Annually, the Swarovski Designers of the Future award champions a select group of promising designers and studios who exemplify new directions in design culture. It handpicks vanguard talents whose practice moves beyond pure furniture or product design, and into the realm of inspiration, innovation and concept.

Announced on 18 April in Milan, this year’s winners are Frank Kolkman, an experimental Dutch designer focused on robotic technologies; Study O Portable, a research based Dutch-Japanese practice making objects about the designed environment, and Yosuke Ushigome of TAKRAM, a creative Japanese technologist specialising in emerging technologies.

Each year, Swarovski provides the designers with a brief that speaks to an element of its ethos. Topically, this year they were challenged to create a prototype or statement responding to the theme of ‘smart living’, applying crystal technologies and energies to our lived environments, create a dynamic exchange between the digital and physical. They were asked to revolve their thinking around a number of longstanding buzzwords of contemporary design, including accessibility, sustainability and interactivity.

To inspire the creative process, the laureates immersed themselves in Swarovski’s idyllic, mountainside headquarters in Austria. They explored the company’s archives – an Aladdin’s Cave of designs from the world’s most creative minds, from encrusted Christian Dior slippers, to a strand from that Oscars curtain.

The resulting project plans span the analogue to the artificially intelligent, encapsulating Swarovski’s esteemed history, but also looking to its future. ‘Dream Machine’ – an immersive crystal light and sound installation from Kolkman – synchronises with our brainwaves to provoke a state of deep relaxation or ‘artificial dreaming’; Ushigome’s ‘Can Crystals Interface Us to AI?’ exhibition will explore the potential of crystal as an alternative interaction between human and machine intelligence that occurs within the smart home; meanwhile, Study O Portable has gone back to crystal basics, looking at the natural, sunset-like colour patterns they produce, to create a series of surfaces which will be transformed functionally into a table, screens, and lights.

The completed designs will be displayed at Design Miami/ Basel later this year, and were chosen by a formidable panel of judges, including Nadja Swarovski, member of the Swarovski Executive Board; Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, curatorial advisor of Design Miami/; Fuseproject’s Yves Behar, and Deyan Sudjic, director of the London Design Museum.