Travel restrictions may have prevented Tom Dixon from traveling to Stockholm to debut Cloud, his namesake studio’s latest line of hand-beaten aluminum vases and vessels, but it still felt like he was physically present. That’s because the prolific British designer instead opted to send a hologram. His pixelated likeness attended a series of citywide events, including an auction of signed Cloud prototypes at leading Scandinavian auction house Bukowskis, a flower arranging workshop with Christoffers Blommor using Cloud vases, a rundown of Mackmyra Whiskey’s use of AI and gravity distillers, and a disco hosted by the Swedish music technology company Teenage Engineering.
Dixon’s use of hologram technology is a natural evolution of his recent 24 Hours concept, in which his studio forgoed booths at Maison & Objet Paris and Copenhagen’s 3 Days of Design to host events at different locations across both cities. The outings not only offered a welcome reprieve from costly, monotonous trade fairs, but they’d ultimately reach more people by being disseminated afterward online.
So while his decision to attend Stockholm Design Week virtually may seem gimmicky at first, experts suggest we’ll start seeing more of the technology in the near future. As the post-coronavirus situation remains unclear and companies are still envisioning how to foster collaboration in more interactive ways from afar, holograms are emerging as a novel approach. They’re much more engaging to work with than tiled faces on a screen, and can virtually recreate in-person meetings whether at home or in the office. “The explosion of teleconferencing has shown both its extraordinary potential but also the very obvious limits of the format,” Dixon says in an email. “We’re all suffering from Zoomophobia and it really isn’t a very compelling tool to use all day, so I think the design industry and everybody else will be seeking alternatives.”
It’s not the first time Dixon has experimented with holograms or deepfake technology: he admits to “making an Avatar with limited success and constrained by the immense costs,” while toying with “some of the more amusing novelty softwares like Faceswap,” though nothing substantive came from it. “It’s a rapidly evolving field with endless possibilities for both good and evil,” he quips, noting how some technical challenges hamstrung his efforts in Stockholm. “It took a while to set up and get linked in, but it had a real novelty value.”
While Dixon posits that trade fairs likely aren’t going away anytime soon, he encourages designers to start thinking outside the box if they intend on capturing new audiences. “You have to have more inventive ways of reaching people,” Dixon told Dezeen. “New formats will emerge that are more of a mix of digital and physical, because that’s the way the world is moving. Trade fairs are a huge burden in terms of time, energy, and money. They have been very useful to us, but you end up possibly preaching to the converted. The idea is to go beyond your comfort zone.”
For the design industry, which relies heavily on in-person experiences, holograms are likely to become a powerful communication tool. And as the pandemic rages on, designers seeking to avoid the burdens of traveling may find that the technology has much to offer. And it seems that Dixon is only getting started. “We’re already planning 24 Hours in Milan and New York, both physically and digitally,” he says. “The virus will not stop us!”