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 refl ection 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 infl uenced 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-fi ctions, and try to fi nd 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 fi gurines 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 effi cient. 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 “artifi cial 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 fi rst 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 confi dence 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.