Podcasts give a design a voice. What’s behind an increasingly successful tool to share culture as well as branded content

Voice is a primordial instrument, with unexpected strengths. Despite its natural preference for images, even the digital world has started to notice its power, a shift that has a lot to do with podcasts.

If you are doubtful about this, let's start from scratch that is from understanding what a podcast is. It is an audio format designed to transmit serial content. And it works, for many good reasons.

First of all, you listen to a podcast while doing something else, letting yourself be carried away by sounds, voices, words. Without a request for great concentration, in short, one enters and exits a story, is captured by a detail, stops and resumes at will. Then there is the fact that a podcast often focuses on timeless content. This, together with the natural slowness of the medium, turns it into a potentially more vivid memory that an image or a video. Last, but not least, there is that almost mythological reference to the oral storytelling which have refined for centuries the intelligence the narrative.

Design obviously has its podcasts. The progenitor of the genre is Debbie Millman who, in 2005, inaugurated the genre with her Design Matters, the first podcasts to question the culture of design and creative culture in general. With us, in Italy, it is a more recent phenomenon: it was born quietly, in an almost homely way, and it has recently been refined and found its way within the communication plans of designeers, companies, museums.

Podcasts are now used to tell a design story in a way that mixes pop with professionalism, as Caffè Design has been doing for some years. Or it is chosen to (literally) give a voice to the designers, like Parola Progetto di Paolo Ferrarini. It can also be a solid bridge between museums and the public. For example, Luciano Galimberti, president of ADI - Associazione per il Disegno Industriale, has ventured into the genre with his 33 piccole’ storie di design - 33 Little Design Stories. As did two journalists and curators such as David Plaisant and Alice Rawsthorn, for the Milan Triennale.

A quick glance on this world is enough to understand that the ingredient to make a podcast a successful program is a mix of factors but above all the presence of a curator-moderator who knows not only to select contents and characters to consult, but also and above all leave them the necessary space to express themselves at their best.

“I like to let people talk, I don't like the protagonism”, explains David Plaisant (who, in addition to taking care of the podcasts for the Triennale, is also a collaborator of the prestigious Monocle magazine). “My competence is to ask the right questions, to enter a sphere that lies on the border between the personal and the professional, to bring out the most interesting contents”.

As a matter of fact, podcasts live in the ears of the listener as an informal chat. There is not a great manipulation of language: if anything, a sophistication of the contents that makes the story interesting thanks to the editing, sounds and music.

“The podcast has its own peculiarities, like all instruments” notes Paolo Ferrarini. “The first experiments were really naive: recordings made with cell phones, with background noises and no direction". Then we learned from the Americans that with the podcast you can create interesting economies and, above all, that things can be done well even with little. With a minimum investment you can equip yourself for a semi-professional studio at home. “But to do things well, you need serious projects, well-done content editing that requires time and skills”, continues Ferrarini. Time is the real issue: “The podcast is listened on the go, the ideal duration is twenty minutes because it is the time it takes an average person to get to work”. Or to make the beds in the morning if you can't leave the house.

And is it possible to talk about design too? It seems so, or at least B&B Italia must be convinced that it is since it has entrusted David Plaisant with a series entitled The Couch. An interesting branding experiment through audio content. “It was an idea intended to cover the Salone del Mobile and the many designers who gather around the company during the design week”, explains Plaisant. The show was moved due to Covid, but the project remained and became a pleasant presence in really tough times for design. A succession of interviews to take your breath away, to listen to while you work or while you travel to go shopping outside the house. Also thanks to the choice of the English language, which made it possible to listen to designers from all over the world.

Read also here: the launch of the podcast of B&B Italia The Couch in spring 2020

Maybe the podcast could be a tool to reach a wider and younger audience? “I don't want to have a condescending attitude towards young people”, says Plaisant. “I like that they are interested in what they want: the design culture makes sense for those who have a specific interest in it. So The Couch is a product with interesting but not record-breaking ratings: I believe it's a medium that needs time and has a really long life cycle”. For peace of mind of those who want immediate results and instant consumption of content. “The kids have very specific interests, they are specialized and they know where to look for what interests them. It is not a question of broadening the public but of giving it the opportunity to go deeper in contents we are interested in”.

David Plaisant is doing it, with a new series of podcasts for the Triennale that will be published in February. “They will be conversations with international professionals from different disciplines: a way to start talking about the themes of the next Triennale in 2022”. If you can't wait to put on your earphones and immerse yourself in enlightening speeches while cleaning the windows in view of spring, we understand you.


Cover photo: new Wood version of Twiggy lamp, design Marc Sadler for Foscarini. Ph. Gianluca Vassallo.