More than 180 designs by secondary school and university students from around the Czech Republic competed in the 20th annual National Student Design Awards that were handed out in Prague last week. The main prize went to Anna Marešová, a post-graduate student at the UJEP university in Ústí nad Labem, for a set of vibrators called Whoop De Doo. The sleek, hypermodern sex toys, complete with chargers, charmed the jury which appreciated the author’s innovative and daring approach. In this edition of One on One, Anna Marešová talks about her award-wining Whoop De Doo vibrators, her inspiration and some of her other work. I first asked her whether the award came as a big surprise.
The jury appreciated your daring approach, besides the artistic quality of the project. Did it take courage to come up with such a design?
“It was difficult. The project took me a year to complete; I discussed the topic with many people – gynaecologists, and also other artists who I though might have offered an insight. At times I felt it was somewhat strange for me to be doing this but then I realized I wanted to go ahead with it. The topic is everywhere, and I think these products should be developed by designers.“
How did you get the idea and inspiration for the Whoop De Doo set?
“The first idea was just a joke. But then I thought about it more seriously, and finally I decided I would try it. What I eventually did was not just a product but I was dealing with the whole context; I did a lot of historical research, and it turned out to be more interesting that I initially thought.”
“Nowadays, there are so many types of this product, but I really don’t like their old-fashioned ‘natural’ shapes. But over the last five years or so, I’d say that some companies began producing more modern objects – but not in the Czech Republic. I think that in this country, this topic is still a taboo to a certain extent, so I tried to open it.”
Are the vibrators functional? And how were they tested, if you don’t mind me asking?
“Well, I did a lot of research, and I had to buy some of the existing models which I tried. I also tried my designs but only partially because they are just prototypes so I couldn’t fully test them. But generally speaking, I wanted the equipment to be sweeter and more gentle and elegant, and I designed them particularly for women.”
What kind of reactions have you had to this project? What did your teachers say at the university?
“It was very nice. I was quite nervous about the topic when I came to my teacher, Mr Appl, and told him what I was going to do. He’s around 60 and he was very nice. I explained to him, and he said, ‘Ok, Anna, go ahead’. And I was very happy that he helped me and that he was very open about it.”
Are you planning to start producing and selling the vibrators?
“I would love to, but it’s very difficult to find a producer. But I hope that this award could help to find someone.”
Are you concerned at all that the Whoop De Doo sex toys will overshadow your other work?
“Yes, this is very interesting. One of my major projects in the past was a design of a tram for Prague. It was a lot of work and it was very dear to my heart because I really like trams in Prague, and I even won awards for it. But I’m really surprised how much attention this project is getting.”
“Yes. When I do something, I usually start by seeing a problem and trying to solve it. It was the same with the tram and with the Whoop Dee Doo set. I really like Prague, I was born here, and I also love trams, especially those from the 1960s, and I’m not happy about the design of the new trams. I think they look a little like trains, and they are really heavy. So I wanted to design a modern tram by merging the modern features with the iconic design of the old trams.
“But it’s not just about what the tram looks like. There are many technical problems and I wanted to show that it can be done in a different way”.
Do young designers such as yourself have opportunities to have their projects implemented? In other words, do you think that Czech industry is interested in designs like yours?
“I would love that but I’m afraid it’s easier to find work abroad. Things seem to be stuck a little here, which I think is a shame because there are many talented people here. I hope it will improve in the coming years.”
You earned you bachelor’s degree at the University of Derby, in the UK, while you received your master’s at UJEP in Ústí nad Labem, where you are now a post-gradate student. How do design programmes in the two countries compare?
“I think the best thing would be if these two universities merged. I love the university in Ústí nad Labem because it’s a very young, and I also think very good school. In the UK, their facilities were really good; they have a great workshop and a really good system for students.”
In your post-graduate programme, you are working with sustainable design. What does it mean?
“That’s something I already mentioned. If we take the tram, for example – I believe that if trams were nice and clean, people would take them more instead of cars. That’s eco-design as I understand it. And I would like to make people here more aware of it. In the UK, sustainable design is very common but in the Czech Republic, it’s not well known.”
The winning designs of this year’s National Student Design Awards, including your Whoop De Doo set, will now be exhibited at Czech Centers around the world, beginning in Vienna. Do you think they will be received differently? Do you expect any controversies?
“I really don’t know. It could be different, and I’m curious myself.”
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