14 December 2017


Interview with Olivia Lee:
Furniture for a Digital Lifestyle

Text: Malene Saalmann

An action becomes a ritual through its established repetition and a raised symbolic quality, just as for instance making our coffee in the morning can become a fixed component to start the day. Rituals create a framework and provide a foothold and orientation.


Incorporating new products into our everyday routine often requires us to adapt our actions. Both the interpretation of existing rituals and the creation of new ones may be the intention pursued by an object of design. Object and ritual impact on each other, shape each other, and condition each other.

In her Athena Collection, Olivia Lee, a designer from Singapore, uses various pieces of furniture to demonstrate changes in behaviour patterns caused by new technologies. According to Lee, contemporary residential architecture inhibits new ways of moving through a room, caused by the use of smartphones, for example. The furniture designs in the Athena Collection, on the other hand, are specially attuned to these movements so that the structure of the carpet conveys the area of movement with virtual reality glasses, or the desk offers designated storage spaces for your devices. In addition, the multi-functionality of the furniture adapts to the diverse uses of smartphones. The colourfulness and feel are designed in such a way that they form an antithesis to the digital world and bring the attractions of the physical world to the fore. This feel can also complement the specific interfaces with the digital world.


For which period of time did you imagine your furniture?


The collection is designed to be contextually relevant for today and the near future (up to five years). It was a deliberate decision to work on a vision for the future that is close by and thus relatable. I knew that if the collection became too speculative, it would start to be read like science fiction. Instead, I wanted to stress that the collection simply reflects how technology has already shaped our lifestyle choices.



What is the power of new rituals for you?


Rituals are extremely powerful, because they are – either conscious or unconscious – actions that, inevitably shape you over time. There is a famous saying about how your actions become your habits, and eventually shape your values and finally your destiny. Rituals are a comforting kind of pattern that we reverence to, but not necessarily religious. Sometimes, we are not even aware that a ritual is a ritual unique to us until someone points it out. I think it’s fascinating to take a step back, and analyse and edit the types of new rituals you’ve developed along the way.


In what context did the project arise?


The project came from a fatigue of an Internet-of-things approach envisioning homes of the future, which appear mostly clinical and dehumanising. The focus seemed to be on taking cherished and familiar objects from the home and force an app, a sensor or the capability for Wi-Fi on them. As someone who whole-heartedly embraces technology, I disagree with the method of integrating these two. So, I started to ask if it was possible to develop an analogue smart-home system where a chair could be a chair and a smartphone could remain a smartphone, but they still worked together in order to support our new lifestyle.



Where do you see connections between the physical and the digital world nowadays?


I see more disconnects than connections between the physical and digital world. A simple example would be the disorientation and motion sickness experienced when navigating in a VR environment. Our eyes are very sensitive to any lags on-screen, so even though the visuals are truly stunning our body registers a disconnection on a very primal level. For the moment, much of our digital experiences are still “trapped behind a glass wall”. I think that AR (augmented reality), audio, and gestural approaches may be a more palatable form of connecting the physical and digital plane. The less intermediaries that stand between physical and digital interactions, the more intuitive and seamless the experience becomes.


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Women and Design

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