Since New York-based Antenna Design launched in 1997, its work has meandered in and out of the public and commercial realms, overlapped with experiment and art, and blurred the distinctions between product, interface and environment. Its output includes New York City subway cars and ticket vending machines, JetBlue's electronic check-in kiosks, Microsoft VoIP telephone systems and flexible display monitors for Bloomberg. Not to mention art installations in Bloomingdale's storefront windows, interactive exhibits for public arts foundation Creative Time and, recently, a conceptual installation in Turin, Italy involving re-contextualized sand bags.
So, with such a wide range of work, what exactly is it that binds the firm's design practice?
According to founders Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger, it's people. Udagawa and Moeslinger say they can navigate diverse projects because they all begin and end with the user. Moeslinger, a designer trained in industrial and interactive telecommunication design, describes Antenna's seemingly unrelated assignments as, simply, communication design: in all cases, the function can be distilled to the transmission of a certain subject matter to a certain audience through various means; it all starts with sending a signal to the user to establish a dialogue. In fact, the name of the practice, Antenna, as a device that receives and sends out signals invisible to the naked eye, was chosen to embody this principle.
"All the different elements of a design send stimuli and in the head they create this amalgam?that's actually what we're designing in an indirect way," says Udagawa, an industrial and technology designer. "Regardless of medium, we can imagine the feeling users should have, what knowledge or functionality they want to have. From that point, we just need to understand the specifics of each medium."
With its focus on people, it's no surprise that Antenna initiates new projects with anthropology-inspired investigation. When the shop was tasked with creating Microsoft Enterprise IP telephony products (the software company's first voice-over-internet-protocol telephone system and hardware for business users), Antenna examined how people use phones in the corporate setting. The study led to phones with fingerprint-swiping security technology for users who have trouble remembering alpha-numeric passwords that change monthly. Beyond that insight, Udagawa says that Antenna gave the scanners a "sleek" look to win over those who equate fingerprint technology with "Big Brother," and to build in "cool" brand value for Microsoft. The design recently won a 2008 International Design Excellence Award silver medal.