Interview with Odoardo Fioravanti

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?

Odoardo Fioravanti: The designer’s job has radically changed, for different reasons. On the one hand, the new design degrees have led to a deeper awareness of design and to an education focalized on the productive process. This, according to some people, can cause a lack of the project-based culture and also a proliferation of design related topics in unconventional sectors and manners.

On the other hand, the industry and production have undergone deep changes. The big firms’ crisis and the grinding of the productive system into a sort of cloud containing a lot of new little companies wanting to exploit design, have made a designer’s life not easy. In most cases, these little companies want to go into design only because they’ve ‘heard of it’. Therefore, we have to go back to the start and explain why it is necessary to spread the culture and the philosophy of design in the industrial world: we need a sort of micro-evangelization.

Most of the firms do not produce, they are just editors, who own strong marketing skills. The main theme here is the relation, not the production, between who invents the products and the industry. The debate, in the end, comes down to marketing and saleability based on the goods’ appeal.

It must be also said that the delocalization of the industrial production represents an epoch-making change for a certain kind of goods, those goods that, on the basis of a dimension/cost ratio, can easily and inexpensively be carried around. This contributes to the creation of a new class of producers who do not mind producing low cost goods and selling them at very low prices, in order to stimulate purchases even in times of constant crisis.

Besides, a sort of communicative magma surrounds design nowadays, spreading ideas and projects, and merging together different ideas, thus making thoughts univocal. A sort of a koiné of languages that filters projects, in order to get rid of those that are not cool or communicatively effective. But this is a ‘baby’ communication,…

Do you still believe in the role of the industry?

I strongly believe that in the definition ‘industrial design’ both words are vital. The design prepares a message, gives a shape to a thought, not only a functional one, and the industry allows the circulation and the development of this thought on a mass-market scale. This does not exclude the presence of new productive patterns such as those based on the 3D printers and the ‘makers’ world. But the industry is still the place for a large-scale production of goods, where it is still possible to meet the people’s demands with a commitment to research, to resource optimization, to a democratic production. Snow, my chair for Pedrali, has a very low price and such a wide distribution that could be impossible without the help of a real industry.

Have there been any changes in the company requirements for the designers?

The demands have changed, of course. People look for projects that can easily be put into production and easily be taken in by the market. They want market-ready projects, so contemporary as to seem they’re coming out of the near past: low cost projects that can easily be understood and that can stimulate compulsive purchases. There is no time to wait for the projects to be developed, to find their right collocation. Very few companies have their own competence to develop the products; therefore the designers have to prepare projects that are ready for production. We need to use an engineering approach, to understand the technological problems, to find suppliers and contractors on behalf of the firm, etc. As if part of the company were substituted by the designers’ studios. So a designer is not only the one who designs and has good ideas, but one who does think from the processes and the contacts he has with the artisans.

Are there more responsibilities for a designer now?

I don’t know if it has to do with responsibility, but there is much more work during the phase preceding the meeting with the firms, definitely. One has to go to the meeting with quite clear ideas, with a story ready to be sold, with a very mature idea of whatthe production and the distribution will be like. In short, we sell a project turnkey and often the firms only have simply to decide whether to invest in a ready idea. This has little to do with the history of Italian design, where the main part of the productive development has always been carried out in collaboration between the industry and the designer, by working hard on prototypes and models.

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

The first impact of rapid prototyping has to do with a change in speed when it comes to creatingthree-dimensional models of a project. Something that was unconceivable twenty years ago now has become usual in this job. It is very rare for the prototypes to be hand-made and often, whether to produce an object or not, is decided by looking at the image coming out from a 3D printer.

The real challenge introduced by these new techniques is linked to the possibility of making it all low cost. There are still obstacles connected to the cost of the machines, the interface usability, the uniformity in the quality of the results (generally there always is something that needs adjusting). When the 3D printers will become similar to the other domestic appliances, itwill be cheap to buy one, easy to use it and to look after its maintenance, fast to download a file from the Internet for the 3D and print a wished object ourselves, just as today we can buy and listen to a musical track online.

What do you think about the various forms of self-production?

I think it is a sort of ‘warm up’ before entering the world of industry. I did it, too, sometimes, two in particular: the lamp Shift and the roncola that I designed for my exhibition at Triennale di Milano. Self-production is a bit like a gym that allows us to learn different aspects of the productive system. Besides, it allows giving shape to some projects that would never see the light otherwise, because they do not fit in the companies’ selection. It makes me think to a sort of a relief valve of the world of ideas: now and then, when the internal pressure is excessive, there is a leak of self-produced objects. Often, young designers use self-production in order to show their skills, since it is very hard to find industries that commission new projects. But I still think that self-production is so different from industrial production: self-production may create a niche market and micro-economies, whereas the industry is connected to a macro-economic world that can to reach the masses.

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

The industry was born out of craft and design was born out of industry, therefore design was born also out of craft. This link is undeniable. Today there are rumours about the ‘new craft’. The most careful people have never forgotten craft and to call it ‘new’ seems to me just a way to make it still ‘fashionable’. In such a critical moment for the industry, the chance to start design projects through a handmade draw-plate is a good solution. It must be remembered first, that craft has always had a vital role inside Italian industry:think about the furniture draw-plate where most of the products have a high component of craftwork. We could therefore conclude that Italian industry has never been totally industrial; instead, it has been half-industrial. Today, after Sennet’s works, we produce handicrafts that were initially thought for the industrial processes. But this, in my opinion, is a pointless discussion. Who’s able to separate with a neat line craft from design craft?

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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