Interaction-Design Students Imagine A Parallel Universe For Everyday Objects

ECAL students ask, “What do objects dream about?” for an exhibit at Milan Design Week.

We often dream about souped-up techy products and think about all of the ways they can improve our lives. In a role-reversal exercise, students at the prestigious Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) in Switzerland thought about the hidden desires of everyday items like tape measures, brooms, desk fans, and toasters and what that might look like with modern interventions like virtual reality, video, and sensors. Turns out they just want to have fun—or indulge in hijinks.


In 13 conceptual experiments on view at Milan Design Week, the students either augmented an object’s function—which was only revealed through how a person interacted with the item—or invited people to “look inside” them by essentially turning the piece into a VR experience. For example, Luca Kasper and Callum Ross synced a metronome to a video of two people playing ping-pong. As you speed up or slow down the metronome’s beat, the volleys’ pace follows suit. Vases usually hold cut flowers, but Mélanie Courtinat perceived them as portals to botanical worlds. She turned stoneware vessels into headsets that offer users a look at a virtual landscape. Adrien Kasser and Corentin Vignet filmed a scene of plastic office supplies melting after viewers switch on a hairdryer pointed at the screen. After the dryer switches off, the vignette rewinds and goes back to normal. As I repeat the process again and again, I can’t help but think about a blowdryer’s potential appetite for destruction.

By creating fictitious narratives and uses for these items, the students open the door for us to contemplate our relationship to products and what we want them to do. See the full roster of the students’ work in the slide show above.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.