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Interviewed by Miriam Giordano. In the Espacio Simon 100, where exciting, immersive light presentations invite visitors to discover the brand's history and innovation; we interviewed Salvi Plaja, Director of Design for Grupo Simon

Is technology becoming increasingly more important and significant for the Group? How does it relate to creativity and design?

SP: From its beginnings, Simon has been a technological company. It is true that in recent years disruptive technology has generated changes in many areas, and this has had an impact on us as well: the digitalisation of light has enabled us to evolve along with technology and our work has focused on humanising this technology, humanising light to make it much more accessible to people. We are really concerned that this technology, and these innovations, have real meaning for people.

But sometimes more technology means greater complexity.

SP: Not for people and users, although it’s true that for companies more technology implies greater complexity. Nowadays, amongst the people working for us there are roles that did not exist before, such as software programmers and IT professionals specialising in artificial intelligence.

How does a new product come into being at Simon?

SP: At Simon, a new product is conceived in the marketing department, which perceives a need in the market. From there we work in a totally transversal way: from the outset we develop each of the phases together, even the more manufacturing and industrial aspects, until the new product is launched onto the market.

How has the productive phase evolved over the years?

SP: Nowadays, industrial innovation is related to rapid manufacturing, a new stage within the industry 4.0 field. At Simon we use 3D printing for prototyping throughout the development process. What’s more, over the last year we have been supplying products which contain some parts that have been printed in 3D. We are used to working with large-scale productions, however, sectors such as the hotel industry, residential buyers and even offices are always asking us for more personalisation. For example, the 100 series, has been designed to allow for large volume production, and at the same time be a modular product because the aesthetic part is designed to be customisable. We do not have the luxury of being a craft workshop, but nor can we continue with the idea that the same product is right for everybody.

Simon aims to be a bridge between the architect and the user through light. How do you communicate with these two? How important is the architect? What about the user?

SP: We make light fittings and interfaces, so it’s natural to take both of them into consideration. We talk with architects, interior designers and decorators, but we also think about the person installing the products and those who will be using them. In fact, we try to find a balance to satisfy everyone’s needs and, at the same time, we aim to create value for each and every one of them. For example, for the architect we try to make a product that is as neutral and balanced as possible, a product that can be integrated really well into the architecture. In the case of interior designer and decorator, who is looking for a product that will help them give their project character, creating a product that has a different range of finishes becomes essential. It is true that in the past lamps formed part of the decoration, but now we are living in an age in which light itself provides decoration. When we consider the user, we also include those who install the lights. We work hard to provide products that save time and work and improve the quality of the installation. And for the end user we want the interface to be as comfortable as possible, to carry out its function to perfection, to prevent mistakes from being made and to last as long as possible.

The world of construction and installation has changed, but has it evolved?

SP: The installer it is now one of the most technical figures in the value chain. There is even an installer who has become an influencer on YouTube. He is really objective and professional, he tests out all the brands and he has made videos like “How to install Simon 100 at home?” or “How to change this product?”. All the youngsters who are doing Vocational Training to be electricians follow him and he is their idol. Also, at the specialist sector trade fairs, installers ask you about the Internet of Things, or about connectivity, or if your products are compatible with Google Home, Alexa or HomeKit… they ask you about technology. The installation sector has updated itself immensely and digitalisation has helped to provide greater value in construction.

If construction has been updated, does this mean that homes have to be more technological? Are we talking about more segmented home products?

SP: Before there were just conventional homes or automated homes. We are now at moment when we can make hybrid houses. We have opened up a new way of updating homes. Before, if you had a traditional home and wanted it to be automated, you had to set up a completely new installation. Now with Simon 100, we remove the switches and install the new ones directly, without the need to install hardly any cables or carry out works. We automate the home, we make it Smart. But we don’t even need to go that far, we can simply install a few features in the living room that improve life. Like software on a computer, within the construction sector, the concept of updating homes has arrived.

Going back to design, the Espacio Simon 100 is presented as an investment in creativity and experimentation.

SP: I mentioned before that we position ourselves as a bridge between architecture, light and people. This really is what we do with our product, because in the end a switch is used for people to communicate with architecture and with the lighting it provides. But beyond this pure communication with the product, we wanted to interact with these parts in another way. And the way we have found is related to art and creativity to a greater extent. We pose ourselves as a “patrons of light”. Recently, we have undertaken works with Maurici Ginés in Mexico, with the “Reflexions” project by Toni Arola; the projection mapping on the façade of a building with Michela Mezzavilla, both for Llum BCN; and collaborations in the Casa Decor spaces with Guillermo Santomá and Mayice Studio.

On reaching our 100th anniversary, Simon seems to have entered a new brand phase, which supports innovation and culture behind light.

SP: We have found that this type of installation is multi-social in the sense that art allows the same installation to be enjoyed by a philosopher, an architect or a small child alike. In our desire to act as a bridge, we are committed to design that has the potential to reach as many people as possible. For this reason, we also believe that the Llum BCN Festival is an excellent initiative to take part in. This year around 190,000 people attended the event. Of these, 16,000 visited the Espacio 100 presentation.

Could it be that, somehow, art pushes forward new applications and even new limits of technology?

SP: Exactly. In the case of Antoni Arola’s “Reflexions” project, the tiny, extremely powerful LED lights that allow these reflections to be made, have come from our product development department. It is not a product that we are going to sell. However, it has made us see beyond what is the norm for a conventional project. The collaboration with Mayice for Casa Decor has allowed us to discover the full potential of our control panels thanks to an experimental lamp. With Guillermo Santomá we placed all the switches inside a cabinet, and this became the control centre of the house. These are all perspectives that in traditional surroundings we wouldn’t be involved in, but via this channel, we have had the opportunity to do this.

The relationship between design and technology is also the focus of Design Beyond Technology, organised by the ADI-FAD. As the President of the Association, could you explain what the message of this initiative is?

SP: This event will serve to display and visualise different visions of the future, many of them forced by technology and others on avoiding technology. If I had to describe the tasks of a designer, I’d have to say: “to consider people” and “to be creative”, in other words, “to consider people in a creative way” and at the same time “to envisage the future.” Right now, I think society is going through a period when there are few leaders who have a vision of a better future. Therefore, the objective of Design Beyond Technology is to envisage the distinct mutations of the future that might happen or that are sure to come about.

Salvi Plaja