The déja vu phenomenon is experience by many, but few are able to describe the feeling of it. This project tackles to discover a solution to understand and share this common phenomenon; its about designing the psychology of déja vu.


Familiar Peculiarity

Familiar Peculiarity

Déja vu. A common phenonment experienced by many however, it is difficult for one to explain what it is, or simple describe how it feels. This is a thesis project, inspired by personal experiences, is a self-reflective project that explores a scientific study and translates it into an artistic and emotional form of work achieved through digital and print mediums.

Taking on an intagible topic, embracing 'not knowing' became the sole driving force for the exploration and development of the research project. The research, findings, and final deliverables are packaged in a hand bounded book. 


Thesis, 2019


Brand Identity + Strategy, Publication Design, Digital


Research, Brand Identity + Strategy, Illustration, 3D modelling, Copywriting, Print Production


Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, SketchUp, Watercolour


Custom Paper by Paperhouse Studios


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I first began the research by conducting visual research, which I decided to artistically express the emotions and scenes of my déjà vu occurrences in both states—dream and reality—through the use of watercolour and illustrations (see next section). Along with conducting academic research and literature reviews, it was a straightforward process to find out more on the topics for knowledge purposes. However, the challenge began when I had to apply my research of this intangible subject to develop and design a potentially tactile product.

Visual Research / Visual Essay

This visual research is a postcard series that convey the feelings and imagery associated with déjà vu occurences through an abstract visualisation of select personal déjà vu experiences. The abstraction of colours and illustrations are the shared connection between the dream and reality.

Discovering how well the approach of visually conveying the déjà vu phenomenon—using watercolour and illustrations—greatly aided and inspired the artistic direction for my final deliverables of my thesis. 


What is déjà vu? And how can we create an engaging interactive experience through the use of different mediums to not only stimulate and understanding, but also simulate the experience to create the feeling of this phenomenon to the familiar and unfamiliar?

Having conducted both academic research (literature review) and visual research, I concluded that the approach to my chosen topic of déjà vu was one that would be shared through an engaging and visual experience. Not one that uses academic or scientific jargon because I decided to focus on recreating the peculiar feeling that one feels when they experience the déjà vu phenomenon. It is a feeling that can't be translated into words and printed on paper. It is an unexplainable feeling that may vary for each individual, thus I concluded that to get a better understanding of this phenomenon it is important to experience for oneself in order for an individual to make their own conclusions of the peculiar familiarity that the déjà vu phenomenon gives. 


To answer my research question, I concluded that the best way to help someone understand a topic is for an individual to experience it themselves. Due to the intangible and personal experience that the déjà vu phenomenon encompasses, I wanted to build a space that would allow people to experience the step-by-step process of the déjà vu phenomenon beginning from the dream stage to the moment one says "déjà vu". Along with designing a visual identity, I concluded that there are 2 main components for the project deliverables: 3D render of the exhibit space, and a printed memorabilia piece. The final project deliverables along with my visual and academic research and process of the year-long journey are documented and presented in a hand-bound coptic book. 


The Exhibition Identity

This compact brand identity is designed for the 'Familiar Peculiarity Exhibit' that is developed upon the tagline PUT TOGETHER but WEiRd. All of my design decisions from designing the logotype, selecting typefaces and the colour palette, to the incporation of visual elements, are based on the 4-word tagline. This tagline does not only sum up the entire brand identity but it is also a reflection of my thesis project. The "weird" intangible topic of the déjà vu phenomenon of my thesis project is "put together" as a conceptual rendered space, and a tangible print piece (this is seen in the two deliverable component of this project).


It's a glitch.
It is sudden.
Split second episode.
A short snippet.
A dream been replayed.
It's exact or irregular.

We know it as déjà vu.


Deliverable 01: Familiar Peculiarity Exhibit

The exhibit is a sequential walkthrough of the déja vu phenomenon. Primary research resulted in 3 categories: not knowing what is déjà vu, familiar with déjà vu but don't experience it, or they know and experience déja vus but can't verbally describe or explain.

Designing a physical space allows individuals familiar or unfamiliar and/or individuals who knows or do not know about this phenomenon. As déja vu is a phenomenon that is based on feeling and personal experience, creating a space that could stimulate a scenario will allow each individual to feel a certain way and make their own conclusion. 

There are 2 components to this first deliverable: the 3D space and the visual content of the mock exhibit.


The exhibit space is designed to reflect the sequential stages of the déjà vu phenomenon. Having spoken to a few people who frequently experiences the déjà vu phenomenon, also based on personal experiences, the common pattern of the déjà vu phenomenon begins with a dream, and at any random given day and/or time one would feel that their current moment is exactly what they felt, saw or heard in the dream they had.


These sketches are the architectural planning of the three main sections of the mock exhibition before 3D rendering a cross section on Sketchup (seen below).


It's not an academic or scientific study.
It's a visual experience.
It's weird.
It's meant to be felt and seen.
It may be relatable.
It's peculiar.
It's familiar.
It's déjà vu.


The visual content was researched and planned specifically for Section 01 and Section 02 seen the exhibition space diagram. In order to recreate and stimulate the déja vu phenomenon as closely to an actual occurence in regards to what and how you see and feel, it was important find the best suitable medium and method to present content for the first 2 sections of the exhibit. 

The déja vu dreams that one gets is like when a ray of light flickers through a small opening and an image is projected onto a large empty area of nothingness. At every single glance, the flickering of this light are snippets or frames of nonsensical imagery that lasts between 1 to 5 seconds. I realised that the visibility of these snippets of nonsensical imagery is quite reliant on light. Thus, the method of presentation that was most suited to mimic a dream is projection of imagery through layers of soft translucent material. Using the method of projection, I would be able to control how the imagery will be projected and determine the surface that would create a dreamlike effect.

"Light is the medium and catalyst that reveals content, the hidden message, and realisation you don't see at first glance."


Deliverable 02: Known Peculiarity Card

I worked together and commissioned Paperhouse Studio to create this custom postcard watermarked paper for this portion of my deliverable I chose to call, Known Peculiarity. This component is an extension of the exhibit. If the exhibit were to be an actuality, visitors of the Familiar Peculiarity Exhibit would be given this card with a custom illustrated watermark. The illustrated watermark on the postcard is a moment (may it be an image or sound) that is seen in both the dream and reality. It is the highlight indicator of what one is experiencing in that moment of reality had been dreamt before, thus déjà vu.


Final Project Deliverable: When Someone Reads This

'When someone reads this' is my thesis book that documents the whole journey of the year long project and encompasses the final design solution to my research proposed research question. You will find the visual research, in depth academic research, design inspirations/moodboards, to the development and final presentation of digital renderings of the 3D exhibit, and print pieces of the project deliverable in this book.

Similar to déjà vu, the title is not meant to be understood at a first glance. It will make sense once you have seen and/or experienced it in context.


"Designing the psychology of déjà vu."

© Livia Widjaja 2020