written by Laurène Sturm, guest blogger for Orange live blog
“It’s design”: an expression that is often heard in France, meaning, “It’s aesthetically pleasing”. While this is true, that doesn’t tell the whole story. If a Starck chair is referred to as “design”, that’s also because the user and their uses for the chair have been considered above everything else. From its Megastores to the collaborative Orange lab, Orange is actively involved in design. In order to spot talented individuals of the future, Orange launched its Young Designers competition, and this year is “handing the keys” to its “connected home” to students from Europe’s top design schools.
The awards ceremony gave me the opportunity to meet Bénédicte David, the Head of the Technocenter’s Design and User Experience unit, and Alexis Trichet, Director of Strategy and Marketing Anticipation at Orange France. Both men were involved in the competition from start to finish, from choosing the subject and selecting the schools, to providing support for the students and advising them on their projects. Here is an extract from our interview:
It’s the second Orange Young Designers competition. Last year, you chose the “hands-free kit” as the theme. This year, the students are working on the “connected home”, and asking the question – “How can we improve our home life in the future through the use of digital technology?” The potential scope of this subject matter is very broad; are you not concerned that you might lose a certain sense of uniformity among the projects that are submitted?
Alexis Trichet: Openness is something we wanted to achieve with this year’s competition. Both for the students and for members of the judging panel, it was a way of opening our minds, of going back to basics with regard to how we look at the connected home of the future. It’s quite incredible how many projects we have received on the same subject matter. We really wanted to use this competition to create a style guide for the connected home. You’re right, while this may be less geared towards implementation, we’ve received a far broader range of projects than last year.
As members of the judging panel, you have considered projects from various European countries. With this international dimension, is the footprint of “French-style schools” or “Italian-style schools” still recognized today?
Bénédicte David: Opening the competition up internationally was a predetermined decision. Orange is an international group, and the Technocenter is also spread across three locations; so it’s important that this is recognized. There are differences in uses, but this is on a macro-scale level, between Europe and Africa for example. To my mind, we are no longer looking for a certain “French-style” or “Milanese-style”. Rather than the projects being a reflection of the design school, it’s a reflection of particular customs and uses.
A.T.: It’s important to bear in mind that while we selected schools from Italy, Britain and France, people from nine different nationalities actually participated. For example, there are a number of Asian students at these schools, and these far-eastern influences can be seen in the projects.
Bénédicte, you head up the Design and User Experience unit at the Orange Technocenter, the birthplace of 90% of Orange’s future products. Could these projects have been devised by the Technocenter, and do you think that these students’ projects could one day be marketed by Orange?
B.D.: Yes, absolutely. Our projects originate from this work, which is born from considerations of customs and lifestyles. There is also the Generation Y factor, which is a real plus point for our company, as the students have fewer preformed ideas about telecommunications than we do.
Alexis, you’re used to seeing innovative projects. How do you decide when is the best moment to release a product?
A.T.: That’s a skill you have to master! (smiles). France is often used as a pilot market for Europe, as customs and forms of use are highly developed. However, it’s a totally different story in Africa. Bénédicte can tell you more about that than me.
B.D.: You have to think differently in Africa, where Orange runs 23 operations. As customs and forms of use can differ so greatly, we systematize pilot markets depending on the project and the customs of a specific country or region.
Have there been any projects submitted to which you have felt a real affinity?
A.T.: A real favorite of the judging panel, the Cloud of Things project was a particularly striking idea; it did more than just inspire new techniques, but made real waves in our company. It was a project that was both dematerialized and yet very concrete.
B.D.: I really liked Domum, a project whose subject is symbolized by the home, by considering every aspect of this symbol. For example, rather than switching off the device using a button, you blow on it instead. It’s a digital service which enhances life, and one which I was very impressed by.
To finish, do you have any words of wisdom for any young designers out there?
A.T.: You have to face up to the toughest formal details. This pays tribute to the first competition: the style work is very formative, as the constraints imposed require designers to really look deeply into things.
B.D.: Creativity, pragmatism and business skills are all perfectly compatible. Large companies are in need of this creativity from the young generation: to add to what Alexis was saying about constraints, my advice would be that you shouldn’t be scared of large companies!
Thanks again to both men for their time, and also for their openness and friendliness.
You can find all of the projects in the design section of the Orange Collective blog, including my own favorite, Gustav, which won the Uses award.
You should also visit the Orange “hands you the keys” exhibition, which will take place at the Design center in Paris from September 28 to October 19!