Six Questions: Tanya Vlach

Our fourth installment of Six Questions with Device Design Day speakers features artist Tanya Vlach.

Tanya Vlach, interactive artist, writer, and producer, is constantly finding new ways to crawl outside of the box and is currently in development on organizing an engineering team to build a miniature recording device for her prosthetic eye. This eye-camera is not only a way for her to transform her lost eye from a traumatic car accident casualty to a bionic wearable device, but it is also a conceptual and transdisciplinary experiment merging media and performance. In June 2011, “Grow a New Eye”, a short documentary piece about Tanya’s plight, was selected and screened at TEDxSF Alive! at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Last August, Tanya completed a successful fundraising campaign through social media and crowdfunding on Kickstarter to raise the preliminary funds to build her bionic eye-camera. Tanya balances her sci-fi bionic experimentation with day jobs wrangling young filmmakers at S.C.R.E.A.M. (Sunset Creators Reaching Every Able Mind) and producing events with her company COLIBRITA. You can learn more about her projects at

1. What is your most cherished product, and why?

Well, the Buddhist in me doesn’t believe in cherishing an object unless it serves some higher spiritual purpose, but the Generation X me, the geeky part of me, pretty much loves my iPhone 4gs. Besides having Skype, email, a playlist that serves as your own personal movie soundtrack wherever you go, it is such a brilliant multi-purpose device: mobile video/still photo recording and editing on the go is quite thrilling and has quite a lot of potential, not to mention the AR, remote capabilities. The artsy part of me thrives to get my head out of the box and wants these mobile devices to be much better at enabling artistic and kinetic experiences.

2. What’s the one product you wish you had created/built/designed, and why?

Hmm, I mean there are so many­–but I truly don’t think I’d like to be responsible for anything other than what I’ve created before or am working on now. I think probably what fascinates me the most in terms of new ideas that I envy are from the sci-fiction visionaries like Jules Verne, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson who had imagined decades ago what is being manifested today.

But to answer your question: holograms, because they are cool! And the closest thing to bridging the virtual realm within our “real” world, like magic.

3. What excites you about today’s tools and technology? 

Accessibility and collaboration. And by that I mean, with the internet and disseminating agencies like Twitter and facebook­–anything that has the ability to post and repost with a click–new research becomes accessible to all populations as long as they have access to the internet, regardless of social economic brackets, or whether or not they are from the 1st world, or 3rd world. I know this first hand when I first began posting and writing about my ideas to implant a camera device in my prosthetic eye. I received a flood of messages from visually impaired, engineers, and just interested parties from all over the world: India, Brazil, Germany, vets from the States, this list is endless­–it was overwhelming and quite inspiring. It can give people who have limited resources access to new models of thinking from across the planet, which becomes a shared think. We can build upon our ideas, which brings me to collaboration: I have a very utopian idea of collaboration. I am still working out different ways to best make this happen. I admit this can be incredibly frustrating especially for folks who are new or are hoping to change the medical/technological industry like me and other creator/maker types. I am still searching on how to crack the code, which is a disclaimetaphor (yes, I just made that up) because I don’t know anything about coding!

I aspire to eventually be part of a community where not just engineers or entrepreneurs are designing and putting out products–but people from all spectrums are participating in a dialogue that is not just commodity based, but becomes about how and why we are creating and is part of our humanity.

4. When do you first remember getting excited by the intersection of design and technology?

This is a tough one–I’m going to have to answer this from my training as an artist rather than designer. I think I started to get more interested in technology when I was coming of age in the ‘80s, when there was a lot of experimentation with technology in the arts. I found it fascinating when I first learned that Merce Cunningham, modern dance pioneer, began choreographing from a computer program. Also a Herbie Hancock MTV music video, come to think of it, was pretty formative–the use of electronics in music and robots in the video that you could also get down to–that was pretty thrilling for my 14-year-old self. It was only a few years later that I got my first Apple computer.

I will never be satisfied with my work until it can achieve something transformative, profound, and experiential; with technology this is an even bigger challenge.

5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you?

My grandfather, William Jones, a man who brought the idea of the CREATIVITY SERIES to Bill Moyers on PBS, taught me that nothing is impossible; you just have to find the right solution.

6. What are your five pearls of wisdom you can give to the product design community?

Intuition is your best friend and sometimes your only one.

Learn how to listen.

Don’t get discouraged.




Don’t miss Tanya Vlach’s presentation, “Eye, Tanya”, at Device Design Day, August 3, 2012 in San Francisco. Registration is open, so reserve your spot and get ready for a day full of innovation and inspiration.