Interview with Francisco Gomez Paz

Marinella Ferrara: What changes have taken place in the profession of the 3rd millennium young designer, in comparison with the past, with the 1960s? Do you think that the present production delocalization and market globalization can affect the traditional relationship between design and industry? In what way?

Francisco Gomez Paz: I reckon I am lucky to work with design oriented Italian firms, where the company structure still allows designers to discuss and to share the risks with the managers. In my daily life, I work in direct contact even with the supplying firms who are involved in the project process. These artisans, contracting producers or technology and material suppliers all have an important role in the project development, since by talking and working together with them, we are often able to find the perfect solution for any production problem. As it happened, for example, with the table Ovidio, for the firm Danese: the project was developed thanks to an artisan of Danese, who is an expert in plate bending technology. What happened was, we had thought of a possible solution and thanks to his skills, we found a good solution for the leg and its joint in the table top, thus transforming a graphical idea into a structural project. With the help of technology we devised a geometrical structure, highly characterised by corners and angles, which provides the table with shifting profiles as the observer’s point of view changes.

Nowadays a lot is changing. Companies and contractors are facing hard times because of the economical crisis. The delocalization is breaking that virtuous circle, (one of the strengths of Italian design), of which the artisan-supplier is the weakest link.

Because of the delocalization, designers are lacking a relationship with the matter. Therefore, we have to do something in order to get this necessary relationship back.  Verifying a project by means of a model and a prototype is really important. I remember that, when I was designing Omero, a curious magazine rack, produced by Driade, in order to check its shape and its respondency to the function (the magazines fit into place in between the rings), I made a first wooden prototype with a lathe. Now my studio is better furnished, it has a small laboratory where my colleagues and I make the models that allow us to verify the technical and formal solutions.

What changes have recently been introduced in your job thanks to the new digital, fast making and rapid prototyping technologies?

Nowadays, the rapid prototyping tools are indispensable for a designer. For example, not only did I buy for my studio the most common tools, but even a 3D printer and Arduino, an open source framework, so that we can make studio models or prototypes of some small details which are important for the project development. I often tell the story of Hope, a lamp system, born as a new interpretation of the Bohemian crystal chandelier that Paolo Rizzatto and I projected for Luceplan. While developing the project it was important to verify the device by which the lenses, arranged around the light source, refract light. The weekend before the definitive agreement to put into production Hope components, I made a prototype of the lens in my lab, which changed the original project, with a remarkable improvement of the Hope design. The prototype made by means of a numerically controlled milling cutter was able to convey the formal and visual idea of a ‘metacrystal’ sheet, ultra thin, light, transparent and shiny, with microprisms in the internal surface, that could catch and refract the light, while reproducing at the same time all the optical qualities of the fine and thick crystal. The Monday after, thanks to the physical model that I made, it was easy for the firm managers to understad my intent and change their minds about the productive technology to be adopted. The first prototype of Sinapse was made in my laboratory, too.

The actual revolution is, nowadays, the ability to find information and acquire knowledge easily. For instance, we bought the 3D printer for the studio and then we found a video online, with the instructions to modify some of its functions. We learnt quickly and after that we’ve been able to modify the printer according to our particular purposes. That access to information is made so easy today is very important.

When I lived in Argentina, Internet wasn’t so widespread. In an isolated place, where design was not a common activity, the lack of information was a problem for me.

Do you still believe in the role of the industry?

Yes, I really do. Even if today this role is being strained. Because of instability and the crisis in the economy many companies are afraid of investments.

Have there been any changes in the company requirements for the designers? Are there more responsibilities for a designer now?

Designers have always had big responsibilities towards the companies they work with and towards the ‘human beings’. I prefer this word rather than ‘customers’ or ‘market’. Because, in my opinion, a designer understands little of the market but can understand very well the human beings, their primary and secondary needs, and their relationship with an object in terms of how well it can perform its function.

In the past, though, there were wider margins for error. Today we are witnessing the collapse of a general system. Firms, at lest the ones I work with, put into production fewer products, while demanding more breadth.

We need to be more aware of what we’re doing and where we’re going. Both designers and firms, as parts of our society, share big responsibilities: that kind of responsibility which can make our species go further ahead, towards new paths. One of the projects that have made me more aware of mankind was the Solar Bottle projected with Alberto Meda. This low cost container, that is able to disinfect water for those people who are exposed to contaminated waters, made me think about mankind’s primary needs. But still, even today, after so many improvements, having sorted most of the technical aspects and having developed good ideas for the business model, the project hasn’t found a possibility for production.

What do you think about the various forms of self-production? Do you believe in the possibility of self-management (on the part of the designers) of part or the whole project-production-distribution-selling process? Do think that self-production can lead to an economic development, at least a local one?

I believe in a designer’s ability to manage some parts of the process. This can happen for small productions. To project and to make small productions is possible for a designer, is something belonging to his skills. To sell is not. Still, it is not so difficult to sell 3 or 4 pieces if you have contacts with the sellers, if go to the fairs or online. A lot of my colleagues are wondering whether they should try this way. Self-production can be a big revolution, a quick-start for young designers who want to go into the job. The concept of self-production becomes interesting if linked to the personalization of a product or to the return to the craftsmanship of some products, for some firms who work in a complementary way with the industry. But distribution is a world, which is very far from the designer’s. It is the missing link in this new vision of the self-producing system. When the distributors will notice this opportunity, new prospects will arise that may put the small firms into trouble.

What do you think about the financial capital penetration in the designing firms, with a new role for the management?

The penetration of financial capital may prove very risky for Italian design, which is characterised by the relationship with the people, by the dialogue; which has never based its logics on the business plan, on the stiff management of time and resources; and which has never looked so much at marketing but has instead worked on the ideas, often even on illusions. It’ll depend on to what extent the venture capital will want to go in the design management.

There is a lot of talk about the new artisan. Do you think he could be involved in design?

Artisans are responsible for most of Italy’s beauty. The world of craft is made of people who do not sleep because they want to do better. From people who work with their hands, to those who invest on new machinery, who work with circuits. A part of my work is like that of the artisan who works with his hands and mind. But also with technology, as I did with my lamp Nothing, a handicraft that uses new technologies. It is strange that in Italy there is no government policy that helps to strengthen an artisan’s work by means of the technological innovation. It’s a shame because, for the reasons that I just mentioned, most of our craftsmanship will disappear in a few years.

About the author(s):

Architect MsD and PhD in Industrial Design, Marinella Ferrara is a senior researcher of Politecnico di Milano (Design Department) and an assistant professor at the Design School of the same institution. Her research are directed to the relationship between design and technological innovation. She is the author of several books and essays that link micro‐stories to the macrostructures for rethinking of the relationship between design and materials as a dynamics of the socio-technical innovation process.She is investigating in order to define the strategic role of design as driver for innovation trought interdisciplinary process. She has opened a personal focus on Mediterranean Design considered as emblematic expression of the contemporary geo‐political complessity. Other topics are: self-production design, relationship between design and crafts, the women’s Design in the mediterranean countries.

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