ArtCenter College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.

Nikolai Cornell

Graduate Media Design '04

When Nikolai Cornell graduated from Art Center's Media Design Program, he didn't know much about cars. He knew a lot about interactive design, though, having created a thesis show, "In Search of Identity" that allowed visitors to experience, rather than just view, the works of photographer Tatiana Parcero. That MFA thesis won a gold at the Art Directors Club (ADC) 84th Awards, a silver IDEA award from the IDSA, an iF communication design award, and was featured in the I.D. Student Design Review 2005 and the Communication Arts Interactive Design Annual 11.

In 2006, he was hired by George P. Johnson. The company, which bills itself as "the world's premier experience marketing agency," creates auto show exhibits in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles for most of the major automotive brands. Until Cornell was hired as director of interactive media, however, the experience that George P. Johnson gave its clients wasn't an interactive one.

"My push was on the interactive experience," says Cornell. "While there wasn't much of that going on in the auto industry when I first started, it really grew during the time that I was there." Cornell's own work did a good deal to move the industry into a more interactive mode. In one project, he created Nissan interactive wheelstands where, instead of using static images, he took a new approach by thinking of each wheelstand as a dynamic information vessel. The wheelstands could be rotated toward each vehicle of interest and had a built-in touch-screen interface for navigating the content.

Later, he created "Interactive Oracles" for Acura. The Oracles were conceived as "an interesting way of having people understand that Acura is a technology focused brand," says Cornell. The Oracles consisted of a tabletop-based projection with a high lumen projector mounted underneath, and a multi-user, multi-touch sensor system above. Users activated graphics and sounds with motion as they selected their own visuals and controlled the color spectrum. The exhibit was a great success, receiving praise in articles about the Detroit Auto Dealers Association's sponsorship of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

Cornell describes the two and a half years he spent at George P. Johnson as a dream job. Most importantly, he says, GPJ's automotive clients "were willing to try something innovative, and that enabled me to execute some really interesting projects. The auto industry is always trying to do something new."

Cornell is now working freelance from his home in London, with frequent trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York for his various projects. Asked how his current work relates to the interactive installations he created at Art Center, he says, "I think what I take from one discipline to another are the emotions and the experience that people have when they engage with the work. Whether it's art or whether it's commercial, you're trying to draw emotion out of people, and to make them feel that the experience is unique." Judging by his success, Cornell has succeeded in offering unique experiences to his clients and their customers.

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