21st Triennale di Milano


21st Century. Design After Design. Design in a globalised world.

The decades of the late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries have witnessed a gradual spread of design as a means for distinguishing products in a constantly expanding world market. The relevance of the services offered has meant that the role and status of the designer has gained increasing recognition both in large companies and elsewhere, as well as in public opinion. This is even more the case in design-driven companies, which are those that have made design a key element in their competitive edge.

The education system has assisted the development of the market with the institution of universities and design schools around the world, particularly in the new economies. This has contributed to the affirmation of the designer, the most widespread of the creative professions, with hundreds of thousands of young professionals.

The outcome of this transformation, which has coincided with the division of the world into one part that designs (the West) and the other that manufactures (the East), has on the one hand accompanied the democratisation of the role of the designer and, on the other, it has led to a global market flooded with products that have standardised people’s tastes.

The crisis and the twenty-first century.

The 2008 crisis brought the international expansion in the late twentieth century to a sudden end, and the collapse of the American and European financial system brought into question the previous division of roles and labour. Under the pressure of international competition, the entire production system found itself, and still finds itself, facing the urgent need to constantly renew its catalogue and its range of goods and services, and to update its technology and market strategies.

Outsourcing production to companies in the Far East has revealed clear disadvantages on the economic level (those who do not produce tend to lose their capacity for innovation) and on the social level (those who do not produce tend to favour a consumerist approach to goods). At the same time the power of innovation that design, creativity and technological research can provide continues to grow.

For the first time, design has acquired a strategic role within the world economy.

No longer the domain of an elite, design is now driving a new process of expansion.

The financial and economic crisis of the past five years has sparked a series of factors that have made many breaks with the past:

  • a reassessment of production as an integral part of the creative process;
  • a reappraisal of the rules that govern intellectual property, with greater value being given to the concept of open source;
  • the rise of more conscious and selective forms of consumption, thanks to the Internet, also as an instrument of information and participation in a community;
  • a return to local traditions and heritage as a distinctive feature of goods, both in the luxury sector and in that of more accessible items.

The city and the future

Contemporary cities find it very difficult to accept and balance out the continuous change of functions and activities produced by the creative economy; this has led to profound changes in the relationship between the metropolis and design.

With its molecular structure, the world of objects is capable of penetrating gaps in the human habitat, improving their cultural and functional relationships with the user. The contemporary city is a fragment of an area that “no longer has an exterior”. In practical terms, it has become a huge aggregate of “interiors”, each with its own micro-climate, but all in a network, in which traditional functional categories can be neither seen nor stabilised.

With all its areas of knowledge, the city is turning into the centre of relationships and planning.

Planning is becoming increasingly transversal and the new disciplinary boundaries between architecture, urban planning, design, landscape, communication, the visual arts, and so on, represent the project-development horizon in the twenty-first century. While the manufacturing and services industries are looking for ways to respond to the crisis affecting a model based on the consumption of objects, the sector that modifies the physical environment of a particular place – architecture, urban design, landscape design and that of infrastructure – is once again tackling the issue of durability and changes in the use of the artifacts it creates.

Design After Design.

The rise of new communication technologies, the dramatic reduction in their cost (which will be even greater in future), the expansion of individual mobility, the presence of a common language, the need to find productive outlets for design, and the presence of an alternative market generated by the Internet all enable designers, now free from the constraints of production, to experiment with the most daring and innovative solutions.

In this context, research is no longer a solitary practice, or a two-way practice between designer and principal, but rather a circular activity, involving a variety of skills and cultures, not necessarily all in the world of production and technology, but in that of art, science, philosophy and design, which does not just lead to a product or an object to be manufactured.

It is therefore important to deal with the changes inherent in the very idea of project development. We can also consider the dual meaning of the term “after” for an assessment of the near future: an “after”, in the sense of design made subsequent to, or in spite of, the twentieth century, which is to say a vision that muscles its way in as an antagonist, despite the persistence of conditions brought about by the previous century.

But there is also a new dramatic art of design based on its ability to deal with the anthropological issues that classical modernity has dropped from its skills, such as death, the sacred, Eros, destiny, traditions, and history.

Design has abandoned its view of constant change in products and trends in the service of the market and now wants to be seen as the opposite of the ephemeral.

This means it needs to take a different approach to a number of aspects that have always been part of the design world: intellectual property and copyright, training and education, the city and the environment, the profession and technologies.

Questions in search of answers.

How does the figure of the designer change in this new scenario?
How is it possible to focus on the complex ecosystem that is emerging from the contrast between the reasoning behind mass production and that of new forms of Post-Fordist organisation?
What is the best way to describe the profile of the designer with regard to the increasingly close links with forms of social innovation that focus on the community and on local areas and cultures?
What things, what cities, what communities do we want to leave to our heirs?
What design after design?
Why design after design?
Where design after design?
When design after design?

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