ECAL gets playful with virtual reality: Milan Design Week 2016

ECAL - When Objects Dream

Swiss design school ECAL is swiftly becoming a Milan Design Week must-see. Two years ago, the school’s students delighted us with Delirious Home, a look at the prospect of the connected home and how objects could soon take on lives and moods of their own. Then came #Photobooth, an examination of selfie culture which revelled in being equal parts glorious, ridiculous and creepy. This year, they’ve treated us to When Objects Dream, a fun park of objects that speak to, or around, the subject of virtual reality.

VR is a compelling technology, and there’s no doubt in my mind that in the near-future, it will drastically change how we interact with the world. But right now, it’s a silly technology: there are lots of fun, but not yet game-changing, things to do in VR, and the headset does not exactly look cool. ECAL has run with the absurdity of the situation, hooking up objects as varied as brooms, vases, tables, floor lamps and books to virtual-reality video displays.

/Pietro Alberti & Elise Migraine for ECAL

Thomas Faucheux & Arthur Moscatelli for ECAL

Elsewhere in the show, there’s a set of teapots that ‘pour’ soundscapes into your ear, becoming more ghostly or more complex depending on the angle of tilt; a hairdryer that ‘melts’ the digital image in front of it when you turn it on to full blast; a bicycle pump that blows up a digital balloon in front of you, and pops it when you go too far; a tape measure that you can pull to zoom out of an image; a toaster that pops out a random digital object instead of toast; and an adjustable metronome that controls the speed of a game of ping pong happening on the video screen in front of it.

ECAL - When Objects Dream

André Andrade & Giulio Barresi for ECAL

André Andrade & Giulio Barresi for ECAL

Luca Kasper & Callum Ross / Pierre Allain-Longval & Mathilde Colson for ECAL

ECAL’s students (and teachers, of course) are masters at taking a topical situation – usually to do with tech – and making it fascinating, silly and charming all at once. This is design at its most fun, popping the hype bubble around VR with aplomb; but underpinning its lighthearted appearance is a foundation of more weighty ideas about our relationships with technology – and what we might or might not want for our collective future.

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