Talk To Me at MoMA

Talk To Me is a new exhibition at MoMA in New York that explores how objects communicate with us, and in turn can help us communicate with others. The show features nearly 200 projects, all centred on interaction, and emphasises how the need to share information and have a dialogue with audiences is overtaking form and function in contemporary design…

Talk To Me is a new exhibition at MoMA in New York that explores how objects communicate with us, and in turn can help us communicate with others. The show features nearly 200 projects, all centred on interaction, and emphasises how the need to share information and have a dialogue with audiences is overtaking form and function in contemporary design…

Unusually for a museum show, the curators of Talk To Me were entirely open about their process in the run up to the show, placing all the projects that were being considered for entry on a website, The site has now been turned into a hub for the finished exhibition, featuring details of the 194 projects that made the final cut. As with any show about the ‘now’, Talk To Me is an eclectic mix. There are works centred on utility and information sharing rubbing up against pieces that would probably be more commonly described as fine art. But there are undoubtedly some brilliant ideas in the show. A number of projects, such as Chris Milk’s Wilderness Downtown and Chris O’Shea’s Hand From Above have already been covered in depth on the CR blog, but here’s a selection of the other projects on the site that stood out for us.

First up is Konstantin Datz’s Rubik’s Cube for the Blind, shown above, designed in 2010. Datz has replaced the cube’s usual coloured stickers with white panels embossed with the Braille words for each colour, transforming the game from a visual puzzle into a tactile one.

Chris Woebken created the Bat Billboard as urban housing for bats, who despite being seen as a pest by many, play a key role in our ecosystems, pollinating plants and providing insect control. The housing is set inside a standard billboard structure, as the film above shows. Woebken has also placed monitoring equipment inside the billboard that uses voice recognition software to map and translate the calls of the resident bats. These are then matched to archives of various call patterns and meanings, currently being compiled by biologists, and the translated bat messages are displayed on a screen, allowing humans to understand bats better. More on the project is here.

A group of designers at Mobile Art Lab (a research centre looking at mobile phone content, part of Dentsu ad agency in Japan) created the PhoneBook in 2009, which brings modern phone technology together with a physical book for children. The film above shows how the PhoneBook works.

While they are a pleasure to have around the home, plants can also be a worry, especially for those of us with a tendency to forget about watering. To help with this, a group of US designers created Botanicalls, a device that uses moisture sensors in a plant’s soil to trigger messages to its human caretaker over a wireless network. The messages are either tweeted or read out by a recorded human voice via telephone and allow the plants to send out distress calls, and even notes of thanks. More on the project is here.

Maarten Baas’s Analogue Digital Clock is available as an iPhone or iPad app and appears, initially at least, as a classic digital clock. In fact, as the film above demonstrates, it is a videotaped performance of an actor painting or erasing sections of the digital display numbers by hand, minute by minute. A nice mix of analogue and digital worlds.

Designed by Stewart Smith in 2007, the Windmaker applies current wind conditions to any website. As the film above shows, this means if it’s blowing a gale outside your window, Windmaker will also cause chaos on your internet browser. Visit the Windmaker site here to play.

The SMSlingshot was created by a group of German designers in 2009, and mixes a traditional weapon with digital technology. The wooden device looks like a large catapult but contains a display screen and keypad where users can write messages. These can then be flung at large public screens where they will appear as if splattered. The film above shows the SMSlingshot in action.

The Ink Calendar, by Oscar Diaz, is a ‘self-updating’ calendar, where the ink is gradually absorbed through the paper over the course of the month, revealing each date as it goes. More on the project is here.

The BBC Dimensions website (found at gives a sense of the literal enormity of important events by overlaying them on a map of where you are. For example, as the above image shows, it turns out the Apollo 11 moonwalkers only actually walked the equivalent of a couple of blocks. Lazy gits. The site was created by a group of designers at Berg in collaboration with the BBC.

The Talk To Me show also includes some less expected examples of interaction design, such as Call Me, Choke Me, designed by Gunnar Green, a product that ties mobile phone activity to the practice of erotic asphyxiation. With each phone call or text message, whether or not it is picked up or responded to, the collar tightens. Fun for all the family.

Talk To Me is at MoMA until November 7. For more info on the products shown here, and all the others featured in the show, visit A full review of the exhibition will appear in the September issue of Creative Review.


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