MAS.961 | Spring 2008 | Graduate

Special Topics: Designing Sociable Media


Assignment 6: Design Project 3 - Concrete and Abstract Portraits

« Back: Assignments

A portrait provides a salient, recognizable, characteristic, evocative, or symbolic representation of its subject. Facial portraits are the archetypal form, unsurprising given that we are neurologically predisposed to recognizing other humans by facial structure. (If dogs were artists, perhaps they would portray each other via creatively rendered scents). But there are other forms of portraits - there have long been literary portraits, and occasional musical portraits.

Today, with the growth of online communication, other digital interactions and their accompanying massive databases of personal information, the concept of a “data portrait” is very interesting for several reasons: as an expressive depiction of a person, as a way of increasing awareness and understanding about this material, and as a statement about privacy, surveillance and power in our culture.

Technology also makes new forms of portraiture possible. Machines can take the place of the artist, creating the image. And portraits can be “aware” of their viewers, responding to the words or motions.


Create two portraits of a single person. Preferably you should work with a (willing) subject, but I will also accept portraits done of subjects w/out their knowledge (e.g. Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits).

One portrait should be representational, based on the physical appearance of the subject. And one should be based on data about or produced by the subject.

Your work may be a finished piece or pieces, or one or both may be sketches toward a more ambitious work. The data portrait should include enough real information that we can still get a sense of individuality from it, even if you are sketching how you would implement such a piece - similarly if you are proposing a more elaborate interactive work for either the representational or data project: along with a general plan for how it works, you need to include material specific to your subject.

As you are working, please keep the questions we discussed last week in mind. What is the relationship between subject, artist and audience in your project? Is this work evocative of its subject? We will be discussing each project in class using these questions as a starting point.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

« Back: Assignments

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets with Solutions
Projects with Examples