Towards a Non-Ending: Lessons, Friendships and the Future
RISD Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design
Follow The Fellows Blog Post 4
July 24th, 2019
After spending about nine weeks with ABCittà, I am now approaching the end of my RISD Maharam Fellowship experience. As the city of Milan starts to slow down and become oddly silent for the summer holiday period, I would like to give a few updates on the latest developments that I have been a part of project-wise, reflect on my takeaways from this experience, and briefly try to make sense of my (many!) hopes for the implementation of the work I’ve done and knowledge I have acquired in my future design practice.
Before I get into some end-of-internship reflections, I would like to share some of the most recent developments that have been occurring on the Museums and Stereotypes kit I have been developing with Chiara and Anna. After testing the kit as a fully formed prototype of a product, we have been working to develop a second version which incorporates the feedback received, and that will be presented in October during the Museums and Stereotypes International Training School. Accessibility –both conceptual and physical– has been an extremely important factor in the production and development of this training tool. Type size, image contrast, color combinations and linguistic subtleties have been aspects that I have been forced to consider closely, and that I hadn’t thought about so intensely before starting my Fellowship in ABCittà.
During the re-working process of the kit, the feedback received by those who attended the workshop “Museum and Prejudice” was vital. Being able to collect feedback addressing both the conceptual and visual frameworks of this project allowed for a holistic redesign to happen, making the process not only productive but also extremely efficient.
The constant desire to produce objects and publications that are visually pleasing and aesthetically avant-garde (which is definitely a desire I have experienced at RISD many times!) often causes all that surrounds the realm of accessibility to be forgotten. Type size, color combinations, overlays and overlaps are all design elements that can be extremely intriguing to experiment with but, without proper consideration for the needs of the audience experiencing the end product, I ended up realizing that a “cool” design can jeopardize an effective delivery of the intended message. Because of this, we have been experimenting with increasing the size of the overall tool, using alternate technologies and seeking advice from experts in the field of accessibility, in order to present a re-iterated prototype that caters to a broader and more diverse audience.
In order to provide additional content without adding extra moving parts to the kit, we chose to experiment the idea of including additional information related to the images provided using augmented reality. Through a simple, user-friendly smartphone app (which supports Large Print, Audio-Descriptive Technology and Screen Reading) we were able to create a bibliography of all images present in the kit that can be accessed by anyone, making the experience of the kit’s materials as widely accessible as possible.
In October, during the Museums and Stereotypes International Training School program, I will be presenting (through a Skype call or prerecorded video!) the work that Chiara, Anna and I have been doing on this product, articulating a series of reflections on design methodologies that we explored and critically assessed during the conceptualization of this project. Demystifying how projects like this come to life, and recognizing the contributions that external individuals make are in my opinion actions that as designers we ought not only to engage in, but also promote, as they allow people to recognize not only the importance that designers and artists have within frameworks other than the fine arts and strict architecture and design, but also the need to apply new, sometimes divergent ways of thinking to contemporary problems in order to come up with new solutions.
Working in a participatory planning context all summer, across a variety of areas, has been an incredibly transformative experience for me as a creative thinker and designer. The willingness to not only let go of one’s individual ideas, but also consider how non-designers have contributions to make that are just as valid –if not more!– are skills which are sometimes challenging to master, especially when one operates in a design environment for the majority of the year, but I firmly believe that seeing how ABCittà seamlessly operates through five interdisciplinary areas (Urban Regeneration, Education, Museums and Society, Communication and Inter-culture) gave me a whole new perspective on co-design, its importance and potential avenues for implementation in projects that range from architectural design to concept and product development.
An image from the public consultation event “BinG Bang,” one of the first participatory planning activities I was able to partake in within ABCittà. This activity was a fundamental springboard for my understanding of participatory planning and its effectiveness, and to this day I treasure it as one of my fondest memories of my time in ABCittà.
I am so grateful to have had the chance to meet and work with every single person I crossed paths with in ABCittà. As I start to write my usual packing list to return back to the United States after the summer, I am noticing that I am adding a lot of non-tangible things I want to bring back to RISD, many of which I have learned and acquired from all of the ABCittadini (literally, ABCitizens) I have worked with. Cristian’s mind-blowing mind mapping and visual facilitation skills, Diego’s unprecedented calm and collected approach to the most tedious of projects, the beyond-imaginable energy of the Museums and Stereotypes duo and Marta’s incredibly wholesome approach to design and visual communication are some I can think of off the top of my head, but there are so many more that I will be slowly processing in the coming weeks. In all honesty though, I think the biggest thing I will be taking with me is the tenacious desire to “just do things” that everyone in ABCittà has: I confess that I know very few people who fully believe in the projects they work on or collaborate within, and the extremely passionate way of approaching (literally!) everything that I witnessed in ABCittà was of great inspiration to me. All of my newfound ABCittà colleagues and friends will always be the superheroes of participatory planning in my eyes!
As a celebratory moment at the end of my time in ABCittà, we all gathered for a classic Italian aperitivo, which was a wonderful way to get together outside of the office, reflect on all of our experiences during the summer and discuss our hopes for future collaborations and projects.
As a fun way to end my time in ABCittà, Cristian surprised me at my farewell aperitivo with a self-reflection activity from the Visual Facilitation Cookbook, a resource that I introduced ABCittà to about halfway through my Fellowship. In this activity, a line drawing of a hand is used to generate specific reflections related to an event or experience. The thumb is something you liked, that you appreciated and could give a thumb up to. Thee index finger is used to point out something. The middle finger is a well-known opponent to the thumb and usually means something you didn’t like. The ring finger is something that struck you emotionally and something you take into your heart. The little finger is something that there wasn’t enough of, a detail that you noticed despite all the rest. The middle of the palm is a place for noting down what you would like to take with you, something that you can carry away in the palm of your hand. Simple, huh? I have chosen to not share what we all wrote on our hand templates, but all I can say is that it was an extremely heartwarming experience for all of us!
I now believe it is “that time of the blog post:” time for some very overdue thanks to everyone I had a chance to work with during these incredibly fast-paced nine weeks. First of all, a very special thanks to my incredible fellowship supervisor Chiara who not only managed all of the admin-related aspects of my time in ABCittà, but also allowed me to work on such engaging components of the Museums and Stereotypes program. Also, a huge thank you to Cristian, who involved me in the day-to-day life of ABCittà’s Urban Regeneration area since day one, becoming not only a wonderful mentor but also a sounding board for ideas and the most varied of design challenges. Thank you to Ulderico, ABCittà President, whom, despite having one of the busiest schedules, was always able to make time to crack a joke or discuss the newest updates on projects. Thank you to Anna, museologist with an unprecedented willingness to smile and approach everything in the most positive of ways. Thank you to Simone and Valentinafor involving me in the design process of Dairago’s new green space for children. Thank you to Marta, Diego and Paola, for always being such welcoming presences in the office (and great lunch break companions!) And finally, despite the fact that I haven’t had a chance to work with them directly, thank you to Renata, Annamaria, Marta, Simone(and Simone!) for welcoming me with a smile.
As a small parting gift for all of the wonderful people I had a chance to work with in ABCittà, I chose to design custom tote bags with one of my favorite drawings I worked on from my time in ABCittà. I chose to design the bags with ABCittà’s 20 year celebratory logo, as a way to not only celebrate my time with the organization, but also their two decades of investment in participatory planning and co-design processes.
And finally, as a closing thought, I would like to share a reflection from Bruno Munari’s famous book Da Cosa Nasce Cosa – Notes for a Methodological Design which I have always admired, but that has found new fertile ground after this Fellowship experience: “Progresso è quando si semplifica, non quando si complica.” (Progress is when one simplifies, not complicates.)
Grazie ancora ABCittà!
I am so incredibly thankful to have had the chance to work with such wonderful and knowledgeable people for the duration of my Fellowship and, despite my time in ABCittà now being over, I am excited to keep up with their work and continue collaborations on programs such as the Museums and Stereotypes International Training School in October…and much more to come!
Grazie a tutti ABCittadini!