Swarovski Designers of the Future @ Salone Milan 2018

Swarovski Designers of the Future @ Salone Milan 2018

From left, Tetsuo Mukai of Study O Portable, Frank Kolkman, and Yosuke Ushigome of TAKRAM, the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award Winners 2018 at Kristallwelten in Wattens, Austria, in front of the Crystal Cloud installation, by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot

This year marks the twelfth edition of the Designers of the future award, a project led by Design Miami and Swarovski who have teamed up to find the vanguard designs of tomorrow and breakthrough talents with pioneering concepts.

Collaborating with Design Miami/ for the fourth year in a row, Austrian crystal maker, Swarovski, has announced the three winners of the 2018 Swarovski Designers of the Future Award.

The Swarovski Designers of the Future Award honors a select group of promising young designers and studios who exemplify new directions in design culture.

These young creatives work beyond pure product design and represent conceptually or technologically vanguard approaches, often assimilating ideas from multiple disciplines.

The objective of the award is to offer these next-generation design talents the opportunity to present newly commissioned work to an influential audience of collectors, dealers, and journalists at Design Miami/Basel.

This year, the three chosen candidates will have to work on the notion of “ smart living” while incorporating crystal technologies whether it be psycho activation techniques, touch crystal or energy crystal. All their final works will be shown at Design Miami/Basel in June.

The winners this year are Frank Kolkman, an experimental Dutch designer specialising in robotic technologies; Study O Portable, a research based Dutch-Japanese practice, founded by Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai, which makes objects about the designed environment; and Yosuke Ushigome of Takram, a creative Japanese technologist specialising in emerging technologies.

Topically, this year they were challenged to create a prototype or statement responding to the theme of ‘smart living’, applying crystal technologies and energies to our lived environments, create a dynamic exchange between the digital and physical.

They were asked to revolve their thinking around a number of longstanding buzzwords of contemporary design, including accessibility, sustainability and interactivity.

To inspire the creative process, the laureates immersed themselves in Swarovski’s idyllic, mountainside headquarters in Austria.

They explored the company’s archives – an Aladdin’s Cave of designs from the world’s most creative minds, from encrusted Christian Dior slippers, to a strand from that Oscars curtain.

The resulting project plans span the analogue to the artificially intelligent, encapsulating Swarovski’s esteemed history, but also looking to its future.

Frank Kolkman ( c) with Thomas Aastad (Swarovski ) (l) and Rodman Primack CEO Design Miami (r)


‘Dream Machine’ by Frank Kolkman– an immersive crystal light and sound installation from Kolkman – synchronises with our brainwaves to provoke a state of deep relaxation or ‘artificial dreaming’;

Yoskue Ushigome’s ‘Can Crystals Interface Us to AI?’ exhibition will explore the potential of crystal as an alternative interaction between human and machine intelligence that occurs within the smart home;

Study O Portable by Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai has gone back to crystal basics, looking at the natural, sunset-like colour patterns they produce, to create a series of surfaces which will be transformed functionally into a table, screens, and lights.


The award invites the winning designers to use Swarovski’s diverse resources to develop a prototype or statement that illustrates new ways of connecting and existing with each other and our environment.

The winners will be asked to deliver designs within the following realms: wearables, inclusive design solutions, lighting and/or functional home objects, which create moments of connectivity and transformation, turning the static into a dynamic interplay between digital and physical, individual and collective, through the integration of new crystal technologies, championed by Swarovski.

The commissioned works will be unveiled at Design Miami/ Basel, which takes place from June 12-17, 2018.

Nadja Swarovski

The completed designs will be displayed at Design Miami / Basel later this year, and were chosen by a formidable panel of judges, including Nadja Swarovski, member of the Swarovski Executive Board; Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, curatorial advisor of Design Miami /; Fuseproject’s Yves Behar, and Deyan Sudjic, director of the London Design Museum

Nadja Swarovski and Yves Behar at TMag party Salone Milan 2018


The winning design entries stood out because of their distinct abilities to succinctly answer the question ……..

Can crystal innovations make the way we live our lives smarter, more interactive, sustainable, immersive and accessible?



Dream Machine by Frank Kolkman

Kolkman uses light and sound patterns from Swarovski crystals to create a “machine” that help bring individuals into a deep state of relaxation or “artificial dreaming.”

The piece is presented as a smart solution for coping with high pressure and stressful lifestyles of modern life.

Frank Kolkman uses intuition and design to innovate existing technologies.

He is an experimental designer from Holland specialized in robotic technologies.

His more recent works include an Out-Of-Body Experience Simulator, Domestic Drug Screening Kit and a DIY Surgical Robot. In his work, his aims to question, understand and sometimes even challenge current and future technologies.



Blurring Of Light And Color by Study O Portable

Study O Portable is a design collective founded by Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai.

The Dutch – Japanese design duo explains that in exploring the concept of smart living, they have taken an analogue route, using imagery to evoke emotion.

They used light and color gradients distinct to Swarovski crystals to mimic the fading colors of nature on various surfaces.

These may resemble a golden sunset, fiery autumn leaves or the sky on a clear day.

These images are then translated onto screens, table tops or lights which allude the benefits of smart living.

Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai

They are inclined to create designed environments, while exploring “our relationship to the cultural landscapes that enables it.”



Can Crystals Interface Us To AI? By Yosuka Ushigome

This piece aims to portray the dynamics between machine and human intelligence.

It is a timely and relevant exploration of truths that go with living in environments supported by technologies like Amazon Echo or Google Home.

By highlighting the “inherent, emotional” quality of crystals, Can Crystals Interface mirror the familiar behaviors between human and artificial intelligence.

Yosuke Ushigome is a creative technologist at the Takram design studio in London.

His work is reflective of his fascination for emerging technologies.

Through design, he creates prototypes that explore promise of technologies as well as the cultural and political implications behind them.

His impetus for his work is to support and encourage informed decisions where future technologies are concerned.



Interviews with the Winners 2018


Frank Kolkman


What is the name of your company and how would you describe how you think about the world of design ?

I’m interested in unpicking the social, economic, and aesthetic dimensions of current and near-future technologies through design. By developing confrontational prototypes, experimental products, and interactive installations that are subtly disruptive, I aim to instigate reflection on the processes, systems, and values that underpin our technology-rich environment.

It’s really about trying to imagine, generate, and test alternative ways of doing, seeing, and understanding beyond what is familiar to us or what’s probable in the future.

By making these alternatives tangible it allows us to collectively discuss their preferability in relation to what’s already there. In turn, it helps us gain insight into what we really desire or expect from the technologies we surround ourselves with daily—and how we might get there.


What materials do you like to work with and what do they contribute to your aesthetic ?

I like to work with a wide variety of materials and techniques, and their selection is often directly influenced by the ambitions and scope of the project. A lot of my projects operate on the borders between digital and physical space and involve at least some electronics or mechatronics. Your work tends to look at technologies and their sociopolitical implications.


How do you look into this to make future design solutions tangible ?

My projects start with researching and deconstructing current cultural trends and technological developments, and speculating on their potential trajectories and implications. I collaborate with experts and scientists, explore the balance between science-facts and science-fictions, and try to find ways to suspend disbelief. This results in believable yet somewhat alien proposals that follow a different logic. I try to identify elements that could be implemented practically and therefore prototyped and tested. Creating semi-functional artifacts often involves hacking various technologies and products together and it helps me understand plausible pathways for production and adoption.


How valuable has your time been with the Swarovski experts ? What have you learned and how has it inspired you ?

It was inspiring to learn about Swarovski’s heritage as well as the new innovations happening within the company. I think most people associate Swarovski with crystal figurines and fashion accessories, however the company successfully operates in many different industries and produces a great variety of products, the production of which are carefully controlled and monitored and are held to the highest environmental standards.

The source of Swarovski’s success is easy to understand and essentially remains unchanged. It’s very hard to resist the appeal of a Swarovski crystal when it’s catching and refracting the light right before your eyes. It provides an almost visceral spectacle that is hard to capture through photography or video. It allows the magic to persist even in a time of ubiquitous screens where we can conjure alternate realities at the push of a button. It’s inspired me to look into utilizing crystal as a means of playing with our realities and warping the straightforward experience.


What brief were you given and how are you responding to it ?

We were invited to respond to the theme of “smart living,” investigating how Swarovski crystal could provide opportunities to make the way we connect with others and our environment more interactive, sustainable, immersive, or accessible.

My proposal seeks to interface Swarovski crystal with neurobiology, neuropsychology, and psychoactivation techniques in an attempt to identify possible strategies that could help people cope with the cognitive demands of modern life.

The aim is to create a notion of “smartness” that provides a more holistic vision of well-being and goes beyond the automated dream of making our lives more streamlined and efficient. With ever more connected technologies blurring the boundaries between our professional, social, and domestic spheres, the number of people experiencing cognitive and emotional conditions like insomnia, depression, stress, and anxiety is growing. When contemplating an increasingly diffuse technological landscape, we may also need to consider designing alternative ways to relax.

Building on the work of artists from the ‘50s and ‘60s—like Brion Gysin, Tony Conrad, Bernhard Leitner, and Ugo la Pietra—the project attempts to create an immersive crystal “dream machine.”

By generating light and sound patterns that synchronize with alpha and theta brainwaves, the machine would allow individuals to enter a state of deep relaxation or “artificial dreaming.”

It’s tapping into the notion of creating profoundly individual experiences that can’t be easily captured or converted to other media. I like the idea of it being a type of immersive “inside-out chandelier.”


What does the chance to work so closely with Swarovski mean to you—and what do you hope you can learn from this ?

It’s very exciting to be working so closely with Swarovski as part of Designers of the Future. It presents a very rare opportunity to work with crystal, which provides a unique set of challenges. As this is my first real commission it also represents a radically different way of working for me, in which I still have a lot left to learn.

I’m used to touching every part myself during the design and construction process, however this time that’ll be different.

Everyone at Swarovski is really friendly and all the expert teams have been amazingly helpful and understanding. They’ve given me complete confidence that we’ll be able to complete a great piece.


This award celebrates forward-looking designers—what excites you about working as a designer at this moment in time, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead ?

Technology today advances very rapidly and sometimes without much consideration or critical thought on how it can be meaningfully implemented in our lives.

I believe design can be an excellent sense-making tool amidst these developments and I’m excited by exploring ways for it to do so.



Study O Portable


How would describe your approach to design and your design sensibilities ?

We’re interested in finding new and alternative ways to describe the ordinary and mundane through objects. It starts with research into different incarnations of a certain idea or object throughout history. It’s then edited to make a new work, one that proposes a new possibility for the things we thought we knew.


What materials do you like to work with and what do they contribute to your aesthetic ?

The materials tend to be dependent on the idea we are working around. For us it’s important to choose the right material that adds to the proposition we’re making with the work while providing a visual aspect that invites the viewer to consider the work.


What is your relationship to technology and how do you use it to make future design solutions tangible ?

We’ve always been interested in technology, both new and old, and the kind of relationships we have with it. We’re interested in the idea of technology and its developments through time. It tells us a lot about our society and culture, and that’s a useful thing to know when we think about the future.


How valuable has your time been with the Swarovski experts ? What have you learned and how has it inspired you ?

It’s always enlightening to hear from and work with people who are experts in their field and who love what they do. It gave us the opportunity to get to know the material and possibilities in more depth, widening the range of possibilities for the project. Having spent time with the team changed our perspective on the products we thought we knew, which is always interesting, and in a sense is what we try to do with our work as well.


What brief were you given and how are you responding to it ?

We were given a brief to consider the future of smart living and the role that Swarovski crystal might play in it. Our approach here was similar to how we normally work, except this time we’re starting with the material. We considered the different aspects of what Swarovski does in terms of material technologies and precision cutting processes and what could be a relevant and interesting theme to work on.


What does the chance to work so closely with Swarovski mean to you—and what do you hope you can learn from this ?

It’s been really interesting to talk to the team and learn new things about the material, processes, and applications of Swarovski crystal. To work directly with set materials and processes is a different way of working for us, which has been really interesting and enjoyable.



Yosuke Ushigome

How would describe your approach to design and your design sensibilities?

I use design as a means to communicate ideas and visions with others. As my primary interests are centered around emerging technologies, my design tends to take the form of technology prototypes and experiential storytelling.


What are your references and what mediums do you like to experiment with ?

My design projects often speak about possible and impossible future visions; I tend to draw references from fictional objects from films and unlikely events and human behavior throughout history. I like to do a thought experiment on how an emerging technology might play a role in a very specific scenario—taken from the references—and imagine how that might change our behavior in the future.


What is your relationship to technology and how do you use it to make future design solutions tangible ?

I love watching how technology evolves and gets consumed within our culture. I use technology to trigger the research and new ideas around its consequence to develop the context that it acts upon. People who might be most affected by it, people who are in control of it, its economic and political workings are very important to experience the vision tangibly and make a well-informed decision.


You were born in Tokyo but you live and work in London. How does London inform and inspire your work ?

I grew up in Tokyo and studied Computer Science, so it was a perfect recipe to create an affinity to technology inside me. Moving to London and especially attending the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art helped me develop a more multifaceted view on technology. A strong sense of being an active citizen and critically engaging with what’s been promoted by authority and tech giants is very encouraging and it makes me want to understand more about how technological visions are dreamed and sold.


How valuable has your time been with the Swarovski experts? What have you learned and how has it inspired you ?

It was very valuable to visit the experts as I didn’t know anything about it. I was impressed to find that the materiality of the crystal and the cultural association it has in our society are treated as the core value even in a very technical development like Touch Crystal.


What brief were you given and how are you responding to it ?

My brief was “smart home” and what role crystal is going to play in developing the connectivity between ourselves and the ever-more-technological home environment. Based on my interest in how our behavior is changing due to the emergence of AI home assistant devices like the Amazon Echo, I started asking: what if we insert a more cultural and mythical interface between us and these AI assistants?

My concept imagines a world where Swarovski takes the role as a cultural mediator between us and machine intelligence by inserting ritualistic, culturally rich, yet intrinsically familiar interactions between the two.


What does the chance to work so closely with Swarovski mean to you—and what do you hope you can learn from this ?

It is rare for me to get a chance to work with people like Swarovski who are so enthusiastic about materiality and aesthetics rather than what a technology can do. Inevitably during the design process and the discussion we had a lot of back and forth, and this has been a big learning experience.


This award celebrates forward-looking designers— what excites you about working as a designer at this moment in time, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead ?

The future is full of tough problems when it comes our relationship with technology. Designers get to work with emerging technologies before they get embedded deep in our culture, and this can play a tremendous role in shaping our future and imagination. Both challenges and opportunities seem to lie in the disparity in available technologies and datasets among designers, as has always been the case.


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