MoMa’s Exec: What VR Could Learn From Design

MoMa’s Exec: What VR Could Learn From Design
April 29, 2018
[Image: Sibling Rivalry Studio]


Four insights from MoMA’s senior design curator Paola Antonelli about what a much-hyped medium could learn from design.


The Museum of Modern Art’s senior design curator is getting into VR. In collaboration with the production company Sibling Rivalry Studio, Paola Antonelli has created a new 360-video series called & Design, where she explores her conviction that design is intertwined with every aspect of our lives. Sponsored by Samsung VR, the project’s first episode–about the MIT Media Lab professor (and Brad Pitt’s new BFF) Neri Oxman and her project on death masks–is on display at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this week.


Working in VR was a first for Antonelli, who told Co.Design exactly what she thinks virtual reality is missing–and what has to happen before it can become a breakthrough technology.


“It might be almost better to come into VR as an outsider because you don’t have the prejudice or preformed mind you might have if you’re already working in the video game space,” Antonelli says.


She found her own inexperience helpful when shooting the first four episodes of & Design. Antonelli likens the idea to something the famed Italian designer Achille Castiglioni taught her when she was in school: You have to start from scratch every time. For instance, if you are designing a lamp, Castiglioni believed you should imagine you’ve never seen electric light before. That’s where creativity comes from.

[Image: Sibling Rivalry Studio]



One of the biggest things in the way of VR’s consumer success right now are those pesky goggles you have to wear to experience VR (not to mention their hefty price tag). ” Like any good designer, all I can hope is for technology to disappear,” Antonelli says. “I am hoping those goggles will go away.”


Antonelli is excited instead about the possibilities of technology that the mysterious company Magic Leap claims to have–where it uses the refraction of light beams and photons to present an augmented world to you without needing a clunky headset.


Unsurprisingly, Antonelli is really more interested in AR’s potential than in VR. Virtual reality requires you to put on a headset and headphones to immerse you in an entirely new world, one that often isn’t social. Augmented reality, on the other hand, uses smartphones or less cumbersome headsets like the HoloLens to project virtual objects into your world. “I feel at this point VR is something to be experienced in a safe space almost like a psychedelic experience,” she says. “AR is more comfortable to me.”

[Image: Sibling Rivalry Studio]



Despite her misgivings about VR in its current state, Antonelli wants to encourage creative people who are working with it to play around–and make mistakes. “I believe we’re at the beginning of the use of a new technology,” she says. “It was the same with web design and 3D printing. At the beginning, you try and make a lot of mistakes.”


This kind of experimentation will help the medium find more of its footing, she says. “It’s an extremely important moment where no matter what we have to push through and work on the technology without being too embarrassed of failing and making mistakes,” she says.

[Photo: Keith Kin Yan]



Most crucially, Antonelli’s first foray into virtual reality has taught her that, as she put it, “design is paramount.” She sees parallels between VR and other previous types of emerging technology where designers were able to help bring them to the masses: Microwaves were dangerous, she says, until designers figured out the right shell. Computers were just boxes of code until designers gave them a user-friendly, graphical interface.


“Revolutions happen in tech and science, but without design making them part of life, they wouldn’t be part of the world,” she says.

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