The Art of the Interactive Tattoo: Part 1 – What am I doing?

In an earlier post, I laid out the thought process that led me toward making an interactive tattoo (  Now lets talk about implementation.

There are dozens of ways to get data from a static image.  The most common example would be the UPC code, what is now seen as the generic bar code because it is found everywhere.  This is down as a one-dimensional code as the data is only derived by the thickness and distance between the vertical lines in the code.  The UPC style tattoo is actually somewhat popular, though rarely are they functional.  Even when they are functional, they might only hold some character data that will display when read by the proper device.

The two-dimensional bar code has also been in wide use for quite some time.  By allowing the code to embed its data both horizontally and vertically, it is possible to hold far more information in a potentially smaller space.  This idea birthed quite a few standards and were adopted commercially to assist with cataloging, tracking, and stocking on a wide scale.  Just look at any shipping label or product you have and you will find one of these codes somewhere.  It was only when cameras became common place on mobile phones that consumers started to adopt the technology as well.  Instead of typing in values or trading paper, a quick click of the camera and the right software would allow users to collect contact information or visit websites.  This is the functionality I want to take advantage of.

Back to the real world, there were a few concerns on the top of my mind when designing an interactive tattoo.  Being a permanent part of my body, I want my design to be interesting, functional, and have some form of longevity.  That led me to three criteria:

  1. Visual Design: There are a fair number of bar code style tattoos out there, but the idea I wanted to convey was not just “THIS IS A BARCODE.”  I wanted a design that would flow between the code and everything around it as well as possible.  Most people will see the tattoo without scanning it and if for some reason my experiment doesn’t work, I don’t want a design that I don’t enjoy on its own.  As much as I want to the interactivity to work, it’s important to remember that this is a tattoo first and a code second.
  2. Complexity: Tattoos are not an exact science.  Skin is finicky, ink spreads, and at best the work has to be traced by hand.  While a steady handed tattoo artist can do great things, they are still only human, so this should be as simple a design as possible.
  3. Future Proof: The term “future proof” is silly as everything has a life.  However, its important to keep the future of this tattoo in mind since it would be lame to have it be successful only to be meaningless in a year.  The code should fit an established and widely used standard and the navigation target should be as dynamic as possible to best live up to what the future brings.

With that in mind, it’s time to get started.  Part 2 will cover the tech side of things and will be up ASAP.


~ by Lifespan on August 15, 2011.

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