How to Go Somewhere When You Can’t Go Anywhere. (All You Need is a Printer and a Smartphone.)
The founders of Sovrappensiero, a Milan‑based design studio, have invented a Star Trek‑style transporter of sorts (something we could all use right now). Find out how they came up with the idea below. But first, here’s how to build one for yourself.
enRoute How did you come up with the idea to build a portal that allows people to transport themselves from their homes?
Sovrappensiero Design Studio The idea for “Somewhere” came to us during the first days of quarantine. It was a totally new situation where we had to stay home. We figured lots of people were probably in the same circumstances – with the same desire to travel – and we had the tools to make it happen, so we did it.
We are used to talking through a thousand ideas in our studio and these discussions change and evolve over time. The same thing happened for this project – the only difference was that it was born on Skype and every now and then our voices sounded like a robotic echo.
When we started designing the portal graphics, the name came about in a very natural way. For days we had heard the news: stay at home and don’t go out. Reworking it by introducing a small escape was a natural gesture, an idea that developed without too much effort: Stay home and go somewhere. As we reread the sentence, the word “somewhere” seemed perfect for the title of the project.
ER Using Augmented Reality to create an app for this is a brilliant concept! How do you decide where to escape to each day?
SDS There’s no plan. The most exciting thing about travelling is getting lost.
ER The codes that you print out in order to activate your augmented reality “passport” are art in themselves. Was that intentional? What is the meaning behind them?
SDS The codes are inspired by Emilio Isgrò’s artwork. The erased words reflect the things we are missing during these hard days and emphasize the ones that remain. The message they send is “stay at home and go somewhere.”
We are a product design studio – we design everyday objects with a simple but significant aesthetic that can live anywhere. For us it is important that the portal is a graphic product to be framed and hung on the walls of our houses and that the graphics communicate something about this particular moment we are living through.
ER We think it’s really smart. Why is this project important to you?
SDS We are very proud to give a little help to people who feel isolated right now through a free project. We didn’t expect such incredible feedback from users. We get lots of messages from people who appreciate travelling from home. The project also helps us to stay connected and talk with people around the world.
ER Speaking of connection, how can good design help people who feel isolated right now?
SDS Good design should help people create a comfortable living environment, even in small places. We always try to create objects with powerful meanings: objects with a narrative layer, capable of creating links with other places and stories.
We’re not concerned with following the latest design trends. What matters is taking care of yourself and therefore also of the spaces and things around you, which also reflects on your psychological and physical wellbeing. Let’s throw away everything we no longer need to make room for air and light. Plants at home have a cathartic function, so let’s take care of plants, which in this period give their best. Seeing new leaves grow every day makes us feel surrounded by life.
ER Since we are all going online to explore, where is your favourite place online to find good design?
SDS We get visual inspiration from contemporary art and by looking at other products for new processes and materials. Both can be hard to find and understand online, but The Method Case is a great resource for behind-the-scenes stories of interesting products.
We are especially drawn to a work by Giuseppe Penone which is called “rovesciare i propri occhi” (“Turning one’s eyes inside out”). It is a simple photographic work that reminds us how important it is to see things from many points of view. We are also interested in the works of Josef Albers and his way of using primary colors, the search for “super normal” by Naoto Fukasawa and the brilliant and experimental world of Olafur Eliasson.
They are all different artists and designers but we believe that the right way to make design is not to idealize a precise icon or work but – like Penone – to change the points of observation.
ER Has this situation changed your perspective about design or the power of design?
SDS This situation has changed our lives. After the quarantine we will live in a very different way for a long time. Now more than ever, design has an opportunity to bring us through these changes and help us live our lives in the best possible way.
ER We agree! So, how do you see the design industry reacting to and innovating during all of this?
SDS Milan is famous worldwide for the furniture and interior design industry, but this year that kind of industry is on hold: there will not be any design week and the usual production has stopped for now. On the other hand, many design studios reacted by responding to the emergency. Many companies converted their original production lines to create protective masks or soaps and sanitizers. We hope that after a long period of decorative design, the industry will start to focus on meaningful products.
ER Where in the world would you tell us to go to find the best design?
SDS The best designer in the universe is nature, and always will be. Any natural place in the world is a chance to learn how flora and fauna live in perfect balance and how objects should have the same respectful life cycle.
We have traveled a lot for work and seen many beautiful and non-touristy natural places. But there are also cities where nature manages to be wild and persistent even in the midst of concrete, as we have seen in Mexico.
For example we saw some houses that, instead of concrete and iron fences, had sturdy giant cacti to protect them and offer shade. The relationship between man and nature in the urban context has led us to reflect many times on how we do design today.
ER You just made us want to go exploring. But for now, we will use your Somewhere app to get away.
Favourite souvenir In China, people train crickets as domestic pets for good luck and for the “songs” they sing. There's a very interesting culture behind this. I got some very small, decorated porcelain dishes that are used to feed the crickets.
First travel memory The strength of the wind in Scotland on a trip with my parents in a camper van. I remember I could lean against it.
Travel has the power to… Make you a better person.