As a world leader in mobile technologies, Qualcomm has driven the evolution of digital communications, linking people everywhere more closely to information, entertainment, and each other. The elevator bays of six floors in the Qualcomm Research Center were in need of a revamp to modernize the building and provide inspiration.
Alien Skin Blow Up
During our first trip to Qualcomm we toured the Qualcomm Museum to learn about the rich, varied history that stretches back to their beginning in 1985. Then we visited the elevator lobby of the first floor of the Research Center building to get a sense of the existing space we were redesigning.
We spoke with the leading architect to determine the scope of the project regarding building regulations. We also heard from a leading engineer about the type of cutting-edge research Qualcomm explores and got a glimpse into the daily lives of the ~800 researchers in the building that we would be designing for.
I analyzed the environmental graphics of Qualcomm’s top competitors to identify opportunities and sources of inspiration. The ones that stood out were colorful, playful, and artistic.
After brainstorming my team landed on the concept of Great Minds. We wanted to showcase a diverse group of influential, innovative inventors presented in their early years, before their rise to recognizable genius. I designed the third floor featuring Jagadish Chandra Bose.
Insights from the great minds of science and engineering—their struggles, philosophy, and achievements
Our concept was to create designs that were inspiring, inclusive, and interactive, taking into account what the researchers had said they personally enjoyed: equations, scientists/inventors, technology, science fiction, and art. They were “super geeks and proud of it.”
I envisioned a mix of dark and bright colors common in futuristic graphics; background patterns consisting of tech elements such as formulas and product blueprints; large typography; and layered panels to evoke movement, complexity, and depth.
We wanted to create three-dimensional installations for the lobby wall recess, but we were limited to a width of four inches due to building codes. Our solution was to break up our two-dimensional designs into overlapping layers of shapes that corresponded sensibly with these great minds and their respective fields of work.
For instance, Jagadish Chandra Bose was the Father of Radio and accomplished a great deal in engineering the wireless system that connects the world today. Thus, I used layers of radiating circles to represent radio waves emitting from his head.
In order to learn about Jagadish Chandra Bose’s influential role in the history of wireless communication, I read through several of his original publications from the 1890s. This included research papers and books on electric radiation, which became wonderful sources of image assets in the public domain. I also researched quotes from him and chose one that would resonate most deeply with our target audience.
The background layer is made up of twelve figures from Bose’s original publications. The portrait is from 1897 at the University of Calcutta where Bose flared out the end of a waveguide, demonstrating the horn antenna. Using Photoshop, I created a crosshatch engraving effect for the portrait.
We used Photoshop to create mockup views of each floor: the wall would be painted blue or purple, the floor number would be a white vinyl cutout, and mounted over a background board would be layers of clear plexiglass with the design divided and printed onto each layer separately.
We partnered with Populate who fabricated our designs and also helped us with installation of the six floors, which took eight hours.
From the beginning my teammates and I had a plethora of innovative ideas for this project. It was thrilling to come up with idea after idea, however far-fetched and impractical they were. Yet that’s the whole point of the initial ideation phase. In the words of Linus Pauling, “To have a good idea you must first have lots of ideas.”
The first challenge we encountered was in choosing a direction and simplifying it. Every time our team met up we would come up with something new and veer off track. We had so many great ideas and wanted to do everything to impress our client. Eventually, we realized that solidifying and simplifying our direction would result in a stronger, cohesive design. That’s when we landed on Great Minds: a portrait, quote, and background notes—simple, but promising. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why our concept was selected.
Simplifying our concept made it a lot easier to divide up the work and tackle the tasks at hand. Since there were six floors and six team members, we delegated a floor to each member. However, we soon ran into the problem of ensuring unity and consistency across all six floors. In hindsight, we might have been better off delegating tasks to each person (e.g. one person is in charge of all the quotes and typesetting, another person is in charge of the portraits and stylizing them, etc.). Although we established a style guide with specs, it became difficult to streamline the revision process with each floor assigned to a different designer and separate Photoshop and Illustrator files, especially as our files got larger.
This project provided a wonderful hands-on start-to-finish experience made possible by Sean Bacon, Candice Lopez, and Bradford Prairie of San Diego City College; Qualcomm; Populate; and my amazing teammates. Our work has been well received by Qualcomm and the public since installation and the unveiling ceremony.
We are thrilled that through this project we were able to get access and support San Diego’s local talent and enjoy their great work and creativity. This art installation portraying well-known and admired inventors and scientists who changed the world, will be a reminder and inspiration to our own engineers that the technologies they invent today are also changing the present and the future.