The Smarter TV
A long shelf life: the Serif is a design icon for the future
With the Serif television, Messrs Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec and Samsung bring their design sensibilities to consumer electronics.
For many people, a living room isn’t a living room without a television. But few think about this ubiquitous object in the same way they would about their coffee table, or their arm chairs. You tend to buy a television because of what it does, less what it looks like. It’s not decor, it’s a piece of technology. That is, until now.
Serif, the new television from Samsung, masterminded by internationally acclaimed designer brothers Messrs Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, is a television that is – game-changingly – rather beautiful. In this sense, it’s something of a subversive object. It is a television that challenges all the conventions of designing televisions. “We applied a design language to Serif that belonged more to the construction of fine objects than to the world of electronics,” says Mr Erwan Bouroullec. “In some ways, it became more like a piece of furniture than a television.”
Messrs Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec
The Samsung Serif televison
The Bouroullec brothers have plenty of experience of creating tasteful items for the home, the proof of which is in such rightly famous designs as the Diapositive collection – a range of ephemeral benches and desks formed from thermo-bonded sheets of jewel-coloured glass – and signature project Algues, tiny plant-like plastic modules that clip together in their hundreds to form dense room dividers. In Serif, their furniture credentials are expressed through the television’s generous plastic frame, a curving form that, when viewed in profile, resembles a pert letter “I”, complete with typographical serifs. The top serif serves as a shelf, while the lower one locks into trestle-like legs that kick out at angles reminiscent of the bunny-ear antennae of the 1960s. It’s a small detail, but one that links Serif to a golden age of television design. “One of our main concerns was not to fight against volume,” says Mr Erwan Bouroullec. “A TV has to look natural in its environment.”
We applied a design language that belonged more to fine objects. It became more like a piece of furniture than a television
What Mr Bouroullec is getting at here is a radical recasting of the way we think about televisions. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, television design became an arms race of ever-thinner flatscreens. It is a tendency that has brought advantages – thinner televisions are easier to ship, store and display – but which has sacrificed television’s status as a designed object. Modern televisions are functionalism at its zenith: black voids with no identity beyond the programmes they screen. “The end vision of the modern TV seems to be a picture on the wall that is totally ephemeral,” says Mr Bouroullec. “But that’s not achievable, because no matter how flat a screen is, it still has a presence and a volume. When Samsung approached us, we wanted to adjust those priorities. We wanted to embrace volume.” The brothers’ idea was simple: to reassert the television as an object, rather than just a medium.
Central to this ethos is consideration of the role televisions play in a room’s decor when they are switched off. Could they be more than mere portals to programming? To help answer this, the brothers developed curtain mode, an intermediary stage between normal viewing and standby. When in curtain mode, Serif drops a digital filter across its screen, abstracting the picture into a soft approximation of glitch art. The programming remains visible, yet the detail drops out into the pattern of sliding pixels. “It’s important sometimes to be able to distance yourself from TV,” says Mr Bouroullec. “Throughout the design process we had this image of people just being stuck in front of it, like staring out of a window. Curtain mode is a way around that. It gives you a sense of what’s on the other side of the window, but still gives you space from it.”
This sensitivity is what sets Serif apart. Unlike most televisions, its development has not been a simple technical exercise, but rather a design-led investigation into the role that televisions play in our lives. “Technology can do more and more, but not all of the things it can do are actually needed,” says Mr Bouroullec. “With Serif, we wanted a piece of technology that felt like it really belonged to how we want to live.” Which, of course, is the trick. Serif is a television that asks you to look at it, rather than just at what’s on it.