What does designer Yosuke Ushigome do, precisely? In his own words, the technologist – one of three winners in Swarovski's Designers of the Future Award – says that he "demystifies emerging technology through prototyping".
At the ground level, Ushigome creates physical and digital prototypes that help people envision how emerging technologies could be applied now, or in the future.
"No technology or design is created without an intention. In that sense, there is always a bias... My role is to diversify the vision by imagining alternative scenarios, and make them experiential," Ushigome says.
Most recently, Ushigome, who works at the London design innovation firm Takram, headed a creative experience for Sony’s Life Space UX products. "The technology in this project was not necessarily an emerging one, but it was niche – (based around) a portable ultra-short throw projector that Sony sells," says Ushigome. He came up with a scenario where, through the use of the technology, images of a fictional character's imagination were projected onto surfaces in an apartment.
In 2015, the designer also collaborated with MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture Group to design a new telephone case featuring bio-impedance sensing technology. The use of biosensing and signal processing would help identify the owner, using his or her own body’s physical electrical properties. The owner could then unlock the phone by simply touching it.
"Rather than the application of emerging technologies,or how they can be applied, I'm actually more interested in the implication of them – how they might or could change us," he adds. This sentiment rang out loud in his Swarovski 2018 Designers of the Future Award presentation, which took place at Design Miami/Basel in June.
Ushigome's Swarovski project, entitled Home Shrine, was a speculative prototype that centered around a large, iridescent crystal. This served as an imaginary home assistant device – one that would work in a similar way to Amazon's Echo or Google Home. The difference? The presence of crystal would change the interaction between human and artificial intelligence from the robotic, to a ritualistic, almost spiritual experience.
Crystal, notes Ushigome, has powerful properties that many cultures recognise. “It serves as the perfect material to embody the nature of machine intelligence that is becoming magical to most of us," he muses.
"The inspiration for Home Shrine came from an experience I had at Wattens in Austria. At the Swarovski museum, I saw a massive piece of naturally-formed crystal that I touched almost without thinking," said Ushigome, who was drawn to the "rich materialistic quality" of the formation.
"I have long had an interest in how AI assistants are starting to change our behaviours at home. And playing around with the analogies of a crystal gazer and AI future prediction seemed to be a strong direction to take,” he said.
Home Shrine, as exhibited during the Design Miami/Basel June event, did indeed seem to work, proving that an instinctive connectivity between human and machine could be developed thanks to the use of crystal.
“In the exhibition, the crystal naturally attracted people to behave in certain ways, (inviting them) to touch, stroke and look inside the crystal," he says. These behaviours triggered a real-time 'conversation' between the visitor and the Home Shrine technology. Interestingly, most of these conversations at Design Miami/Basel involved the weather forecast of the week.
Here's to the future as Ushigome sees it.