Think about those endless warehouses you  always see in movies — the ones that set the scene where protagonist walks in, finds the box with the exact mystical item they need, and then leaves. But what about those countless other boxes that fill the entire room? What mysteries lie within them? 

This was the prompt that set the mood for my design + fiction RISD class. The idea of opening boxes to find objects inherent to warehouses led my class to the idea of escape rooms. Together, we planned, iterated, and built up a mystery room over the course of five weeks. The goal we gave participants? Solve what happened to the NASA scientists who owned this abandoned lab. 

design + fiction

status - completed

length - January 2019 / February 2019

type - class

style guide

While real life doesn't follow a strict style guide, a small room that becomes a universe of its own has to. One of our challenges in creating the space was finding a balance between a thrown together room and a curated art gallery in order to make this experience feel real to guests. 

One of my roles involved collecting all of the mood boards that had been created and assembling them into a usable style guide. My focus was on typography usage in different scenarios and the visual language that determined the feel of the room, while my partner focused on the proper color usage. 

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lighting plan

A key part of any room is the lighting used to give it character. Because we built up an entire "laboratory" in a classroom on a very low budget, lighting played a key role in making the space look more believable. I used strategically placed task lamps to illuminate the space and give affordances to vital clues. I also built a "grow lamp" to create accent lighting over some of the alien plants. 


My biggest challenge involved wiring the lights in a way where they could all be easily turned off at once for the final clue reveal, which dramatically revealed a message written in invisible ink. 

1. Lighting scheme and wiring diagram for the room // 2. Lighting effect during the dramatic code reveal // 3. Grow lamp I constructed for accent lighting // 4. Interior image of the grow lamp before assembly

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environment design

A lot of the work I did was involved in the actual assembly of the final room. In addition to coordinating the lighting, I hung tarps, hid props, and put tape in just the right places to make this room feel more like a world that would truly exist, rather than a classroom full of random objects in a RISD classroom. 

And it worked — the number one comment we heard from guests was how easy it was to suspend their disbelief as they solved the room's mysteries. One participant even mentioned that they were too afraid to touch the wrong plant because one of the clues indicated "toxicity," even though the plant was just made out of paper and foam. 

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1. Close up shot of the microscope table  // 2. Initial inventory of the room's UX experience and what items were needed // 3. GIF of the experience walking into the room

plant prop

All alien plant laboratories need alien plants in them. My final project for this class involved working on the Tube Top tree, which was designed by an illustrator in the class. However, this ended up being one of the hardest parts of the class for me. 

Originally, the plant was supposed to go straight up (as illustrated in the picture on the top left). However, when we hung up the tarps that sectioned off our "lab space" from the larger classroom, we discovered a massive hole that needed to be covered by something. I proposed that my plant could "emerge" through the tear and hint at a larger grow space behind the laboratory.


The angular bends, materials, and color scheme of the final plant  made it inherently very cartoonish, however, and it stood out starkly against the lab space. I was able to tone down the extremeness of the plant using carefully placed accent lighting, though. 

When I was sitting backstage and operating the lights, I realized that the plant had a very eerie yet cool look through clear plastic tarps, making me wish I had played more with shadows in the end...

1. Initial illustration for the Tube Top Tree // 2.  Rough development sketch // 3.  Top view of the plant in progress // 4. Context development sketch // 5. Close up of leaf layers // 6. Front view of plant in context // 6. Behind scenes view of plant and grow light