08 March 2019

Moving in the contemporary design landscape: the rise of independent designers who mix traditional craftsmanship with modern maker technologies. 

Gianfranco Setzu and Monica Casu are two independent designers who work between Milan and Sardinia. They curate their self-produced objects in limited series by mixing craftsmanship knowledge with contemporary maker technologies. Since 2015 they have been lecturers on the three-year Interior Design course at IED Cagliari. We asked them to tell us what road contemporary design is going down and how their activity as independent designers fits into this panorama. 

What road is the contemporary design on? 

In an increasingly multifaceted and multitasking system, we constantly question ourselves on the new possibilities and dimensions to confront and build a dialogue. 

An interesting point of view is proposed by the artistic duo MASBEDO (Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni), designers who, at the last Manifesta in Palermo, stated, “If art is not fierce, it is design”. An affirmation that would bring much of contemporary art into the realm of design and some of design into the realm of art. But this statement also emphasises the futility of the blurred boundary between the two disciplines. They collide in design galleries, which already seem to be contradictions but have more and more space and importance. Many designers produce art, and many artists (think of Olafur Eliasson) create design. This confronts us with objects that are increasingly conceptual and less and less functional. Mere functionalism is left to global brands, and research and experimental design - unattainable in costs and limited editions - hides in design galleries. 

During the numerous design weeks, we can admire the new design establishment increasingly seeking visibility and self-exaltation. Jasper Morrison’s assertion that a particular design is made by PR is increasingly topical and prophetic: proof of this is that we do not find many of the productions we see in newspapers and magazines on the market. There is, therefore, a separation between the design represented and the design used and experienced, which leaves a wide gap where, once again, appearance and substance are opposed. 

This gap is partly filled by independent productions, which can be bought and experienced, tell a new and sophisticated lifestyle story, and live in our homes. They are self-produced, tangible, concrete, researched, and possible objects that communicate the culture of know-how indispensable to their production and quality. 

The new independent and self-produced design sector exists far from design galleries and undoubtedly has no resources to invest in PR and advertising in glossy magazines. However, it is close to the educated buyer, unsatisfied with an approximate standard. 

Hence, our choice, as designers, to be independent to be able to produce concretely and challenge ourselves actively in a panorama, that of design, which seeks less and less dialogue with the new and more and more a showcase for glamorous design that gets people talking a lot, but has little to say. 

Our projects and research always pay deep attention to processes and production details, which require care and dedication. We try to convey this know-how to our students and communicate the idea of a designer who produces, along with research values, quality, and authenticity. 

We believe frontiers are waiting to be broken down towards a new design showing more quality, culture, and less vacuity. As Achille Castiglioni used to say, “If you’re not curious, let it go”. 

Gianfranco Setzu & Monica Casu 

Author: Carla Serra 

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