Two learning methods that use psychology to learn to be a designer: because the discipline is academic but without human skills it goes nowhere

Design is not only made up of disciplinary and technical skills, but also of talent, curiosity and human skills. Elusive, delicate qualities that must be treated with care.

We talked about it with Francesco Pace, aka Tellurico, who for the first time was a project teacher at Naba. And with the designer Lorenzo Palmeri and the journalist Paolo Casicci, who this summer held the first edition of DesignMind, an immersive summer school for design students.

All three were tempted to design a course that was outside the box and broad in vision. They did it starting from the idea that design today deals with bringing together many skills, starting from a very human factor: creative talent.

Read also: What is a design school today?

The Athenian school on the Tortona hills

Lorenzo Palmeri explains: "The model from which Paolo Casicci and I started is the Athenian school, to bring students data and experiences that are not part of traditional teaching but which, as soon as they finish their studies, become the daily bread of designers: the relationship with the client, money, failures and mistakes, self-confidence and creative crises".

DesignMind was born from the certainty that cultural and professional taboos must be faced and that projects proceed through successive stages of eclectic knowledge yet very focused on adhering to reality with ever greater precision.

Thus, pursuing an idea that had been hovering in Palmeri's design practices for some years already, a complex educational project full of unpredictable variables was built, companies selected for coherence and social commitment were convinced to become partners, eleven students are selected from all over Italy. And in July 2023 DesignMind starts.

The place is Castellania Coppi, on the Tortona hills. The theme is to bring a sustainable and socially significant design sign to the territory.

“The most recurring adjective to define the first DesignMind experience is: “transformative”. Alongside their colleagues Lorenzo Palmeri and Paolo Casicci they also invite counselors, entrepreneurs and professionals selected for their human quality and planning ability to "lecture".

. “Openly addressing the most human issues seemed fundamental to me. Alice Chirico, for example, who has been dealing with the theme of profound wonder for years. It's not school, it's human experience."

Learning to be as well as do

Transversal knowledge that also takes care of doubts, creative anxieties, self-esteem and resilience. “There has never been a formal teaching moment, but a series of real situations in which you learn from others, share and build with others”. Paolo Casicci adds: "The moments dedicated to ideational work were short and intense, punctuated by two meetings a day which systematically called into question what had been done due to the intersection of new knowledge and increasingly broader narrative visions”.

Francesco Pace: "I don't criticize, I don't impose, I invite you to think about yourself"

The human element, that mysterious and unpredictable part that neuroscience tries to explain to give shape to the creative process, without on the other hand making teachers too curious. Francesco Pace's work starts from here.

During his first course as a project teacher at Naba he proposed that students work without a brief and instead investigate themselves. “I believe it is important to start with the basic tools, from the construction of a design identity that starts from one's own culture and experiences, and then broadens with curiosity to the definition of a personal research,” he explains.

“Who are you?” is the question to start from

“I invited them to reflect and discuss what they know best: themselves. Define yourself with a name, a surname, a country of origin, a gender. On this basis we can begin to investigate the historical and folkloric elements, the material resources, the production processes.

As well as geographical conditions and their specificity in the natural environment: botany, geology, telluric movements. Anything that might be interesting starting from their daily experience, which they can work on independently, bringing content that they know well and, therefore, is interesting."

The teacher has a synthetic role, as an enabler of conversation between peers, according to Francesco Pace. Everyone, in a climate of research and curiosity, has the opportunity to exchange knowledge, comment and discuss.

“The first part of the course is focused on defining a topic, a valid and concrete theme around which to build an alphabet of recurring signs and elements. My job was above all to help identify the parts that can work. Materials, objects, typologies, processes, absences that can result in a product".

Enable the talent

The general advice for a novice professor is to take into account the young age and inexperience of the students. A starting point not shared by Pace: "The opposite is true: if they have the opportunity, they respond with strength and intelligence to the uncertainty present in the lives of all designers." That he doesn't always have a brief and a client, but he must have the energy to believe in his own research and, perhaps, arrive at self-production to make his debut in a first public discussion.

Francesco Pace: “The results of the course amazed me. There are those who started from the architecture of their city to extrapolate a visual code starting from the construction details, and then use them in the design of a collection of accessories. Or those who started from a physical condition (an irritable intestine) to delve deeper into the causes and then design objects to relieve tension, drink a lot and eat slowly".

The point is that, although design is a profession whose final container is the community, it starts from an introspective process, from a personal question that increasingly extends to the universal. And the starting question is difficult, ambiguous, evasive.

It takes honest and passionate work to ask ourselves and respond effectively: what do I need?