Film makers call it “uncanny valley” – when a major motion picture or animation whose vision didn’t quite realize. The unintended result is an unsettling impression in the place of the intended cinematic genius. An example might be Chris Van Allsburgh’s beloved Polar Express. The new and untested animation featured previously unparalleled realism and dimension that could not assuage the deadened look of the characters’ eyes and expressions.
Artist’s have a great simple tool for checking their work for errors that imbue that impression that something imperceptibly off – and it works on rooms, too. Flipping this image upside down reveals what extensive finishing has hidden. The ellipses and curves in the still life above are not correct. This was probably unintentional, as the style ofthe drawing is so realistic.
Rooms can do that, too – the result of efforts at the unexpected or mixed pattern or lay out turned uncanny. But a few rules help reign in those results and keep your room out of uncanny valley…
1) Color works like an intimate dining setting, achieving lively conversation that engages everyone in an interesting topic on which all contributors are familiar. This room upside down reveals two distinctly separate conversations, with separate factions raising their voices to be heard. The deep jewel tones and bright colors mix with white elements are not intermingling and the clutter introduced in staging a lived with appearance doesn’t quite work.
The simple fix – add some of that white to the rug, to off-set the smaller pattern in the chair with a large graphic image on the floor. Staging is about conveying ambiance and it is counterpoint to purpose to create an image of chaos – toys and dishes belong in kitchens and play zones! Living rooms need to be friendly to kids and grown-ups alike.
This lamp is fun and glamorous, but this room vignette misses its mark.
This room doesn’t need to be flipped – the idea of a stencil backed with butcher paper in terrific, but taped to the wall? I get the tongue and cheek, but it’s not working. The drawing stuck in a plastic bag and pinned behind it appears to be in time out – instead of artsy the image conveys the impression of indecision. The fix? Arrange the art in vertical rectangle-shaped side-by side staggered lay-out to imitate those staggered rectangular gold strips of the lamp shade.
Ok, I see where this was going – but even without flipping this room I can see why it has not quite reached its destination. The taxidermy ram’s head reads as a bit macabre and makes you think twice about expecting a drink from that bar. I would not be so limited to over-simplify a rule of thumb that simply omits all dead things from design, because by definition this leaves out fossils, framed insects, or an occasional skull that can add sophistication to many decors – but taxidermy or dried flowers – almost certain design torpedoes.
There’s lots of fun faux taxidermy out there, that infuses fun in any space, but the white deer with yellow antlers speaks directly to that yellow velvet chair pillow – a win/win!
So close, yet….
This room has lovely bones, but the staging and leaning painting give this space the vibe of the horror flick of the same name – the ropes or chains look more foreboding than decorative, and the painting is half-hidden – an up-side down view reveals a layout that is unsettling. Loads of people do canvases propped on the floor, but un-hung art is like 50% of a good idea. Hanging it low would be an unexpected touch, to create a visual triangle.
The room below flipped would be equally dank – this would be such a pretty room if it were better lit! Sometimes, lighting is all a room needs to sparkle. It doesn’t matter what the budget if it can’t be seen – light it up! Love the distressed sky mural, and am dying for a better look.
Louise Body is the wallpaper designer and an icon in mid-century design. This room is thoughtfully staged and laid out – placing larger elements off center adds sophistication to elements laid out on focal walls, and in this aspect leaves the open space to the wall paper to function in the place of art – but double off-setting may be too much of a good thing.
This, like all constructive critique is open to interpretation – but a quick up-side down eye ball measurement reveals that it would have been possible to stay within the context of the horizontal lines, framing the pattern within the modern wall shelves. Some would applaud this treatment as a sophisticated use of design tension, but I think that remaining within the pattern flow would have brought this very busy design together seamlessly.
What do you think?
Here are the 3 magic pearls of self examination that help design enthusiasts navigate around uncanny valley results:
1. Ask a friend!
Sometimes when you have been working on something exhaustively it becomes harder to see. Another qualified point of view (someone whose eye you respect) can provide a fresh perspective.
2. Walk away – get a cappuccino or cup of tea – if it’s late, go to sleep, and walk in with your eyes closed the morning after, and open them for the big reveal. You will have an immediate new perspective of what is and is not working.
3. Take a picture with your camera or phone, print it if possible, and look at it upside down. This is a great drawing self-check to reveal compositional errors. Things viewed upside-down function like truth serum, revealing design errors despite the brain’s unwillingness to see.
Turn your design upside down – what does it reveal?
- Into Color – True Trends of 2012 (redoitdesign.wordpress.com)
- Science explores the uncanny valley (infocult.typepad.com)
- New! Pantone Home – Interiors Color Forecast 2013 (redoitdesign.wordpress.com)
- ‘Uncanny Valley’ Pioneer Rethinks Creepy Objects (livescience.com)
- Why creepy Uncanny Valley keeps us on edge (msnbc.msn.com)
- The Uncanny Valley – First English Translation Authorized and Reviewed by Mori (cryptogon.com)
- Exhibition: Victorians Rediscovered (Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum) Saturday 3rd March 2012 (tonimichellecrafts.wordpress.com)
- Not the best taxidermy (retrieverman.wordpress.com)
- 100 Weird Ways to Light Up Your Life – From Metal Petal Lamps to Elaborate Alien Illuminators (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)