How would you define the word design and how would you describe your commitment as a designer in contemporary society?
Design is a constructive activity that involves setting out an objective, a plan of action conceived after careful consideration of a situation, finding the means to carry it through and finally assessing its consequences.
Sometimes it is rather difficult to define ones practice as a designer in our contemporary society with such an excessive saturation of objects. But I´d like to think that a cleverly thought out product still has a right to exist if produced in the right way. I guess that my commitment to design will go on as long as I feel that the work I produce has some kind of legitimacy in the world that surrounds it.
My objective is to produce objects that make it to people’s homes and that eventually become part of their surroundings, they live for many years performing their function and hopefully ending up taking a place in the lives of the people that use them.
Which are the main features that identify your work? Is it possible to summarize them into three representative key concepts? I experiment with structures, proportion and spatial relationships to create objects that offer something new but maintaining a strong relationship with their use and context. It is very important that these objects are not set to be protagonists, after all they have to coexist with many other things we already have around us. I’m very interested in the relationships that with time we establish with an object, as well as the relationship that this object has with its surroundings. My aim is to develop designs that can be used, lived with and enjoyed. Visual and material lightness is also a recurrent theme in my work. I believe this has a lot to do with the way we live nowadays; living spaces tend to be smaller and we move a lot more often than previous generations. We need furniture that is flexible and can adjust to these new situations, objects that work in different spaces and in different ways for each person that uses them.
Simple, concise and honest I hope.
Synthetically, how do you organise the creative process that leads to the definition of your projects? Do you have a well-tested method which you always use or each project you develop becomes a new experience?
The basic steps of the process are always similar; as a designer you approach an unknown situation, you spend some time making yourself familiar with it, then you start weighting the possibilities and testing solutions, and finally you produce a result in the form of, either a set of instructions or the actual outcome.
However, each project is a new world in itself and depending on the context - what is it, who for, where from, how is it done, where for, etc - the process of development is different and it makes you get involved with so many different types of problems, situations, people, techniques, contexts… It is because of this that some people say designers are "jacks of all trades but masters of none", personally I find this one of the most interesting factors in our profession.
I think our brains work a little bit like sponges; they are continuously absorbing things and situations around us, which get stored somewhere and are ready to be squeezed out on demand during the course of a new project.
I usually need a quiet period of thinking and brainstorming on my own. Recently I find that sitting on a plane is one of the best places for that, it might be the quietness of being away from internet and phone, or the nice feeling of being on top of the clouds with a permanent sunny window to look out to, but I get a lot of my ideas then.
Is there a recurring theme in your research and, more in general, how do you chose as a designer, the topics to be developed and investigated?
Observation of the everyday surroundings to my own life and general contemporary living situations are one of the main themes and often starting points to my work as a designer. This observation is something that happens at a subconscious level triggered I guess by curiosity. I find curiosity to be of the most important qualities as a designer as it drives us to look, explore, observe, find, study and try things in a naive way which can potentially lead to interesting starting points.
Where do you look for your inspiration’s main sources? Are there specific areas of interest to which you usually refer to, finding useful ideas which stimulate your personal creative thinking?
In general I find that just living life and observing the people around you along the way is one of my main sources of inspiration. I think that especially all those situations that make you feel a bit uncomfortable at the beginning; the ones that take out of your comfort zone are those that teach you and influence your perception in the long run. It would never cease to surprise me how many different points of view you can discover if you keep your eyes open and share with people and how much you can learn from putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and trying to see things form a different prospective. Something else I find fascinating, and still related to the way people do things, is improvisation. I find that most people, when faced with a problem and limited resources they would most times find a very creative solution to it, that always inspires me.
Another great source of inspiration for me is to visit workshops and factories, from small artisan workshops to big production plans with specialised equipment. The relationship between a finished object and the way it is produced is completely intrinsic and in most cases determines the product, if you fully understand how something is made, you also fully understand the potential it has.
Is it your aspiration to use design as a cultural instrument to communicate a thought or to highlight a concept, stimulate a reaction, exchange a message?
At the very core of the discipline lies its relationship with people and society at a particular point in time and it is therefore impossible to conceive design without its social and cultural context.
Your design concept is translated into product: do you think it is still necessary that a designed object is deeply functional or do you believe it can be interesting to give up functionality for other values that you want to communicate?
I think functionality is one of the most important aspects that an object has to have, if you give that up the object doesn’t work. This functionality however could be addressed at very different levels; from the more straightforward act of fulfilling a basic need like having a comfortable surface to sit on, to the more abstract, like communicating a message of respect to traditional craftsmanship or even a direct critic to a particular part of society.
The design process is often a course of sharing knowledge between designer and a wide range of consultants. What importance do you give to the concept of cooperation? What kind of professionals do you more frequently collaborate with?
This dialogue is definitely one of the most important and determining factors when developing a design project. As I mentioned before, the production method is completely intrinsic to the final design of the object, therefore the better the dialogue with the person/team behind the production, the better the end result. This applies to any project, from a small piece of cutlery to the development of the whole interior of a shop, where you might have to discuss with the contractor or the builder about the different steps to follow. Some of the most productive conversations are those with artisans who are passionate about their trade, you can learn a lot from that. Interesting exchanges come often from these conversations and surprisingly also share a lot as we (designers) tend to not follow the “way things have always been done”. This contrast of vision between the tested methods and the proposed new ones brings out very interesting conversations/situations/starting points.
What is the meaning of the word “transformation” for you and how do you relate this term with your work?
Transformation is the driving force behind the creative process and the design practice itself. From the basic transformation of matter, a raw material into a finished object, to the transformation in the perception or the experience we get when using these particular objects.
Between the two, not necessarily opposite poles and often complementary, of the industrial serial production and hand-crafted limited series production, which one attracts you more and gives you more possibilities of expression?
Both, each one in its own context and with its own set of constrains and advantages. I’ve definitely put emphasis on the fact that they are complementary more than opposite. As a designer you can use each to inform the other and extract the experiences of both to advance your practice.
Real experience, practical use and direct involvement in making objects is a distinct part of your work. What pushes you in this direction? The act of fabricating firsthand and using your hands is an inescapable necessity to guarantee particular product quality?
If we interpret quality as achieving a durable and proper finish of the object, I’m sure there are expert technicians and craftsmen that can do a much better job than we do a making most of the things we fabricate. Often however, it is this naive and unorthodox approach to making something that allows us to push the boundaries and find new directions within a process, which could become the starting point for a new project, again, doing things differently from the way "they have always been done".
Furthermore, making our own prototypes is for me an extremely important step during the development of any project, to be able to fully understand and assess the details of the design, in this sense the making directly relates to the quality of the design.
And finally, the act of fabricating, of making something with your own hands also gives the object a unique quality as it shows that little imperfections/ differences as well as the small choices you made along the way. This has an added value for both, the potential customer that gets something unique, and myself as the craftsman who gets the fulfillment of doing a job well for its own sake.
Do you think your work is connoted by a specific expressive language and do you believe that formal recognition is important for a designer’s work?
I think to a certain extent you develop a language naturally as the work comes from you and you are the common link to all the projects you are involved with, but then the circumstances, objectives, teams and scenarios are different every time, so hopefully these are also strongly considered when developing the project shaping it accordingly, otherwise it would be just an styling exercise from the designer.
Interview with Barbara Brondi & Marco Rainò, Turin November 2010