rationalized orderliness of consumer capitalism we have been numbly conforming to, and disrupt our familiar ideas about our relations with technologies.
While researching for deconstructivism as art and design, I was most inspired by the works of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, through techniques of randomized fragmentation, deliberate dislocation, exposure of raw frames, and distortion to project the disrupted sense of the surrounding world and the distorted values.

The following is the characters of deconstructivism symbolically adapted to the form of the prototype:
  1. “Explode” the regular shape of TV into fragments: By controlling the shuttering speed of the glass with the flickering speed of the commercials through Processing, it means the glass is not an escape for us, but more a compromised choice that we have to choose. Therefore, the exploded form of TV attempts to represent the personal emotions of the wearer. The more exhaustive we feel from being haunted by the culture of consumer capitalism, the more irregularly shaped.
  2. Disorient the pieces in space: The deliberate dislocation of fragments serves as a visual metaphor for the speculated chaotic future we live in. This controlled “disquietness”, along with the rectilinear block shape, attempts to form a strong contrast with the speculated uncontrollable chaos in the ads-exploded surroundings. The contrast could lead us to question the rationalized orderliness of consumer capitalism that we have been numbly conforming to
  3. Expose part of the raw frames: The exposure of elements, including the metal rods, the silicon hose, the unframed “screen”(the glass), and the connection cables, gives the form an unfinished futuristic look.

Compromise of Design in the Prototyping Process

Most of the challenges we have encountered during the assembly come down to confirming the stability of the structures to the materiality when hanging the wearable in front of our eyes. The initial design idea of wearing the glass without holding it requires connecting the silicone hoses between the top panel of the frame and the head belt, which is also intended to symbolize the manipulated mind from using the glass. But pulling the silicone tubes to the back of the head will make the frame flip outwards. In the end, we abandoned this idea and compromised to make it a portable personal accessory that people have to hold when they want to escape from the flashing ads. We reflect this compromise of design actually better speaks for our story. The initial design of wearing the glass frame over the head all the time is likely to make the audience only feel used and passive to the calming, stabilized world behind glass. This eliminates the audience from forced thinking through actions between the choices.


A pair of glasses is a symbol used in a lot of science fiction or movies that represent an advanced technology that provides (usually more powerful) alternative visions. What if it’s just being used to serve some pure commercial purposes. It does give people a “better” vision to save them from the messy billboards. But by buying into the “clarity” it provides, we tend to ignore why the world is so chaotic in the first place.
To contrast the “better” vision with the external chaos, we used the Controllable Shutter Glass as the key technical component for the interaction design. The shutter glass is made of a layer of liquid crystal material sandwiched between two layers of glasses. It has the property of becoming opaque when voltages are applied and otherwise lightly tinted. By changing the amount of voltages, its opacity changes —the more voltages, the more light is blocked.

What status quo is challenged?

Although we tend to complain about ads showing up everywhere on the internet the whole time, we are getting used to it. We know that the various services we are using such as Gmail, or Facebook are tracking our footprints on the internet to collect data about our behavior patterns, interests so that we can be targeted for certain ads.
We tend to assume technology always works for our benefits, but ignore its dark side. In the past decade, the number of ads that an average person sees per day has been doubled—from 5,000 ads in 2007 to 10,000[2], thanks to the internet, the blooming social media platforms, and the emergent new technologies such as artificial intelligence. These have opened up a range of novel advertising techniques to track and soak up every fragment of information possible about us beyond the traditional norm—the messages we sent, the photos we shared, the likes we clicked, every search we made, etc. The ubiquitous advertisements in the mass media have trained our mentality and convinced us to desire new things, most often, the things we don’t really need. So the project attempts to disrupt this normal way of thinking about our relations with technologies and to raise an awareness that it is more likely used for the wealth class and the power class for their advantages.
We complain about the ads but we rarely take any action upon this because we are reaching some kind of agreement with these companies that we are using their service for free. However, based on the fact that those companies are able to make a profit out of this. We’d know that we are giving out more than we have received.
This is because, on one hand, we enjoy the easy pleasure through the consumption and believe we have the freedom of choices to a greater variety of information, goods, or services projected from those ads. Whether debating among the brands of water, the claimed functions of toothpaste or the colors of lipsticks, every time we spend money, we are casting a vote for what kind of personal identity we would like to construct for ourselves. On the other hand, we don’t realize the proliferation of identities are deliberately shaped and manipulated to conform to the ideology of consumer capitalism—our freedom of choices is reduced to choose between brand A and brand B, most often, not to what we really need, but to what it will be at a greater profit for the advertisers[3]. The extensive exposure to media advertising distorts our self-awareness of what we have, and depletes our power to recognize the “false needs”. We all may have become the passive and blind consumers prisoned by the material culture.


[1] Speculative Everything (book)
[2] What is “Critical” about Critical Design? (CHI 2013 paper)
[4] Qualter, T. (1991). The Social Role of Advertising. Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age. (pp. 56 – 83) London: MacMillan