Invention and empathy are the new tools to teach design to those who are under 30s, the generation of change. What matters is the fine tuning with their way of thinking and exploiting their great curiosity

* Massimo Zanatta, director of Istituto Marangoni Design Milano

In the last twelve months we have faced a didactic emergency. Suddenly switching to a new form of teaching – in the case of the Institute to Hybrid Learning – adapting to digital tools, tuning into students all over the world without losing their attention. And, in the following months, find alternative and engaging ways of transmitting knowledge, dealing with the emotional and human aspects, not just teaching. To focus clearly on who the boys born in the nineties are and what they are looking for in design. A task to which the pandemic crisis has forced us as never before.

We have a strong and resilient generation ahead of us because it is already the bearer of the change we are all talking about. They are different brains and intelligences, which subvert the way of thinking about design and concepts of form and function and are interested in the project in a systemic way. They want an organic knowledge of the world: they probably feel that speed must correspond to an equal measure of vision. Their attention is fluid, volatile. They use completely different cognitive tools, they move quickly from one topic to another and have a heightened sensitivity to global problems.

Our task is to give them the right tools to use a creativity that focuses above all on evolution, on the transition from the world as we know it. We cannot and must not judge the way of Generation Z to access and use knowledge, it is better to support them in imagining a different way of doing things. I would say that it is an ethical task and a privilege to look for ways to make teaching more effective, even if integrated, hybrid or remote. The learning experience of these kids is inevitably different and creativity and experimentation are on the agenda for both them and us. We used empathy and inventiveness, their curiosity and vivacity.

As a school, we have tried to constantly confront ourselves with colleagues, here and abroad, to activate additional teaching tools. Metal laboratories, remote prototyping, virtual sharing of design processes, emotional support implemented by professional psychologists… in this way the Hybrid Learning model worked. It is natural to constantly have the doubt that face-to-face teaching is intrinsically better, but it is a thought that must be verified and to which we cannot give much space for the moment.

According to the students, after the inevitable loss and thanks to the commitment and inventiveness of the teachers, it was possible to lay the foundations for a rewarding and formative learning experience, during which we all learned new things.

The under 30s are often more sensitive and more punctual than us in grasping current issues. They look at objects in the background of their life cycle, question themselves and look for alternative solutions to traditional production. They think of a world in which production and the environment coexist and communicate. For this the most important task is to give them sophisticated tools to understand reality. A critical method that guarantees them a competent and not superficial look at the themes that they, already autonomously, are able to grasp. I see it in their theses, in the project laboratories, in their research: digital, communication, lifestyle are their elective spaces.

To accompany them in their explorations, we invite international contributors. A choice paradoxically simplified by the pandemic: the IM Design Talks welcomed designers and professionals from all over the world thanks to the online mode, and were a very important resource to continue to nourish the liveliness and curiosity of young people. And it is precisely this fundamental vitality that drives us to believe that, aided by the analytical and creative tools that we are able to transmit, this generation will truly take us to a new world. In which I am not sure that design will exist as we have known it. But where design will be needed to live better.

Text collected by Elisa Massoni


Cover photo: Visual Design project by Giovanni Gridelli. ‘Memphis. The Color of Objects’, Istituto Marangoni, Milano Design City 2020.

Read here the in-depth analysis with the interview with the curator Stefano Caggiano