Beautiful things for social causes
Flashback to London in the year of 1999. Picture a technology teacher and a mother. “If your daughter were to ever build a bridge, I wouldn’t for the life of me set foot on it. But it would probably be the most beautiful bridge ever built.” Many awards later, somewhere in Vienna, Talia Radford (30) knows how to laugh at herself. She’s the daughter. And the owner of the industrial design studio taliaYsebastian. The young designer born in Spain to a Spanish mother and a British father tries to keep it real at all times.
After graduating from the Vienna University of Applied Arts, Talia partnered up with her Colombian colleague Juan Sebastián Gómez (33), “because he had a background in engineering”, she smiles – probably remembering the words of her technology teacher. Nevertheless, it looked like a good combo, where the two had matching qualities. Then Talia completed an internship in Hong Kong while Sebastián went for one in India. When they came back from Asia, the two designers officially launched the studio in April 2011.
Beautiful things with tangible benefits
“I didn’t want to work for an architecture studio.” Photo credit: Talia RadfordBut longevity was apparently not in the cards for this designer duo. When handing over business cards, Talia now crosses the Y (Engl. “and”) between her name and Sebastián’s and replaces it with a SIN (Engl. “without”). She is in search of a new name because Sebastián recently took on a job in a company and left the studio. taliaSINsebastian is an obviously painful experience for Talia to go through but not one to shatter her confidence in owning her business.
For her, this was the only way to go right from the beginning: “I didn’t want to work for an architecture studio. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be able to work for anybody else,” she says. And it was just as clear for Talia that she wouldn’t waste her time designing beautiful things for the luxury market – things that only rich people can afford. That’s why she works hand in hand with social enterprises, trying to design “products with tangible benefits”, as she puts it. Talia is keeping it real.
One of these products is the hydroponic window farm developed together with social entrepreneur Cezar Neaga within a project called SchreberMeister. Another product, called THIRST, is a strategic series of water containers, developed in order to decrease cross-contamination in very rural households in Nepal. And speaking of water, Talia recently took over the design of Soulbottles – a Berlin/Viennese social project around water as a primary resource and against pollution through plastic bottles.
“There are many new technologies that people do not know what to use for,” says Talia. Her goal is to combine them with meaningful design. In her student years, she designed Ergoskin – orthopedic underwear with ergonomic biofeedback for a healthy posture. With this project, Talia won Austria’s National Design Award in the student’s category „Dyson Innovation Award“ in 2007. Her master’s project was Aqualris, a portable water purifier based on nanotechnology that converts UVB to germicidal UVC rays. With Aqualris, she was among the finalists for the 2011 Victor J. Papanek Social Design Award.
“For money you have to go internationally”
The product design awardee of the year 2012 Photo credit: MAPA GmbHBut although the Austrian social enterprise scene is booming, “for money you have to go internationally,” the designer says. So taliaYsebastian partnered up with NUK and created PATO, a teething toy, that received the reddot design award for product design of the year 2012. With the financial support of the Ministry of Education, Arts, and Culture (bm:ukk) and aws’ Impulse XS, last year the studio had incoming money streams of about 50.000 euros. In 2013, the amount is expected to be around 80.000 euros, partly due to funding from departure, the Austrian agency that supports the creative industries financially.
Yet, it seems like Talia would be happy to find someone to take over the business part. “It’s so time consuming and I’m stressed because I’m not doing my own stuff, like sketching,” she complains. “I’m not good at thinking about spreadsheets and structure, and I cannot have routine,” Talia says. Instead, she finds it inspiring to be around people, to see how they interact with each other and with objects. Ideally, she’d like to work from her native Mallorca in winter. Maybe as a means of compensating for her first experience when relocating to Austria, about 11 years ago. “The worst thing you can do is to come to Vienna in winter,” she remembers. “No one is on the streets and you have to know where to go in order to enjoy the company of others.” But apart from this, Talia is quite happy to be in the Austrian capital: “The city is vibrant, people are getting things done and the art scene is booming”. The only thing she doesn’t like about Vienna, is that “people here are such Klugscheißer (smart asses),” as she says. “They know it all and know it better”.
Talia is, again, keeping it real.