After the postmodern phase, which in the 1980s overturned the modernist perspective, putting the accent on the symbolic value of the object, in the early 1990s a historic parabola of design came to completion, opening up the contemporary era. From that moment on, and gradually into the present, the aesthetic and functional aspects have no longer been placed in ideological competition, driven by the debate as to which side has greater importance. The entrance into the present era of design is marked precisely by the weakening of any ranking that assigns priority to form over function, or vice versa.
Having set these scholastic oppositions aside, the ‘substance’ of contemporary design can present itself as a fluid blend of technique and aesthetics, technology and phenomenology, conceived from the phase of ideation of a product also on the basis of its communicative potential. The present panorama thus seems to be inhabited by segments of language in a solid state, imagined, produced and distributed to suggest plot lines that thrive on narration and communication. The contemporary world has transformed into paradigm what had been a slow, difficult conquest for historical design, the idea that the object is not just a tool that can be of service, but also a true act of cultural production, extending its meaning beyond the physical dimension and into a wider, deeper one made up of its essence as a story, poetry and suggestion, in a state of resonance with the society it embodies.
The semantic core of that system of meaning that is design, i.e. the product seen as a material artifact, is amplified and reverberates in the extended body of communication. The internal variety displayed by contemporary creativity is in fact the source and matrix of its communicative potential, which finds its maximum assertion not so much (or no longer) in the identification of a definitive solution, but in the spurting dispersion into a flow of guesses and explorations, open and proteiform. In other words, contemporary design is a ‘plural’ phenomenon, not because there are many players, but because its own expressive phenomenology requires it to split into multiplicity, into blurriness, into the transubstantiation of the aesthetic body of the product into narrative and communication.
To talk about the contemporary thus means talking about this continual variability, a freedom that is not an achievement but a kind of mingling, not an objective but transfusion and transliteration. While historical design tried to define many through his objects, contemporary design seems to be engaged in an effort to free man from any conclusive definition. Every new linguistic step introduced in design thus conveys not the assertion but the negation of an identity, of an arrival point, brought into being rather than into becoming.
Because, in the end, what we perceive is not what we are. We are not our things, but the mobile, elusive viewpoint on things. We are the motor, not the result of the continuous variation that is the substance of creative action. We are not the static counterpart of static objects, but a non-predeterminate exploration, an investigating gaze. We are ‘action’ and not ‘thing,’ liberation and not liberty. And if, as some have said, art is a form of resistance to communication, then design is a form of communication of resistance – the obstinate and reiterated, resolute and endless resistance to everything that tries to define us once and for all, sacrificing the flame of imagination to the physical immanence of previous creations.