This Scenario, curated by Walter De Silva, Master of Italian design and 2011 Compasso d’Oro alla Carriera, tackles the theme: Fluid design. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here
Diary of: @walter_desilva
I’ll start by talking about Design and industrial design. A 1916 definition by Tomás Maldonado [Argentinian artist, designer, philosopher and scholar, ed.] states: “Industrial design is a creative activity whose aims is to determine the formal properties of industrially produced objects”. Formal properties are not just the physical characteristics, but most importantly all the functional and structural relations that make an object, a coherent unit from the perspective of both the manufacturer and the user. I’d like to start from this definition because I believe that today design has surpassed its boundaries, it is very fluid. We are immersed in design, both from the point of view of reality and concreteness. After over a century, we can say that the transversality of design is evident and present in use and in every daily gesture. Designers are increasingly being called upon to reorganise what is visible, to use this complex discipline as a channel of direct communication, applying innovative solutions and techniques. Whether digital or analogue, these techniques are increasingly advanced. Even the product, commonly described as artisanal, will inevitably also be subject to innovative processes and increasingly advanced construction techniques, to the point that a unique piece, in order to remain as such and have only one soul, will have to accept the destruction of its software. This should make us think hard. But, at the same time, the increasing use of design or the word design, in a superficial and equivocal way, is causing actual intellectual and conceptual decadence.
Design is in a sort of a tailspin and is dangerously out of control. Discipline, philosophy and design ethics are surrounded by a worrying fog, made up of figures who have nothing to do with design. The word design is often abused, exploited and mistreated, and is used as a mask to conceal cultural gaps. It’s opportunism, it’s transformism and it leaves us somewhat astonished. I often notice that, in our day and age, artists, athletes, models, singers, bloggers, politicians, managers, stars, and even simple social network users are self-proclaimed designers… With no shame or respect, towards one of the most complex and articulated professions in the world. These ladies and gentlemen, who obviously do not transform into lawyers or doctors, are mutants somewhat prefabricated by a marketing that requires unrestrained and superficial consumption and, in my opinion, are harmful to our profession. They are simply people who wear a mask and submerge their unpreparedness by dealing only with superficial aesthetics and trends that are very close to the market.
What’s left of design then? Well, fortunately there is a lot left…
First of all, the words of the founding fathers, including Gio Ponti, creator of the Compasso d’Oro and of the Association for Industrial Design). There is an extraordinary and incredibly relevant (thinking about today) 1958 testimony from him that says: “the topic of industrial design deeply concerns Italy. Everything that about this sector is of use to Italy. Do we have other resources? We have two: a lively intelligence and a vocation for beauty. That is why we must not tire of serving Italy by promoting professional, scientific and technical education and promoting industrial design; in order to include in our production those aesthetic values that are real and effective and play in the global market to make our products preferable to those of other countries. This statement is very topical. There will always be a good, capable designer behind good design. The culture of design will be there, as well as the fact that a true designer will deal with very complex interdisciplinary issues and that a good product will respect a design ethics for which engineering and aesthetics are part of the same discipline: a single way to give form a poetic feel.
These considerations led to a redefinition of the concept of design, I have developed during a course at Studio Ambrosetti in 2017. I carefully analysed the situation of today’s design and came up with a new definition of design: “design is a constantly evolving cultural model that develops analogical, digital, aesthetic and poetic systems and defines business strategies. The purpose of design is to make products less ambiguous by conferring them an added value that lasts over time and consists in a mutual benefit between citizen, user, company and Country.”
Now, let’s talk about what has been my profession for many, many years, addressing the issue of mobility and “automobiles”, although the categories will change very rapidly. In just a few months, our priorities have changed drastically. Our mobility has changed more than anything, because we can say that there has been a real “Big Bang” due to Covid. If we also add the great historical change in the field of energy – from the internal combustion engine to electric propulsion – we notice how this change is even greater than what we have imagined. So, as of tomorrow, designing factories, components and sustainable mobility products for a cleaner world correctly will no longer be enough. Why? Because new parameters, new disciplines have already entered the creative and engineering development process. We have learned to live with an invisible, aggressive, ruthless and deadly enemy; therefore, we have learned to change our habits very quickly – where in the past it took much longer – to think more carefully about issues such as hygiene, medicine, IT, psychology, ergonomics and habits… To the point of considering that our near future will be different.
Although having the most advanced technologies at our disposal during this period of isolation, we have not receive any benefit from a physiological and psychological standpoint… We feel like prisoners, somehow under “house arrest”. We lack the sacrosanct right to move around. Now the situation is going back to normal, but a sort of inner sense of uneasiness remains, and we also feeling the presence of constraints to which we were no longer accustomed… What we feel is that there is an increasing need for love…
We are realising that we are approaching a real awakening, an awakening that will change our behaviour and the future threshold of well-being in the relationship between globalisation and socialisation… And most importantly, we are realising that the next world reorganisation will be based on the analogue-digital asset. What we are lacking is physical mobility, which will once again be at the centre of our lives and will be fundamental for the balance of our body; it will no longer be considered only as well-being, to which we will devote part of our day, but it will have an broader meaning, it will be conceived as a stable relationship with the world we live in. The near future will be both analogue and digital, with a more effective and correct, ethical and conscious use of resources, in which especially augmented reality will be much more connected to a physical reality. The typologies of Automotive, mobility, and therefore of design categorasation will radically change.
In the future, we will have to carefully re-evaluate mobility in the private sphere, not only in terms of physical possession, but also in terms of privacy. Single-dwelling units and carriers will find space in the market, which will inevitably intercept the new behaviours and generate demand. This re-start will undoubtly involve current legislation and regulations. Innovations in all project categories will find vigour and strength, and we designers should intercept these signals. Perhaps the new generations will no longer have a “ love of cars”, in the classic sense, but we will witness a shift towards an idea of physical motion in search of a lost psychophysical balance. So, today I see an inclination towards different categories of mobility, different types of territory, new dimensions of mobility, and I see innovation content that goes beyond digitalisation and information technology. The theme of mobility will therefore once again be central to the society of the future, alongside other strategic scenarios: some already current, such as sustainability and the environment, and new ones, such as hygiene, health, psychology, empathy and communication.
In this scenario, designers have a responsibility: never to betray the ethics-aesthetic relation for a world that is more real and, why not, more beautiful.