some final thoughts

Werner Herzog, “Fitzcarraldo“, 1982

We are at now the end of our journey. In sixteen classes we have tried to classify design intended in several different ways.

We started by individuals and their effect on the world, something we could define as “Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo“: a model where you have a titanic effort in order to achieve any potential goal.

We then spent a fair deal of time observing various talents (usually known as the “great masters” of design: Ettore Sottsass, Charles and Ray Eames, Achille Castiglioni, Franco Albini, or other intelligences who prefer to work in groups (Archigram, rather than the Japanese Metabolist or the Italians Archizoom and Superstudio).

Ettore Sottsass with some of his “Memphis” objects

Charles and Ray Eames: “Lounge Chair and ottoman” and assembly diagram, 1956

Franco Albini, desk for Knoll, 1958

Groups that can be incredibly small and cohesive: the above mentioned “Kinski in Fitzcarraldo” mode we can be replaced with the equally charming “Wild Bunch” (as narrated by Sam Peckinpah).

Archigram (Ron Herron), “Walking City“, 1964

Kisho Kurokawa (member of the Metabolist group), Nakagin Capsule Tower, Shimbashi, Tokyo, 1972

Superstudio, “The Continuous Monument. An Architectural model for total urbanization“, 1969

Archizoom, “No-Stop City“, 1970

Collaborative systems (think about the universe of Dungeons & Dragons and the logic of the role-playing game) and systems based on comparison and competition: card games like bridge or sudoku.

Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson: “Dungeons & Dragons”, 1974

We then passed the cutting edge of research: the Xerox Parc, MIT  Medialab, without forgetting the Bell Labs (not so marginal in the definition of the contemporary world).

In this extent the MIT Medialab is a source of extraordinary toys, games and experiments. Great fun, extremely fascinating, yet from time to time, there is a certain lack of practical results. Paradigmatic of this is the project  “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) an initiative of humanitarian design with the goal of developing and producing a hundred-dollar laptop for children. The laptop is designed for children living in developing countries, and when it came out it was cheered with hope and  enthusiasm. Oddly enough,  while a remarkable design quality, excellent hardware and software was develope, not much effort was spent to imagine an implementation model. For example. Given the Bolivian grade school system and given one million laptops, how they will cross? How these computers will intersect the daily work of students and professors? MIT Medialab projects often seem designed to operate on a tabula rasa, that is a world of people without practice. These users do not exist (with all the attached consequences).

Nicholas Negroponte, Charles Kane, Seymour Papert, Alan Kay, Mitch Bradley, “One Laptop Per Child“, project, 2005

In our class/journey we intersected the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century as well as important companies and products, (actually we admit we did talk about the Vespa, without mentioning the very important Bic Cristal pen, and the AK 47 Kalashnikov assault rifle).

Vespa Piaggio GS 160, 1962/4 (Vespa has been on the market with various models from 1947 until today)

Décolletage Plastique design team at Société PPA (later Société Bic), Bic Cristal, 1950/today

Mikail Kalashnikov, Ak-47 Assault rifle, 1949/today

By now, nobody should be surprised if we remind that the arm industry is one of the prime movers of technological change (today as ever, since we were living in caves). If you wonder how various inventions have been used over time, the first or second application are typically related to war (being the third generally referred to the sex industry).

In this extent, this is not such a strange phenomenon: you take a group of focused people (dedicated to a specific collective practice well understood and perceived as relevant), well organized, with good resources and highly competitive edges, and you end up being right at the technological frontier. Of course, this was true in the neolithic, during Middleage, in the XXth Century as well as now.

As we have expanded our observation zoom, we moved from the European cathedrals and Medieval toward Zen gardens, Chinese funerals and Nigerian coffins.

Finally, we reached the tools of mass communication, constantly moving back and forth between the traditional analogic world to new utopias (or rather, dystopias) typical of the digital world and the so-called “new media” (do you remember “Matrix“?)

Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, “Matrix”, 1999

In short, everything we went through during our course was fun to search and organize, and the whole preparation was nice because who writes did learn a lot. Hopefully also the students did enjoy/learn, and this last post is to explain why the class was called: “wobbling solutions”, and why these “unstable” things seem to be so relevant.

Let’s get back to the introduction classes, when we did make the example about the four high-school students willing to enter design and fashion school. By then the observation was related to the possible organization of a school in terms of “how” and not on the typical “what”. If such a thing would happen (to move from “graphic”, “product design”, “fashion”, etc, toward studies for people who want to work on self-productions, corporate world, small-size business, etc), we would probably reconsider who is a designer and what does he do. The traditional designer intended as some kind of “creator” would transform himself in a “facilitator”, using different tools (practical and conceptual) upon different situations and environments.

If we consider the example of the “Turin Geodesign” mentioned before, we have the description of a designer working together with a community of people as well as a company, developing a project whose brief was clearly defined by the community itself.  In this system the project x can be declined in the form of product, service, exhibition, public performance, depending on the needs and desires of the community asking for it.

To avoid any misunderstanding: using the word “community”, we don’t mean necessarily the limited world of charities and/or group of people busy into social and humanitarian activities. By “community” we mean a group of people getting together for some specific needs or desires (in this extent in Torino Gedodesign we used the term: “comunita’ di pratiche”, community of practices). From this point of view, those who get together to feed the homeless are a community, those who go to suppport AC Milan every sunday at San Siro football stadium are another community. To get together to collect coins or stamp, does define a community. Go to to church or to the mosque is another very fine example.

The design solutions found upon this approach are by their nature “unstable”. Unstable because of human desires that moves and change progressively refining them on a constant and endless process.

Solutions need and are subject to a number of adjustments. A succession of unstable solutions, having this clear understanding that once we reach a solution, tomorrow we will have to start again, working on the next refinement. At the same time, the unstable base of our solutions relies on the contact with the community of users and with the deeper understanding of its practices: the only possible source to correct and improve the whole mechanism and make it better. A little by little the project is not anymore a “final” episode (as it used to be). The project is an endless process of continous solutions without a given and/or final deadline.

By accepting this approach, we have only two fixed anchor points (the size of the group designing and size of the group for which you design).

Everything else is highly unstable, and this is the reason why this class uses the size of these two groups as a general structure for the various classes.

Ruggero Pierantoni, in his essay on “Le gioie della sincronia” describes the passion of totalitarian regimes for the elections (fake, but effective in their own way) to spread the importance of acting in synchrony as a mean of persuasion, of exaltation and of discipline. Crossing the symbol of the Italian Communist Party when voting, going to church on Sunday or bring waste recycling. What you do doesn’t really matter as long as what you do is done together with a mass of people, in sync.

We like to end these sixteen classes remembering Pierantoni’s final note. This happy and terrifying mass acting in total synchronycity (Internet, Woodstock, Nuremberg) is always at risk of splintering because finally “…no more than twenty men who conquer Cuba, few enter the Bastille […] a man or a few more kill President Kennedy in Dallas, a man wins the naval battle in Azio […] within a split second everything can fall apart”.

And this brings us, to our beginning: the few, the individual, you the reader. Exposed to a series of arguments, ideas and thoughts. To be taken, overturn, thrown away if you don’t need them.

We started the first class listening Lennon and McCartney singing “Paperback Writer“.

For the sake of symmetry (although imperfect) we end with Marcel Duchamp. The great American artist, thinker, chess player reminds us not to forget that “there is no solution because there is no problem.

A great way of looking “how” things are made.

Or maybe not?

Marcel Duchamp: “Marcel Duchamp author d’une table”

Name and things useful + important (to be remembered for the exam):

Franco Albini

Archigram

Archizoom

Bell Labs

Bic Cristal pen

Achille Castiglioni

Corradino D’Ascanio: Vespa

– Marcel Duchamp

Dungeons & Dragons

– Charles & Ray Eames: Lounge Chair and ottoman

Fitzcarraldo

– Mikail Kalashnikov, Ak-47 Assault rifle

Metabolist

– Memphis

MIT  Medialab :One Laptop Per Child

Sam Peckinpah: “Wild Bunch

Ettore Sottsass

Superstudio

Xerox Parc

– Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, “Matrix

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