Evan Karatzas, Class of 2005

Philanthropist, Big Brother, successful entrepreneur, educator, and fearless designer

Advice to incoming students: I think the most important thing is to find an area that you feel strongly about — something personal that can serve as a foundation for your thesis work either as an underlying content area or that can translate more directly into your thesis investigation. Without this, your thesis work will be a chore and you won’t approach it with a sense of purpose or passion and it will make it all but impossible to claim a topic or territory as your own.

It is not surprising that one of the most frequently cited projects at the Dynamic Media Institute is Proximity Lab, Evan Karatzas’ major thesis project. Comprised of an 8 foot-by-16 foot platform complete with custom-built RFID sensors, hundreds of antennas, a high-power projector, and special shoes that feed location data, Proximity Lab is perhaps the most ambitious thesis offering in the DMI program’s 10-year history. To execute this idea, most students, inhibited by a lack of resources, would combine some creative green screen work with a touch of AfterEffects trickery and voila, out comes an interesting project. Evan, on the other hand, meticulously designed and built each element resulting in a workable prototype installed in the Stephen D. Paine Gallery at MassArt.

Speaking about his experience developing Proximity Lab, Evan discusses his desire to think beyond the limitations of the screen. “My interest in developing human scale installations grew from having spent nearly two decades as a screen-based interaction designer. I felt extremely limited by this small screen and desktop orientation, which, when you think about it, is one of the most constrained and unnatural settings for an immersive experience to take place. I was anxious to explore work that was not bound by these conventions.”

This level of innovation was nothing new for Evan. As an undergrad at Syracuse University, he first majored in computer science, but quickly realized his interest was in multimedia development and interface design. After hopping from one fruitless major to another, Evan ended up developing his own concentration in interactive design through a series of independent studies. In 1997, after graduating, he went on to co-found Flywire, a web design and development firm based in Portsmouth, NH. The firm grew quickly during the dotcom bubble and reached 35 employees in less than two years.

This experience left a clear impression on him. “I was in my late 20s and not terribly qualified to be running a company. I was pretty overwhelmed and learned some painful lessons about running a business. Many of my failures as a manager and team leader shaped the direction of my thesis work. The role that technology played in my personal failures — notably my tendency to hide behind email and Instant Messaging rather than engage my team directly — was the impetus behind my interest in proximity, social interaction, and technology.”

Proximity Lab has achieved a vibrant life beyond graduate school. It is the name of Evan’s successful design firm touting clients like Bose, Adobe, and PBS. He looks at his current success as an extension of what he learned while studying at the DMI program. “I see my professional work as an opportunity to engage people, to give them a chance to be creative and expressive, and make them think about their relationship to others and how their actions affect a larger system or community.”

Most recently, Proximity Lab became an integral philanthropic partner to the DMI program. After numerous discussions with Jan Kubasiewicz, coordinator of the program, Evan recently announced the Proximity Lab Fund, an annual scholarship designed to help DMI students realize innovative and ambitious dynamic media projects that would be difficult to achieve without financial support. The fund will provide access to the necessary materials and resources that students need to build their thesis projects. The fund will include grants totaling $6,000 per academic year with $3,000 awarded at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. Awards will be distributed to one or more students each semester with variable award amounts determined by an advisory panel.

Evan has a long history of generosity. He has been a Big Brother for over fifteen years, helped built greenhouses for Friends of Boston’s Homeless, and volunteers whenever he has free time. His decision to give back to the DMI program resulted from his overwhelmingly positive experience. “It was certainly one of the most rewarding, creative, and productive periods of my life. I found a true mentor and advisor in Jan and the opportunity to do highly creative, self-directed work that is virtually unrestricted in scope and scale has been incredibly gratifying ... it seemed natural to do something to help students realize their work at a larger scale where financial limitations would otherwise prevent them from going big.”

Beyond helping students financially, Evan remains active on the academic side of the DMI program. As a guest lecturer, professor, and critic he continues to influence and shape the direction of the program. While he undoubtedly will be successful in this phase of his career, it is not something that he takes lightly. “This is a fairly new role for me and in many ways I feel inexperienced as I did in my early years of learning how to run a business. I have quite a lot to learn.”

Written by Dennis Ludvino

Evan Karatzas on www.dynamicmediainstitute.org

Proximity Lab Studio

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