Learning to Live in the Thick Interface

2014, 6.14 x 9.21in., 312pg.

Through a series of projects, case studies, interviews, and essays this publication documents a thesis body of research conducted at the Rhode Island School of Design from 2012-2014.

Available for print and download here.


As media platforms shift towards more dynamic interfaces, the separation between user and content grows infinitely. While advertised as thin, light, and seamless, these platforms mask a thick and complicated space in which society must navigate. This is what I call the “Thick Interface.” The Thick Interface is the portal we use to toggle back and forth and through which we communicate. It is solid and porous, physical and digital, enhancing and diminishing. It may also be a combination of these things simultaneously, or none at all. My work highlights—rather than masks—the complexity of this space through interaction, participation, and analogy. I visualize and reveal the relationship between the decisions we make in contemporary media platforms and the ramifications of those decisions. Throughout this thesis, slowness and disruption are valued over speed and invisibility.

Inside the Thick Interface, I argue that the most valuable tool is not a specific software or markup language; it is the glitch. The glitch is the moment where the thickness of the interface is revealed. Defined as a temporary disruption that provides resistance, has materiality, and leaves a residue of its existence, the glitch agitates the entanglement of our digital and physical experiences. Through designing for and expanding glitches, my work enhances and uncovers the materiality of the surfaces and spaces with which we interact. Offering alternative methods for graphic design thinking, it facilitates understanding of the relationship between tactile and virtual moments, crafting experiences that migrate between environments and add layers of interference to reveal that which goes unnoticed.

The graphic designer is more than just a stylist of the edges, the data, and the periphery of these systems. He is an interface in his own right, visualizing the reality of the systems themselves. In this context, the practice of graphic design expands beyond the page as a position of establishing frameworks for how we see, clarify, understand, and interact in evolving environments through narrative, tactility, and spatial metaphors.