'Softwear' wallhanging by Kiki van Eijk.

Google is taking a light-handed approach with its “Softwear” debut at this month’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.

Stretching across three rooms in a ground-floor apartment at Rossana Orlandi’s gallery, the exhibition is being curated by trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort in collaboration with Dutch designer Kiki van Eijk. In the first room, visitors will find an audiovisual and exhibition catalogue, followed by a room containing six custom-designed wall hangings by van Eijk that were woven at TextielLab in Tilburg, Netherlands, and drew from collages of hand-cut textiles from smartphone cases and other Google products. The third room will depict Google’s view of technology and lifestyle with an at-home feel — complete with small speakers and other select items from Google’s fall 2017 hardware offerings. It will be on view April 17 to 22.

As more employees opt to work from home — whether driven by the gig economy, flexible scheduling or corporate cost-cutting — the omnipresence of technology on home life will only increase. Ivy Ross, vice president of design for hardware at Google, said the number of people working at home or in alternative spaces is nearing 50 percent. “I do think because we’re moving into this space where it’s not about technology for technology’s sake, it’s about technology that literally wants to fit into our lives. Technology can make us more creative. It’s what we do with it and the role it plays in our lives and how it shows up,” she said.

“Softwear” refers to a term Edelkoort coined in a trend forecast more than 20 years ago to define the convergence of technology on daily life — a lifestyle that didn’t yet exist. “It’s like a confirmation of how we live now, and how this is affecting our lifestyle and wellbeing. It is a sketch of everyday family life,” said Edelkoort, who worked with Philip Fimmano on the curation.

The exhibition will also have strategically appointed cups, bowl, books, plants, toys and other everyday object will be featured in the exhibition as snippet reminders of ordinary life. “It is more to show how this design is integrated into our lives and becomes integral to whoever we are and whatever we do,” Edelkoort said. “What I find so interesting is that this is really about being together and alone at the same time. You are together in a room or a space, and at the same time you are in your own world. But sometimes you share and sometimes you don’t. This is also happening now in hotel lobbies, libraries and public spaces. There is very new interesting gathering in a contemporary 21st-century way.”

Won over after a little initial doubt, van Eijk said, “Ever since I graduated from the Design Academy in 2000, I’ve always been working with my hands, low-tech, learning techniques to make things myself. I’m also very pro-active about this way of living and working. It’s not that I don’t use technology. I have a 3-D printer, but I use it as a tool. When they explained it was more about living in balance with technology, then I thought it was the perfect fit for me. That is exactly how I think technology should be integrated in your life — in a very human way. The technology should not run you, but you should run technology.”

The Milan offerings are goods from fall 2017, but the company is “fully staffed and moving forward with [new] hardware collections,” said Ross, a jewelry designer who worked in fashion for a number of years. Other than to cite further expansion with wearables, phones, home and computers, Ross declined to be too specific. “Consumer goods is as secretive as the fashion world.”

While this week’s hearings with Facebook’s chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg about data protection have ignited many conversations about technology and privacy, Google’s “cozy” intimate approach to Salone del Mobile was not developed in response to that. In fact, it was three months in the making. “We put this together before any of that ever came to the surface. I do think the nice thing is that we intuitively knew we have to see technology differently,” Ross said. “…I’m hoping it might prompt a different dialogue. We all need to be talking about what the role we want technology to play in our lives. It’s up to society as a whole to determine what are the advantages that technology gives us, [while] always respecting our privacy. At the end of the day, these are decisions that we all make.”


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