Reflections on Milan Design Week

by Alex Anderson on 6 June 2013

Two weeks ago I visited Milan for the Salone del Mobile, aka the most popular design event in Europe. Milan is a city transformed by Salone Del mobile, thousands of visitors are thinning their shoe soles going up down the design districts; a lot of parties keep the city awake till late and design inspiration is in the air. There’s a tradition of such festivals to be dominated by furniture, lighting and textile design companies. Nevertheless, since digital technology can’t be ignored even by the most conservative design firms , there is an increasing amount of appealing exhibits to visit if you want to distance yourself from traditional product design. For some years now big brands from the electronics, e-commerce and automotive industry are making their way into warehouses and contemporary museums in Milan. Don’t expect however to see the latest Samsung smartphone there.

The big brands don’t waste their time building a space for traders but rather deliver their message in a more conceptual and creative way, making their spaces interesting and unique. Entering Samsung’s room in 'Superstudio Piu', visitors received a smartphone which they used to connect with a virtual landscape (an interactive installation on the wall). After the connection was made through an RFID tag, they could modify the landscape, e.g. by growing trees with colourful leaves, while using a simple interface on the smartphone. The experience was pretty engaging, although many people couldn’t directly understand how to connect the phone with the installation (a lesson for NFC technologies?). The idea of the interactive landscape was good but probably another theme would have created more excitement. Hyundai introduced an interactive art piece called Fluidic, which used Kinect cameras to capture visitors’ motion and transform these movements to light projected on a sculpture consisted of small spheres. The result was stunning as it was also accompanied by experimental soundscapes.

Although the interactivity with the light patterns wasn’t obvious (probably because there were so many people in the room that Kinects couldn’t be efficient), the installation engaged visitors for a considerable amount of time. Renault followed a different approach. They commissioned the famous British designer Ross Lovegrove to add his nature-inspired, biomorphic design patterns on a Twin’Z [2], a concept for an electric car. This collaboration produced what I could describe as a nature inspired space age car. LED lights decorated the interior and the exterior of the car in an amazingly organic way.  The cars controls and interface interested me the most, they consisted of  smartphones and a tablet. This project was one of the most critically acclaimed in this year’s Salone and that was well deserved. Probably the most intimate space I visited was 'eBay Living'. The e-commerce legend tried to indicate how old objects and products can be easily transformed and re-used instead of being abandoned or thrown away. Two mime artists grabbed visitors in the entrance and introduced them in the concept. Old bicycle wheels were transformed into clocks, old books formed the back of a bed and suitcases were being used as coffee tables. All made by humans without big effort. It’s an absolutely amazing way to communicate the message of reuse. [pic 5] New production methods which are based in digital design are well received by new designers.3D Printers built by various design collectives were showcasing their capabilities. It’s only a matter of time until we will start purchasing products made by 3d printers. However, I also saw concepts that reached the extremes; a 3d printer that produced an edible cake, I was really hesitant to try some. [pic 6] British design was proudly represented by Tom Dixon, who designed some conceptual multi-functional apparel for Adidas (available to buy soon), the Designersblock collective with lots of upcoming and indie designers and the DesignJunction salon with big firms. [pic 7] I think that Milan (along with London) Design Week are great events to gather inspiration and follow the latest trends. Although they are not directly relevant to the digital and interactive domain yet, it’s more than clear that the interactive and experiential aspects are constantly gaining ground. In anyway, imagination and creativity don’t have boundaries.

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