Transitions & Border-Crossings: Transitional Spaces


Allison Crochet | Patrick Fiorilli | Grace A. Halverson 

This project was designed as a part of Dr. Nassim Parvin's Discovery and Invention class in the Digital Media graduate program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Research took place over the course of several weeks and was divided into two parts which were defined by distinct modes of inquiry: exploratory research, quasi-experiments, and literature reviews. In order to come to an understanding of a particular space as a place of transition and a border-crossing, our group decided to ask, Where do people look while on the escalator?  Several weeks of research into the up and down escalators at Barnes & Noble Store on Georgia Institute of Technology's campus, created a reservoir of data through the use of quantitative and ethnographic investigation. We were then able to define the escalator, within the context of its retail environment, as an intricately and intentionally designed experience. We realized that it, and its surroundings, very much try to influence the gazes of its passengers. Although it may not always be successful—thanks, in part, to mobile phones and other social distractions—the signs of the escalator’s designs soon became evident.

In response to aforementioned conclusions, we were tasked to create an interactive iteration using our findings. Below you will see examples of brainstorming, game design, and user testing that occurred over several weeks to create our unconventional escalator board game. 


Hailed as a more unconventional group after our infomercial presentation, we aimed to produce something unique. Patrick has a strong interest in game design and we had all mentioned our love of interactive games at some point or another during the semester

We initially thought of creating a video game in Pico 8 with multiple users. During our research, we had discovered that a lot of escalator passengers have escalator-related fears; some are irrational (i.e., the stairs are metal monsters). In our initial concept, the user would go up levels with each level capitalizing on an "escalator fear".  Without a strong coder in the group, however, we turned to physical board games.

Brainstorming (cont'd)

As we transitioned to a board game, we had to reconsider the space more critically. We chose a mall space because it was a common space where many people had experienced multiple escalators and would appeal to a diverse group of participants.


Additionally, a mall space offered many stores and elements of interest that would create an interesting game narrative. We chose to make three levels for a standard mall (three escalators): department stores and clothing, food court, novelty items. We then started brain storming the logistics and strategy of the game.

Game Design & User Testing

Patrick was the main brains behind the game strategy (he hopes to study Game Theory during his stay at Tech), but through our user testing, many tweaks and room for suggestion would arise. The main components of the game were the board with three escalators, character cards to narrate the experience, and the game strategy that would come into play with the use of dice. We would meet several times a week and go through the game. As we and others would get the chance to play, inevitably loopholes and questions would arise that needed to be addressed. We would spend time to make suggestions and alterations to the strategy as they came up. The team also reached out to Professor Parvin and Aditya for guidance on several accounts. Professor Parvin encouraged us to avoid "garbage pail" and "mall rat" archetypes and focus on creating an inclusive narrative that would encourage the user to focus on the design critique, rather than the stereotypes. Aditya is a game enthusiast, as well as a future Game Design professor, and he advised us to critically review our strategy and the experience we were creating (i.e., For what purpose? What message are we trying to convey? How does this relate to the design of escalators as transitional space?).

Ultimately, our final iteration invited three players to act as "SMART" escalators:"Welcome to your new home. You are a recently installed, top of the line S.M.A.R.T. Escalator. ‘Safe Movement: Automated, Reliable, & Timely!’ You’re eager to get started, and you’re in luck. It’s rush hour—you’ve got queues to clear! You’ve never had queues before! Now, you’ve been programmed to know that humans can be… unpredictable. But you’re sure you can handle anything. Time to show this mall what Safe and Efficient escalation is all about! Good luck!”

Each player is given twelve passengers that they, the SMART escalator must transport from starting platform to final destination platform. When a passenger reaches their destination, the escalator receives a point. Passenger cards are introduced when passengers must pass each other. Other complexities, like the challenge rule, are included for extra layers of complexity: "Any pawns inadvertently knocked off the board return promptly to their original queues. A mechanical failure!"

The Turn

  1. Auto-move all active passengers

  2. Choose a queue to activate

  3. Roll to determine how a passenger embarks

  4. If the new passenger would pass or end its turn on an occupied space, draw a Passenger Card

  5. Resolve the Passenger Card as written 

  6. Discard the Passenger Card, reshuffle as needed

  7. Move to the next player in order

The Score

  • 1 Point conferred when a passenger reaches their destination

  • 1 Point conferred per active passenger on the same escalator

  • Game ends once all players have moved all their passengers successfully

  • The escalator with the most points wins!

Passenger cards were a group effort to conceptualize and went through multiple cycles of brainstorming to be helpful to the game strategy instead of a distraction by carrying their own weighted message. They were stylized not only to be representative of some of the issues with escalator designs that we had discovered in our literature reviews and other methods of inquiry, but were also meant to reinforce the mall environment our narrative catered to. Patrick procured blank trading cards from Blick and Allison drew the character descriptions on them. 

Passenger Cards (Card Title - Resulting Action)

  • Someone Trips! - Sets off a “domino” effect

  • Phone! - Bumps the next passenger forward

  • Someone’s Got Places to Be! - Speeds past all the rest

  • Shopaholic! - The active escalator can’t be re-activated next turn

  • Someone’s Taking Their Sweet Time! - All passengers line up behind another

  • Escalator Inspector! - Instantly moves to the top of the escalator

  • Escalator Thrill-Seeker! - Hops the railing onto the adjacent escalator

  • Treat Yourself-Er! - Keeps their distance (and their balance)

  • Best Friends’ Rush Hour! - Takes a pal along for the ride

Constructing the Board

Besides user testing and assisting with strategy development, my main task was to create a board for our game. Patrick wanted to focus more on game design and admitted he was not comfortable with "making" and craftsmanship. Two main areas I wanted to address was creating the narrative space and creating a believable board game feel. 

Our group agreed that a mall space would appeal to the most users and also provide an environment where many of the mishaps or design flaws of an escalator could come to play in a believable way. Taking a note from Miller's 7 plus or minus 2, we figured that each escalator should have nine spaces. The most common malls in America have 2 floors and a strip mall. We decided to make three floors so that more players could enjoy the game. Each floor also had their own themes so players could choose which escalator they wanted to play on and all have a different experience: first floor = trinkets and items, second floor = food court, third floor = clothing and department stores. 

This was the initial sketch of the board. We wanted to challenge the design of traditional

board games, so we opted for a vertically aligned board because it better represented

our transitional space. We originally had all players starting at the first floor of the mall

and then racing to escape to the parking lot. However, after some critical thinking on 

the message we were trying to convey; more of a rhetoric on the design of the 

escalator, we changed the escalators to be more versatile (not limited to one direction

and not encouraging players to race each other and potentially sabotage each other

in unsafe ways on the escalator). 

Unsure of the kinds of stores people most often frequent in a mall setting (I never go to

malls - far too crowded), I asked about 30 of my peers in TSRB which stores they often

go to the mall to shop in. The stores displayed in the final iteration of the board were 

meant to be representative of the stores most mentioned. I created my own store logos

simply because I did not want copyright other stores and apparently there are regional

differences for certain kinds of stores. For example, there are standard, big name 

department stores, but in Wyoming Macy's may not be as popular as Sears. 

There were several mentions in class as to the importance of packaging in design. Having made steady improvements this semester in Adobe Illustrator, I tried my hand at creating a box wrap and a game logo. Our inquiries into escalator designs in the previous project had revealed that all escalators had a standard metallic color, so I aimed to replicate the dulled sheen on the logo and etched the stairs along the diagonal lines in the letters. My group seemed interested in the "vapor wave aesthetic" of mall environments and I chose colors that fit in with that color palette. Patrick had mentioned that choosing a uniform color palette to stick to would also help unify our game better. 

The board needed to be large enough to accommodate the game pieces and three escalators. It was large enough that it also had to be light weight and transportable across campus (especially as I live a few blocks from the edge of campus and walk to school). Many board games come with parts that can break down and be moved for easier storage. For this reason, I chose cardboard (ironically from a Macy's purchase). Using a straight edge and an x-acto knife I cut out stairs that would accommodate the sizing needs of the board game pieces Patrick had. To ensure the structural integrity, each stair required three 1x3" slices glued together. Because the fear of the stair texture being monstrous and mechanical had been mentioned so frequently, I paid careful attention to replicate the teeth-like appearance. Using shades of gray, I lined paper to cover the cardboard. Platforms with the cautionary yellow color (dulled to match the vapor-wave aesthetic) were fixed to each escalator. Originally, we had wanted the escalators to have one direction, so I had fashioned arrows that were velcroed onto the escalators. Later, we opted to allow for each escalator to allow both directions simultaneously. A later iteration of the escalators were without the velcro and had a dividing line and directing arrows on every step. Tabs were included on every removable board piece to ensure security when the board was set up to play. Finally, the escalator sides were cut out with extreme precision, painted, and glued to the stairs of the escalators. Even though the escalators are hollow, they are quite durable and reinforced to allow for transportation and rough play. The whole board weighs less than 5 lbs. 

The stores were illustrated in colored pencil to match the aesthetic of the Passenger cards. Every layer was secured with extra support underneath each floor and then wrapped in glossy poster paper to mimic mall linoleum. No cardboard could be visible. Additionally, the lowest escalator had a hollow space to store pieces and Passenger cards either during play or during transportation. Check out the images of the board and the creation process below.


Figure 1: Board Layout Sketch


This project was a good way to put the results of our four weeks of research into an actionable deliverable. We had laid a good foundation to be able to reconfigure our design critique in the form of tactile experience. Creating an interactive environment, we were able to present our escalator rhetoric in a completely new way and under a different lens. By creating our own world, we were able to illustrate the shortcomings of a typical escalator design, examine the role of design in a shared social/commercial space, and to represent the difficulty of maintaining safe and efficient transitional/liminal spaces in which escalators are found. 

By encouraging play from other users, we were also able to focus on narratives that are not easily studied in the real world and were able to facilitate discussions with users that might not be accomplished through initial methods of inquiry. When people are drawn to something tactile to focus on, they feel less pressure to focus on how they something and more able to react or narrate their stream-of-conscious thoughts.


Additionally, the opportunity to create my own form of escalators for a different purpose allowed me to more closely examine the working mechanics and the visual aspects of escalators. Although we did not change the appearance of the escalators, we were able to take what we had gleaned from our initial methods of inquiry and incorporate those features into our board game. 


Although working in group projects is difficult, the overall effect of this assignment helped bring the primary methods we studied this semester into a tangible and more memorable deliverable. Additionally, without these hands-on experiences, the readings would not have been ingrained in my brain to the same depth and permanence that they were. I truly appreciate the care the professors put into the pedagogical methods of teaching and the safe environment that was created to foster learning and exploration; an excellent transitional space into grad school.