CrowdCamp Report: Remixing *Abstract* Creative Elements

Good artists copy, great artists steal.  Borrowing, remixing and stealing is an important part of the creative process.

You can steal something very literal such as the idea to paint a ballerina.

ballerinas

Degas was a famous painter of ballerinas. But Lautrec also tried his hand at it.

Or you can steal something abstract, such as a style or view of the world. (This is an analysis stolen from a NYTimes article)

lichtenstein-picasso-influence-nytimes

Picasso introduced this abstract style copied by many, including this Lichtenstein

We prototyped a website for remixing abstract AND literal aspects of creativity. The site is called “Inspired By…” Our plan is that every week, we issue a challenge of something to sketch.  We chose sketches because images are faster to consume than text or video.  Users may:

  • Contribute an original sketch
  • Submit a sketch that acknowledges an influencing sketch
  • Label elements of the sketch using hashtags. This includes:
    • Literal elements: #computer, #stickfigure, #words
    • Abstract elements: #simplified, #futuristic

By explicitly naming more abstract elements such as the gestalt of the image, we hope that users will remix the abstract elements just as they do the literal elements.

inspiredby2-small

We designed “Inspired By…” a site to encourage remixing of literal AND abstract elements of art through hash tags and explanations.

The design for “Inspired By..” was born from creativity exercises our group did during CrowdCamp. We completed three challenges – sketching a logo for UIST, sketching a logo for CrowdCamp, and writing a verse of a song. We observed our own process of creativity, and how we were influenced by the designs of others and the explanations of those designs.  We then designed (although didn’t build) a website called “Inspired By…” that could enable us to collaborate as effectively if we were remote.

The image above shows how our group could have complete the UIST logo sketching contest if we had used “Inspired By..”

  1. The first user, Scott Batemen, contributed 3 original sketches and labeled them with the literal elements they contained such as #hand, #human, and #computer. He also included more philosophical descriptions such as evoking the idea of “freeing ourselves from traditional UIs.”
  2. The second user, Greg Little, riffed on Scott’s abstract idea of freeing ourselves from a traditional UI by having an image that places a human inside the monitor and controlling himself.
  3. The winning post started as a simple logo with the #words “UIST” done by Greg Little.  Greg Little riffed on his own image by making the #words more #flowing. Another user, Lydia Chilton, #simplified that image and added the comment that it was evocative of rockets and was #futuristic.

Our inspirations for “Inspired By..” were Scratch and Lolcatz. Scratch encourages children to remix computer programs written by other children and clearly shows the trail of influence.  Lolcatz is the internet trend of taking an image of a cat and changing the caption.  Both of these demonstrate the importance and ease of remixing literal elements. However,  “Inspired By…” encourages remixing of literal AND abstract ideas. 

Lydia Chilton, University of Washington
Greg Little, oDesk Research
Scott BatemanUniversity of Prince Edward Island
Dan Feng, Beijing Institute of Technology

Note: CrowdCamp is a weekend-long hackathon focusing on rapidly iterating crowd ideas.  At CSCW 2013, 40 people participated in CrowdCamp.  Their results will be summarized on the blog. 

 

3 thoughts on “CrowdCamp Report: Remixing *Abstract* Creative Elements

  1. Hi guys,

    Nice post! Seems like there are two cool dimensions here: riffing on both visual and verbal elements, and encouraging verbal elements that are both abstract and literal. It reminds me of Scott McCloud’s pyramid of the comic universe (http://www.scottmccloud.com/4-inventions/triangle/index.html), but I’ve never seen it applied to riffing before.

    One of the things that’s appealing about verbal elements is that they’re easy for crowd members to contribute — a much lower bar than a fresh sketch. Website viewers could label interesting abstract or literal elements in existing sketches, without having to offer a new sketch themselves. Did you explore that at all — i.e., labeling each other’s sketches?

    Also, are you planning to make the “Inspired By…” website live at some point? Would love to try it.

    • We’d like to make “Inspired By…” real. For the moment, Greg and I are just prototyping it more between the two of us using a Google Doc.

      I agree that sketches have pro’s and con’s. Sketches are easier to browse, but harder to “tweak.” Words are easier to contribute.

      We are hoping to allow anyone to tag anything. I think that’s a nice, lightweight way to participate. However, I suspect that the abstract elements can only be tagged by the owner, because it’s in their head. But maybe I’m wrong about that. That would be cool. Maybe other people will see what abstract thing I didn’t even know I was getting at.

      If you’re serious about wanting to try it, we could open up the Google Doc maybe. I shouldn’t speak for Greg, though. Not that that usually stops me :)

      lydia

      • It’s an interesting question whether abstract elements are best tagged by the creator. Certainly the creator has an abstract intent, but like you say, audiences can discover meanings that the creator didn’t even realize were there.

        A concept from design called propositional density (http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1620711) may be relevant to this, too. Designs with more deep meanings conveyed by fewer superficial elements are believed to be stronger. Logo design is especially informed by propositional density — a good logo is visually simple but metaphorically dense.

        Combining that notion with your approach, I wonder if we could measure the propositional density of a sketch by taking the ratio of |abstract tags| / |literal tags|. Or perhaps |abstract tags| / (|literal tags| + visual complexity), where the visual complexity is measured by edge detection or saliency models or connected components or the like.

        That would produce another metric for scoring sketches, distinct from simple audience Likes.

        Sure I’m serious about wanting to try it! Always serious.

        Cheers,
        Rob

Comments are closed.