If A Tree Falls in the Woods...

Jr. Product Studio - University of Utah
Product Design, Installation
(November 2017)

Communication has to start somewhere.

As separate entities, the College of Architecture and the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah are successful and thriving places to study, physically connected with a bridge, allowing students to travel between the two spaces. Despite the similarities in disciplines and subjects being taught, they truly are separate colleges; very little communication takes place between the students of each college, and there’s a gap in communication between faculty and staff of each college. 

This was frustrating for me, having come from a fine arts background, but enjoying the structure provided by the design program. I couldn’t understand why the two never communicated, so I decided to build a physical line of communication, because we’ve got to start somewhere. 

To bridge this gap of communication, I installed a simple way to begin communication between the two colleges: A box on each end of the building with a small button allowing the user to buzz the other college.


I started this project with one constraint: design for sound. This was new to me, seeing as I’ve spent the majority of my time looking at digital products and experiences. But when diving into sound, it's creation, and it's use, I was drawn to the age old question:

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Which also begs the question:

If a person were to create a sound but wasn't present to hear it, how would it be communicated back to them?

So I decided to try it out. 


My sound installation consisted of simply two boxes, made of laser-cut acryllic, fitted with buzzers, batteries, and buttons. When you press the button on one side, it buzzed on the other end, and vice-versa. Simple as that.

Below each box was also mounted a simple sign that stated, “We have to start somewhere.”

Buzzer mounted in the College of Architecture, outside my design studio.

Buzzer mounted in the College of Fine Arts, in a high-traffic hallway outside a major studio.

What made it interesting is that these two boxes were placed on opposite sides of the school, connected by over 150 ft of wire. The first mounted to the wall outside our design studio, and the other mounted in the hall outside a major studio in the Fine Arts College.

Installation took place in the middle of the night, when no one was in the building, attaching the wire to the bare concrete with simple temporary mounting clips.

I never could have imagined how well this worked out.

Within a day, we were hearing buzzes on and off, every couple of minutes. And every time someone heard a buzz, they got up, unprompted, and buzzed back. Back and forth for about a week, until the faculty were so fed up that they politely asked me to take it down so I didn’t disturb other classes. 

From that day forward there were new rules put in place in the college, requiring express permission for installations that were to be put up. But I still have people asking me who set that up. Pretty exciting stuff. 

Turns out communication between disciplines is possible...