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Image: Maria Göransdotter

Designing Design Methods: Histories of Italian Radical Design

Research project Italian design is perhaps internationally mostly known for Alessi, Vespa scooters, the radical design movement of the 1960s and the postmodernist Memphis group of the 1980s. This project searches for histories of Italian design that do not start from aesthetics or products, but from perspectives of how designing itself has been discussed, developed and disturbed.

This project initiates a research endeavour bringing together design research and design historical research from a perspective of contemporary design methods. Through probing and questioning histories and geographies of ‘Italian design’ from a perspective of design’s methods, we aim to highlight the historicity of designing in relation to contemporary challenges in the field of design. Through readings of publications, archival material, visuals, things and exhibitions, we inquire into the conceptual foundations of Italian 20th century design.

Head of project

Maria Göransdotter
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2021-02-01 2021-10-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Umeå Institute of Design

Research area

Design, History of ideas

Project description

In designing, projects and situations are set up and carried out with methods, tools and processes that have been invented or incorporated in design at different points in time and place. While this means that design’s ways of working are historical, its methods and concepts often seem to be approached as if they were timeless or neutral. When these methods and processes operate, they support ensuring that certain types of design outcomes are brought forth as responses or solutions to problems.

This study is based on the belief that there is a hidden and tacit knowledge in design practices in Italy that has not yet been addressed in relation to the historicity of designing. These practices have rarely been taught in design schools, nor brought into the “methods library” of contemporary design. An impetus for this study comes from recent developments of design education in Italy which is undergoing a transformation heavily influenced by international design methods-oriented approach. This seems sometimes to be at odds with an Italian design culture that over time, has come to bring together elements of traditional crafts-oriented designing with strong critical and experimental design movements probing the conceptual foundations of designing.

We study archival material in personal archives and in libraries, in interviews and articles in historical journals such as Casabella, Domus, Progettare InPiù, Modo, Stileindustria and Ottagono, and in books written in Italian that have seldom reached an international audience. Probing histories of both ‘traditional’ Italian design doing, and those of seemingly ‘international’ industrial design methods can highlight the spaces that could open up for how to approach practicing design differently.

Latest update: 2021-11-16