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.