Interview: Nicolas Roope
by / July 10, 2006

New media designer Sebastian Campion, who is interview-worthy in his own right, recently did an interview with Hulger CEO Nicolas Roope of retro-cel-phone-handset fame and offered it to MoCo Loco. Herewith is the interview with Nicolas, that's him in the photo below (taken by Violetta Boxill-Roope, his wife and creative director at icon):

The Unbearable Lightness of Consumer Electronics:
an interview with Nicolas Roope

Ever since the birth of the mobile phone, its evolution has been all about one thing: size. On one hand, the phones get smaller and smaller, on the other hand they contain ever more features, functionalities, pixels and megabytes. But why is smaller more desirable? Why is new always better? Why must technology always look forwards, never backwards? It was questions like these that inspired Nicolas Roope to come up with the concept for Hulger, which in all its simplicity consists of retro landline receivers that can be used with a mobile phone or a PC. After its launch a few years ago, it soon turned out that Nicolas Roope was not the only one longing for a little anarchy in the streamlined landscape of high-tech mobile products and his first models sold as hot cakes on eBay. The buzz surrounding these new, strangely familiar, objects spread via the web to international lifestyle magazines and news media and today, Hulger is sold in stores throughout the world.

It all began as an artistic statement but within a few years Hulger has turned into a normal - well, almost normal - design product.

The original retro style P*PHONE.

SC: You were trained as a sculptor but subsequently your career developed within new media. Does the physical nature of Hulger mark a return to your roots in some way?

NR: Yes I think so. What I like about sculpture is how much you can say in a very simple way. This theme though is still present in the digital side of things, so for instance 'global rich list' is a simple idea but has a very broad and profound effect. I do enjoy the physical side of Hulger although most of the effort around making the idea really work is about the intangibles. Creating context, meaning and ultimately desire is a complicated business. So in this respect I am bringing the two disciplines together, physical and emotional, conceptual, spiritual even.

Global Rich List.

SC: What got you interested in New Media?

NR: It was a new frontier. Still is in many ways. I don't like establishments very much. They curtail your freedom and stifle anything that moves outside of comfortable consensus. New Media when I started hadn't had time to build an establishment so everyone was as qualified as each other which filled the air with opportunity and openness.

SC: In those days - around the mid 90's - you joined the famous Antirom collective, who in many ways revolutionized the idea of screen based interactivity. Antirom's work was unconventional, humorous and cool at the same time - somewhat like Hulger today. Is there a link between Hulger and your work back in the Antirom days?

NR: I think there are a lot of links. Antirom questioned what the commercial world had to offer in this new sphere, which at the time was pretty uninspiring. Hulger certainly shares in this motivation as I think the starting point was much the same, ie. a disdain for the humdrum of consumer electronics. And like Antirom, Hulger isn't militant in its opposition to technology, in fact it loves technology, but chooses to apply it in a different way.

80’s style PIP*PHONE, wireless thanks to Bluetooth.

SC: Was Hulger meant to be a 'real' product from the beginning or did it simply start out as a conceptual critique of the mobile industry?

NR: It started out as a critique, but when I had the first prototype in my hand it became clear that there was a lot more to it. It was like realizing through this how much meaning is bound up in objects and how with a very simple subversion you create something very strong. The first reaction people give is always strong whether they find it funny or interesting.

SC: Some of us grew up with the telephone being a domestic device, which we shared with the rest of our family. Since then, the phone got cordless, then individual and then mobile. Does Hulger appeal to the generation, who experienced this development - those who perhaps feel slightly caught in between old and new technologies?

NR: You are right. For me some of the resonance comes from the days when I had such phones at home. Nearly everyone I knew had the same, a rare technological ubiquity that will never be repeated, a moment when rich and poor shared the same object. But from experience it is also clear that younger generations still like them although for other reasons. 18 year olds have had mobiles around them most of their lives and so to them they're not new or different. They're often fascinated by what we do because it’s such a departure from what they've seen before

SC: Has the mobile industry changed since you joined it?

NR: No not really. New gadgets but the same basic story.

SC: What about Nokia's fashion collection, which is more about style than function?

NR: Hmm. I kind of like them and certainly enjoy their willingness to play and experiment unlike most of the other biggies. I would like to see them go further though as they still seem a bit contrived somehow.

SC: Speaking of Nokia: Hulger was originally called Pokia. What's the story behind the identity shift?

NR: Well, Nokia quite understandably halted our TM application so we had to can Pokia and find something else. It worked out for the best though as Hulger is a much better name for the way the idea has grown up. Pokia was fine in the start but I think it would have cheapened where we're going with this.

SC: What has the transformation, from an artistic statement to a real product, been like?

NR: The transition has been very tough but very interesting. It has eaten up every fragment of my time and nearly every penny but has been more than equally rewarding and exciting. I enjoy it more now that it is out there in normal shops, being bought by normal(ish) people and starting to inhabit their lives and relationships. It's an artwork in the middle of people's everyday existence. Hopefully something that makes them feel better.

Hulgerisation is a project to design the next product for Hulger. Above, some submissions from students; Alice Wang’s Audio Stick sound system, Tom Stables’ camera P*ROJECTOR, Synnove Fredericks’ Text-O-Matic. .

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