In 2014, I traveled to Italy along with 12 classmates in order to interview contemporary Italian designers, architects and design manufacturers. Prior to our work in field, we studied Italian history and design to understand and appreciate Italian culture. In field, my role as the notetaker was to digest and analyze each interview, extracting key themes and quotes. After our trip, I revisited my notes to structure content for our website.
Liam Leyland, Francesca Lanzavecchia, one founder of the Lanzavecchia+Wai design studio, and myself in Pavia.
Photo: Juan Henao
A select few pages from the website.
Afterwards, I worked with a smaller team to write and design a book featuring designer interviews. The book contains extra content from interviews that was not published on the website or videos.
As one of three writers on the project, I set out to create a project brief that documented our audience, purpose, goal, and general content plan. I also created a style guide which outlined the structure and purpose for each section. The style guide was a key working document that allowed us keep our writing consistent while delegating work across the writing team. After this initial planning phase, I went on to write 25 pages of interviews and edited 23 other pages.
This project is on-going and currently in the design phase.
I seem to learn something new every time I reflect on my time and experience in Italy. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how design intersects with culture.
Coming from North America, my view of design was immensely pragmatic, systems-oriented, driven by business requirements and user insights from research. In Italy I saw an additional component to this approach: culture and existing practices were mindfully integrated into all types of design (industrial, digital, architectural, etc.), allowing experiences to be more meaningful and respectful.
For example, the Marino Marini museum was formerly a chapel built in Florence in the 1400s. Abandoned for decades, the architects restored and converted the chapel into a museum for the sculptures of Marino Marini, while respecting its original frame and design. Rather than perceiving the original chapel as a compromise, it was seen as a necessary component for a visitor’s experience. The museum’s design enables visitors to view each sculpture from countless distinct point of views, with varying angles and heights.
Marino Marini Museo
Film I edited together using footage from Florence, Italy.
My experience in Italy instilled new design values and enriched my own definition of design. I realized that design is not just a broadly applicable set of principles and standards—it is highly embedded in culture and a way of life. Now, I’m looking for new processes and frameworks that take culture into consideration.