Milan Design Week 2018: Tech brands go soft

Over the past few years, Milan Design Week has become an experience playground for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Founded more than fifty years ago as a furniture fair, it’s more recently morphed into a global innovation showcase that Pepsi, IKEA and Lexus all use to exhibit their design thinking prowess.

This year, it was the turn of tech brands to make a cultural impact, with Sony and Google both showcasing their softer sides through poetic, design-led events.

At the same time, designers turned their attention to tech, too,  contemplating the darker implications of the devices that now swallow so much of our time – and the ethics of the brands who make them.

Google: Softwear

At Spazio Rossana Orlandi, a gallery known for its avant-garde design eye, Google drew hordes of visitors with Softwear, a show that linked its hardware products with the tactile and emotional comforts of home.

The sensitively-made exhibition saw the tech giant team up with Li Edelkoort and Dutch designer Kiki van Eijk, who made wall hangings featuring domestic collages, with Google hardware such as Daydream VR headsets and Home Mini smart speakers in the cast.

Kiki van Eijk for Google Softwear

Elsewhere, Google products were styled with crystals and smudge sticks, or artfully arranged in compositions of contemporary furniture. For the finishing touch, the Google employees on hand were marked out by their tactile uniform: pastel t-shirts stitched with the word ‘soft’.

Google Softwear

Google Softwear

Sony: Hidden Senses

Sony’s exhibition, Hidden Senses, was more overtly tech-focused, but again with the impetus on how technology can blend into and enhance everyday life, rather than distract or take away from it.


Using cutting-edge projection and sensor technology, Sony made a series of poetic and experimental objects that each interact differently with passersby.

Vases were backed by shadows of blooming flowers, plates were decorated with swills of digital ink, and pinned sheets of (digital) paper appeared to flutter with a breath of wind. Sony also played with weight and sound, showing bowls and plates that appeared to contain heavy contents, but in fact were empty.

At the end of the exhibition, roomsets laid out how this experimental technology could be useful in the home, with wall devices that subtly show personalized notifications, and moving wall art that responds to your presence.



Gijs Bakker: Device People

Other exhibitions took a more critical view of the impact that electronic devices are having on our lives. At ALCOVA, a new exhibition staged in a disused panettone factory, Gijs Bakker’s show Device People questioned the role of the smartphone – an object that only hit the mainstream just over ten years ago, yet is now so dominant in society that not to carry one marks you out as alternative.

Bakker invited a series of designers to respond to the rise of smartphones via objects that relate equally closely to the body. Mischer’traxler showed Finger Blocks, rings that prevent your fingers from tapping away endlessly at your smartphone, while Patricia Domingues’ Modern Animist proposed that instead of our phones, we carry a chunk of artificial stone – quartz mixed with resin – as a modern-day amulet, a “tactile token in a digital world”.

mischer’traxler for Device People

Patrícia Domingues for Device People

For more from Milan, check out WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors on Instagram, where we’re posting daily highlights.

Subscribers can look out for our in-depth reports from across the fair shortly after events wrap.

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