The most masterful, exacting, and tech-savvy interior designer that the profession has ever seen will almost certainly be ... you. Or more accurately, you and your smartphone.
In the near future we're going to see radical changes in how we design interior spaces, thanks to advancements in smartphone apps and digital display surfaces. But this isn't a question of interior-design iPad programs that help you draw your dream house, or novel touch screens that you can embed in your refrigerator. Rather, it's a question of the personalization that we've come to expect in the digital world bleeding into the physical world. Your room will know what color and brightness it should have the same way that Google knows what you're searching for before you finish typing your query.
An artist's rendering of a transparent OLED tablet. Transparent OLEDs have proven application to walls and windows. Any interior surface is now a potential digital display. Image: Thomas Lænner via thomas.laenner.dk
Sound a little crazy? All of the necessary technologies are slowly coming together, and the general trend toward personalization is as steady as ever. For example, just recently the New York Times reported on the Chromecast, a small device that turns your TV into a huge browser, allowing you to watch YouTube or GooglePlay on your television. At first glance that doesn't sound crazy. Living room entertainment devices like the Xbox and Playstation are already conduits for a wide range of media, from Netflix to HBO. What's significant is that Google, which devotes enormous resources to anticipating your needs, can now control the most important digital display in every living room across the country.
SONTE promises to make windows into walls at the touch of a button.
Chromecast, and the Google-level of personalized content it provides, is just the beginning of the personalization push into interior design. Future interiors won't stop personalizing with the family big-screen. The changes will become much more architectural, beginning with simple things like window shading. This article showcases a product called SONTE Film, a electronic shading surface that was successfully kickstarted with $237k in June. Its lack of moving parts makes it incredibly easy to install and, more crucially, potentially connectable via wireless communication.
Other products are already connecting interior controls via wifi, like this lighting control app that relies on special wifi-enabled light bulbs. Granted, an app that controls your shades isn't so crazy, but it's just the beginning. Soon it will be the coloring and illumination of our rooms.
The color and intensity of your wall's coloring could be all a function of smart phone preferences.
XKGlow, a company that specializes in installing LED lighting on vehicles, has an app that allows you to control indoor LED fixtures. While the examples it shows look more appropriate for a night club than a home, the potential is there. For example, it demonstrates that it'd be no problem for you to walk into a room and have your smartphone dim the lights after 9pm or change the walls to blue on Tuesdays. Maybe you just load your favorite architect's preferred color palette. Maybe you select a shading schedule that was voted most popular in your town. The options are limitless.
However, technology being developed by Samsung may be the Holy Grail of personalize-able interiors: a flexible translucent touch-screen display.
Window, computer, blinds, decoration, illumination... all in one.
Samsung first exhibited its translucent OLED screen at the Consumer Electronics show in 2012. OLEDs, or organic light-emitting diodes, have the potential to achieve very sharp images without backlighting or rigid structural support. In other words, the screen is a transparent, flexible, entirely digital display. Much like the SONTE, it can be overlaid onto a window and generate shading or act as a display monitor. As a Samsung representative says during the CES demonstration above, the possibilities are limitless. The opacity of your windows, the color of your walls, their decorative patterns, the positioning of illumination—all potentially modifiable.
So what does this mean for designers?
In a previous article I speculated that our spaces would become more flexible as their usage would increasingly depend on the placement of easily portable interfaces. However, that article didn't take into account the increasing importance of smartphone apps, nor the ability to give an entire wall or ceiling a digital treatment. These two facts mean that we'll have more surface area to control and better interfaces with which we can coordinate them. However, the challenge for architects will be the same: How to design a space whose beauty is not necessarily apparent but can be easily made beautiful by the user.
Microsoft's Futuristic Briefing Center in Wallisellen, Switzerland, designed by COASToffice. Photo: David Franck Photography
There are already some examples of spaces designed with adaptability in mind, such as the RDM innovationdock by SPEE architecten. For this redesign, the architects stuck strictly to bare necessities like sanitary facilities and efficient circulation paths, leaving the rest to their clients. This may be the future of interior design to a certain extent: anticipating needs and potential change.
RDM innovationdock in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Designed by SPEE architecten. Read more about this project here!
In truth, only time will tell. It may be that one day every surface will have an OLED coating that tailors its appearance to your smartphone-controlled preferences. However, it's worth noting that these and other technologies will unpredictably develop and interact in the future. Wireless charging surfaces, micro projectors, E Ink, and augmented reality all have the potential to play a role. Ultimately, the only sure thing is that these interior design technologies will be controlled via digital systems and personal devices that are already tailored to their individual user. We're living in an increasingly digital world—in the figurative and literal sense.
To get a wider perspective on the approaching digital interconnectivity of design, see articles on how Google Glass augmented reality may change architecture forever and how cities may be run by complex computerized operating systems.