A Certain Lack of Focus

Monday, February 25, 2008


starsMatt and I got caught in a snow storm or three on the way home from DC last Monday. Aside from the fact that bad weather is always scary when driving (and I was happy Matt was the one behind the wheel) the weather did catch my attention in an unexpected way.

Snow has a distinctive look to it when it's caught in headlights, or street lights. Rain has a similar pattern but snow looks so much more solid (because it is) and real. In a streetlight you might notice that while it doesn't seem to be snowing all that hard anywhere else, in the light it's terribly thick. Headlights are the same when a car is stopped, but the effect changes when a car is in motion. At low speeds the snow merely gets a horizontal, windswept look to it, but when you're on the highway, going fifty or sixty, the snow gives a heightened sense of motion. Perspective becomes simplified, like a comic book, snowwith a vanishing point right in the center of your vision. You can't see much aside from the snow which moves so fast it's line fragments rather than dots, streaking past your car in a cone. In fact the visual is nearly identical to what we see in a sci-fi movie when a spaceship goes into hyperspace.

I doubt that this is coincidental. It's easy to see how an early designer might have been driving through snow while trying to come up with a visual representation of something that's completely beyond our ability to create. This visual: stars moving behind the camera's viewpoint to become streaks of light, snowis now so a part of our consciousness that we take for granted that it's what traveling at close to the speed of light would look like. Of course we can't know what it would really look like but if you asked someone to describe what is currently impossible, many would readily give you a rendering of snow rushing past a car. Maybe there is no connection, but I think design often works this way, with seemingly unrelated images coming into well known ideas of the future.

1 comment:

Lianne said...

Wow, I thought the same exact thing when I drive in the snow at high speeds, especially at night. I guess, it's one of the common tools for describing ideas to another person, using similes and the like. But it's certainly interesting to see their point of origin though.