Hair Dryer & Balloon

Hair Dryer & Balloon is a series of interaction experiments that explore iterative process through video documentation and written reflection. This approach has revealed a type of design that lives as a progression of ideas; as research into the making process. This methodology produces a stream of questions that guide the project into many forms and variations, all of which make up the work. Each question sets up the next iteration, and occasionally, is the foundation for a new line of inquiry.

Physical computing brings together two worlds that are governed by different laws, each with their own set of affordances. When these two worlds exchange information, the questions of how and why the transmission occurred is based on the tangible and coded materials used. When an exchange is repeated with incremental changes, the subtleties that inform our daily existence are revealed.

*Note: Formal reflections began after Hair Dryer & Balloon 3.

The timing of the hair dryer is set to 10 second intervals. When on, the focus is primarily visual. When off, the sound becomes most present. A constant flip-flop. I am interested in how this might create auditory patterns with sounds like the subtle tap of the balloon hitting the front of the hair dryer after each time it shuts off.

A proximity sensor has replaced the timer in version 1. The hair dryer in now triggered when the balloon is in front of the sensor, blowing the balloon out of the sensor’s range and shutting the hair dryer off. My interest has shifted from the flip-flopping of audio verse visual focus to a sequence of semi-irregular events that function like a constant feedback-loop.

For this iteration, I wanted to play with a repetitive process with a small variable in play that makes each instance of the piece unique, rather than being exactly replicable, as well as what the implications of the variable might be. The subtle ebb and flow of the air in the room causing the ballon to sway act as this variable.

Hair Dryer & Balloon 3 is identical to the last iteration except the addition of the X-Acto knife taped to the top of the hair dryer; the proximity sensor still triggers the hair dryer, the balloon is placed in the same location and its movement is the same. In Hair Dryer & Balloon 2, once the cycle was set in motion, there was no stopping it. This fits well with my interest in feedback loops and iterative design, but it felt like a one-liner. By adding the X-Acto knife, I am suggesting that the process will eventually end, and as the video documentation shows, it does. In addition to adding the element of time to the piece, the X-Acto adds a surprising amount of tension, both in the documentation and in person.

In the first take, the X-Acto was not extended far enough. So, in the second take, I extended it slightly, but the ballon still did not pop. This could have been because the knife was still not extended far enough, or because the tip of blade was broken off and it was not sharp enough to puncture the balloon. So, for the third and final take, I added a fresh blade and extended it bit further, and the balloon popped.

Hair Dryer & Balloon 4 shows me trying to use the hair dryer to keep the balloon from floating up to the ceiling. I am unsuccessful on the first few tries, but I adjust my approach with each take and eventually keep the balloon from floating up.

This iteration marks the most change between versions and shows the most on-the-go development. It is technically much simpler than version one, two and three, as there are no computers, sensors or micro-controls involved. I replaced those materials with myself, keeping only the hair dryer and balloon. This allows me to explore the relationship between the two from a first person point of view.

The first take shows me almost pulling the cord out of the wall as I try to keep the hair dryer above the balloon. So, the first adjustment I made was to add an extension cord. Next, I removed the funnel device from the end of the hair dryer to more evenly distributed the air. And finally, I move from the center of the room to the wall where I am able to limit the directions the balloon can move.

Iteration four has given me two routes for further exploration, a low-tech and a high-tech. The low-tech approach explores the relationship between a balloon and a hair dryer without the clutter of other materials as well as adding myself into the equation. However, using a computer, code and sensors enables me to explore a wider range of materials and their interwoven relationships, which could take each of the next iterations into completely new territory. As Hair Dryer & Balloon 4 is merely a starting place for iterations five, six, seven and so on, I expect to use both high and low-tech approaches moving forward. On a final note, I am excited by the fact that this version brought out a sense of performance, something the prior iterations did not.

For the fifth iteration of Hair Dryer & Balloon, I reverted back to a similar structure as in version two, but was able to keep the added element from version four, myself.

The video depicts a hair dryer, a proximity sensor, a balloon and me from left to right. When the balloon is resting, it is not in the proximity sensor’s range and the hair dryer is off, a change from versions one through three. I initiate the interaction by blowing the balloon in front of the proximity sensor, triggering the hair dryer to blow it back at me. Eventually the balloon rests, and we are back to where we started.

The interaction has changed greatly from all prior iterations as there is nothing happing without my initiation. In the beginning, the word interaction could be substituted for reaction. The hair dryer’s reactive nature adds animistic qualities that remind me of an older sibling annoyed with their younger sibling who keeps asking to play, but gets denied each time. This is a drastic change from version three, where the hair dryer’s animistic quality reminds me of the killer from Psycho. The situation in Hair Dryer & Balloon 5turns from a reaction to an interaction when I keep blowing the ballon back at the hair dryer, as if not accepting its response.

My response to Hair Dryer & Balloon 4 ends with me stating my excitement for the performative element that came out of adding myself into the equation. Iteration five is a further exploration into performative design and interaction. This direction interests me and will most likely become more of a focus in future iterations.

Hair Dryer & Ballon 6 shows an orange balloon floating up-right and me, pointing a hair dryer at it as if I am about to fire off a few rounds. I turn the hair dryer on, the balloon is pushed to the right edge of the frame, a few seconds pass, I turn the hair dryer off, and the balloon returns to its upright position, repeat, end.

This iteration is structured the same a Hair Dryer & Balloon 1, but I have replaced the mechanical elements (a computer and an Arduino) with a human. The mechanical interaction ran on a timer that turned the hair dryer on and off. Now, I am manually flipping the switch on the hair dryer. This allows the balloon to effect the hair dryer through my perception and decision making process. This aids in the irregular intervals between the on and off states; something possible in version one, but not implemented. It also allows me to play with the difference between turning the hair dryer on when the balloon is close as well as when it is far, producing different behavior from the balloon.

The video is comprised of two clips. The difference between the two is that I removed the black funnel-like accessory from the hair dryer on the second take. This allows more wind to blow out of the dryer causing the balloon to behave in a more chaotic and violent manner. It creates greater visual tension as the balloon interacts with the edge of the frame more closely. Removing the funnel-like accessory was a small alteration, but changed the overall tone of the piece and the balloon’s animistic qualities.

Although the results are the same as the first iteration, the process of getting there and the influences informing the interaction are completely different. This version also includes the performative element in Hair Dryer & Balloon 5 that I am excited about.

Hair Dryer & Balloon 7 consists of a hair dryer, balloon, me and a piece of wood. The hair dryer is on the entire time, but the balloon is resting upright. I am between the two holding a sheet of wood blocking the wind from the hair dryer. When I lower the wood, the balloon gets blown to the right edge of the frame.

This iteration it a low-tech intervention. Simply by placing myself between two objects, I made it as if one does not exist to the other. The effects of the hair dryer on the balloon are non-existent when the sheet of wood separates them.

Throughout the video, my eyes bounce back and fourth between the balloon and the hair dryer. Generally, in art or design documentation videos, the people involved are emotionless and stoic. Watching the video, I feel transparent. I can only speculate as to what others think, but I hope it reveals a bit about this series as a discovery process and not a presentation of something that has already done.

Version seven is the opposite of version six. Here, I am stopping wind from effecting the balloon rather than aiming the hair dryer at it like a handgun. Six and seven were shot on the same day which no doubt ties the inspiration of seven to the making process of six.

This is the first iteration where the hair dryer is a constant, similar to the helium in the balloon. I am using their one-track-mind behavior as controlled elements in the interaction. This allows me to explore the space between them, rather than how one directly affects the other. In this case, me holding a piece of wood is the variable, but it could be anything.

Learning from version three, Hair Dryer & Balloon 7 helped me move past the initial set of objects and showed me the potential in the space between the hair dryer and the balloon.

Hair Dryer & Balloon 8 goes back to basics. I continue exploring the space between the balloon and the hair dryer, but this time without accessories. This iteration seems to have an inverted quality about the energy of the interaction. In prior iterations, the balloon rests upright. However, in version eight, when the balloon is upright, it doesn’t seem to be “resting,” as my hands are holding it in place. The resting or relaxed state comes when I let go of the balloon and let it be taken by the wind.

This inverted energy brings me back to animism. The role my hands play feel like an authority figure, reining in the eager and free spirit of the balloon. The ease in which I bring it back to the center shows an obedience, while the eagerness of the balloon to leave when my hands let go shows a disobedience.

The only shift in the interaction from take one to take two is that I use only one hand to keep the balloon upright. This came out of my experience in the first take and wanting to try and achieve the same result another way. I started with two hands because that is how I initially envisioned it, but through the act of making, new ways evolved. Both ways achieve the immediate goal of centering the balloon, but there are different characteristics that can be found. Take one is discussed above while take two has a slightly lighter touch to it, which, to me, communicates a more nurturing and less authoritative tone.

Though my action in the video is repetitive and mechanical, the interaction maintains the performative element I am interested in. There is still a lot of space to explore between the hair dryer and the balloon, but I am also curious how more removed and subtle influences, initiated by me, can affect the balloon or the hair dryer.

Keeping with the low/no tech approach, Hair Dryer & Balloon 9 is about the physical space between the objects as well as how accessories can be used in the interaction. It also explores the affordances of a camera and video editing.

The accessory, a vacuum tube, is attached to the end of the hair dryer as a way to redirect the air flow and play with narrative through the lens of the camera. To start, the hair dryer is on and the balloon is in front of it, but the balloon is not moving because the tube is redirecting the air. On the next take, I am holding the tube, pointing it at the balloon causing it to move, then pointing it away from the balloon, causing it to float upright. This interaction is very similar to version seven, but it also sets up the next shot. The third take is where I use the affordances of editing to create humor. The only change from take two to three is that the hair dryer is facing the other way, away from me and the balloon, though it still has the same effect on the balloon. The fourth, and final, take is me redirecting the air back into the hair dryer, completely ignoring the balloon. This stems back to my interest in feedback loops.

The interactions were both planned and improvisational, but each one was made knowing that Hair Dryer & Balloon 9 would live as a video. The more Hair Dryer & Balloon interactions/performances/videos I make, the more I question what output best communicates the idea. Sometimes, it makes sense to use the affordances of a camera and editing software while other times the mood and subtitles are communicated only in person.

My question of appropriate output has become the new question around Hair Dryer & Balloon. In the same way one iteration informs and inspires the next, this question is both a result as well as a beginning.

Moving forward, I intend on exploring the affordances of video and performance by creating similar interactions to see what translates across both mediums and what is medium specific.