The subject of photography, reproduction and manipulation is dear to designer of Spanish origin Talia Radford and her studio taliaY.
Her artistic objects, which marry new technologies and jeweller’s skills with modern lifestyle habits, fill her studio situated in a beautiful residential house with a courtyard near the Vienna city centre.
Talia, you work with advanced technologies, but your studio is set in a very traditional ambience. Can you introduce us to this charismatic place?
This is a really old house built in 1786. I really like to have my studio here, even though it is not perfect. It‘s too small, it’s really cold in winter. Actually, there is so many things wrong with it. But the people that live here are really cool. We have an artist here, musicians, an alchemist, who makes things out of things and knows all about Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. We also have a few social workers here. It really is a great atmosphere. That’s why I want to work here. It is my space.
We actually started off the studio in 2011 in a co-working space. I think this is really exciting about working nowadays. Things like co-working spaces, shared workshops or happy labs are popping up. You don’t have to invest much money because of the shared economy. And that’s the idea of our studio.
For example, we now use a friend’s workshop. It’s one of the guys who work for us sometimes. He has a huge workshop so we use his stuff. We only have a small 3D printer. It is really old, one of the first ones. But otherwise you can use really good 3D printers anywhere nowadays.
Your work balances on the edge of design and technologies. Did you study some technological discipline?
I studied industrial design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and we had 3 different professors with different approaches. We started with Bořek Šípek, who was kind of a philosopher. He would let us do our stuff and he was strong about developing our own kind of formal form. Then we had Ross Lovegrove who was there very shortly but he introduced us to working with digital tools. And finally, I graduated with Hartmut Esslinger from Frog design. He was much more political, much more future-oriented. We couldn’t design just a new table. Design was about changing the world and using design skills to influence the direction the world should take. So that’s where I learned a lot about working with technologies.
Do you consider yourself somebody who has a chance to change the world or influence the society through design?
It’s a difficult question. I used to want to save the world, I used to really believe that I could change it. But when I started to work after studies and I was working in this co-working space called Impact Hub, suddenly, everybody there was a game changer. And I realized that we lacked the skills to save the world. As designers, we have certain creative skills that could help – we are like journalists, we can take many different aspects of what experts know and make them relevant to the society by creating a project. But we can’t possibly understand how to make the project sustainable in terms of how it can survive economically. And that is really the game changer today. So I don’t really think that design can change the world by itself. I can only be part of a team that can do that.
Have you ever had any project that you didn’t manage to realize through technology?
During my studies, I had to think a lot about speculative technologies. I finished the university with the AquaIris project, which is a speculative water filter of the future. I researched a lot with nanotechnology institutes here in Vienna. It is a portable water filter where you can scoop water up and it gets filtered. It uses a concept of so-called converter crystals that are to be man-made and make the UVC light out of the UVB light. But this is speculative, because we are not there yet. We are able to make crystals that shift the spectrum of light up, but not at that range.
Also, when I did my first diploma, my bachelors, I did the Ergoskin project, which was a T-shirt that corrects your posture by reminding you that you are in a wrong posture. It is really good because it doesn’t hold you back, it just reminds you that you have been in a bad posture for a while so eventually you change your habit and you basically correct yourself. It used an embedded RFID technology inside the textiles so it was a wearable T-shirt. Unfortunately, it was 5 years ahead of time in terms of what I had researched or the scientists I worked with had done at the science research institute. And then 5 years later, this T-shirts became a reality, somebody else made it.
So that’s what I didn’t realize. But those were kind of speculative projects that allowed me to do the projects that I have now.
Your recent projects are created with the OLED technology by OSRAM. What is this collaboration about?
We have been working with OSRAM for four years and it takes the most of my time at the moment. The OLED technology is basically a very flat surface light. The anode and cathode are lying on top of each other, which is different from every other light, where they’re usually next to each other. So its entire surface lights up. The technology is available in three different iterations – mirror OLEDs, transparent OLEDs and it’s bend OLEDs.
What’s really cool is that they don’t know what to do with it. They’re working in the automotive industry so they know that’s going to work out. But my job is to figure out what this technology is and how can we implement it.
We take technology and see how it can become culturally relevant. We make it tangible through design. We look at the capacities that it has, we look at the borders and we are trying to break those borders and see how we can implement it so that the wider public understands this technology and it becomes acceptable.
Photography is not about the image but about the experience.
Your first project with OSRAM, Thermobooth, works with mirror OLEDs. It has become very popular. Why do you think so?
Thermobooth is a bit of a provocation in terms of everything is technological, game-changing and digital nowadays. What we started doing with the Thermobooth is taking the digital language and creating analog experiences. I really think it’s something that’s missing right now – the value of human relationships.
I think Thermobooth works because people understand the selfie. They don’t understand the magic behind algorithms, but when I tell you that if you touch someone or kiss someone, it will take a photo automatically, you will be like „wow“.
Compared to Smilebox, Thermobooth makes low-fi photos, whereas Smilebox has an HD camera inside. But it is not about the quality of the photos. A year later, you still have it in your bag and you remember the experience, how it was taken. Photography is not about the image but about the experience.
In terms of game changing, I actually had a bit of a problem at the beginning because I came directly from the water project AquaIris to OLEDs and the Thermobooth. It is a big thing, but in terms of saving the world – it’s not. On the other hand, it makes people have serious fun. And sometimes we forget that we are supposed to have a little bit of fun.
Sometimes I think that design is about being able to make things sustainable. Not only economically, but also in terms of creating experiences that make people think.
It could be at least an inspiration.
Actually, when Thermobooth came out, we got an inquiry from an organization in Canada that wanted to create an event with Thermobooth. The organisation creates awareness of people with AIDS. So the idea of touching was really important to them because they wanted to break the barriers for that. That’s cool. In the end, they didn’t end up using it because they cancelled the event.
Sometimes I think that design is about being able to make things sustainable. Not only economically, but also in terms of creating experiences that make people think. Exactly like this – AIDS, touching, breaking barriers, it’s just a facilitator.
See the use of digital technologies. If you look at a very rich society here in the middle of Europe, many people complain about the addiction to iPhones or the Internet. But if you can show that there is another way of using technologies that create a much more human experience, it is raising questions and maybe offering solutions for coming back together, for creating more human experiences. That’s how the Kiss Cam came about.
When you see something that you love, you kiss it and it takes a photo.
The Kiss Cam is your next project with OSRAM. This time it involves the transparent OLEDs. Can you explain how it works?
OSRAM asked us to create something with the transparent OLEDs so we made 3 products – the Kiss Cam, the monOled and SAD Lolly. We wanted to show different aspects of the transparent OLED within each one. Together, they create the Holdable collection. You wear them but you hold them to use them. Each of them uses a different movement or a gesture.
With the Kiss Cam we wanted to show what you can make with the capacity sensor without adding anything extra. It is a camera, which has no button, but a transparent OLED that we turned into a capacity sensor. It is a view finder, a flash, and a button at the same time. When you see something that you love, you kiss it and it takes a photo.
It’s a bit different if you take a photo with your phone, you have this transparency so the person you’re taking a photo of can see you. It’s just a very small statement but it makes a difference when the barrier between you is transparent.
Together with the kiss cam we created the Jelly series. Last year Instagram became a huge thing in terms of making filters to make your life much more beautiful instantly and so we thought about making an analog version of that. We took antique glass and made a necklace of it. So when you want to instaglorify your life, you just put it in front, take a photo and then you have a more colorful picture. It’s basically an analog filter.
Immediately, everybody reacted very well to it. Although it was just a thing on the side. It is difficult to produce the Kiss Cam. The technology is too expensive and we are a design studio, not a start up. But with the Jelly Series it is different, so we decided to go into something we have never done before, which was production. We started producing the Jelly Series in 2014 and now we are working on our own production line.
How do the monOled and SAD Lolly work?
With the monOled we wanted to show the fact that you can laser- cut the light. There is no other light you can do that with. We created this reading monocle for people who need to see things better. It turns on and off just with a very easy gesture.
SAD Lolly is a seasonal disorder brooche. We did this after the tech frenzy in the past years when all the wearable technologies popped up and everything looked really the same. It’s small and you can do everything with it. You can hardly say what it does by looking at it. So we decided to be really obvious and make one object that is really a statement and does only one thing.
So what the SAD Lolly does is that it measures how much light you are getting. When you are not getting enough light, it turns on so you can put it onto your eye and get a shot of light. You can also use colour filters that have different effects on the body. So you never get depressed. However, if you need a pep up just because you want to work until 3am or go party until 5am, you would just stroke its fox fur to turn it on and get a shot of extra light. It is a bit of a satirical comment on the wearable things.
Now, we have been working on a project introducing a bend OLED.
Are such projects rather catalysts or do they mainly develop PR for the company?
I think at the beginning OSRAM really wanted to find unique markets. But the technology development slowed down for many reasons and at moment they are using the designers for PR.
If we get a chance to create exciting things and make people aware of the technologies, the company uses the images and the story to grow awareness of their products, people will know it exists and know about its possibilities, I am really fine with it.
Interview & text: Darina Zavadilová
Text edit: Helena Kardová
Photo: Tomáš Souček, Jan Kloss
Illustration: Jan Kloss
Video: Jan Rybák