What will remain after the orgy of webinars, live Instagram sessions and Zoom workshops on which so many furniture companies have relied to stay in touch with their audience, which ran the risk of being cut off by the health emergency? Above all, is this direct line really destined to last, and to connect the world of design with fans, as well as long-term and new clients?
The new big issue for communicators: telling the truth
Some people suspect that the pandemic has put design at a crossroads, and Francesco Morace is sure of it: “Communication, as never before, will have to tackle the big issue of ‘truth,’” says the visionary sociologist and president of Future Concept Lab. “Actually this is a phenomenon that was already in progress before the pandemic, though unfortunately it was still a minority position. People had begun to understand that visibility is no longer so decisive if it is not bound together with credibility. There is a very delicate relationship between what one communicates and what one really does, between storytelling and storydoing. You have to do what you narrate and narrate what you do, otherwise you will squander your store of credibility.” As if to say, a live moment on Instagram cannot suffice if you go back to the old mechanisms as soon as the camera is off.
For design brands the challenge will be to feature real people in real homes
“If the goal is to enter people’s homes, we began doing it before it was all the rage,” says Carlo Urbinati, founder of Foscarini. The latest initiative of the Venetian lighting brand famous for its inspired and poetic campaigns entrusted to illustrious creative talents is called Vite, (Lives), by the photographer and videomaker Gianluca Vassallo with the writer Flavio Soriga. The two traveled together to Naples, New York, Shanghai, Copenhagen and Venice to document the lives of people who have chosen a Foscarini lamp for their homes, in words in images. “But there is more to it,” Urbinati says. “The choice was to depict and narrate real people and real homes, not glossy studio settings. We have entered everyday situations that the world of design often refuses to look at without a certain snobbery. Dwellings with furniture and objects that are not always aesthetically impeccable, not always precisely functional, but reflect the feel of the lives of the inhabitants.”
Is this a change of perspective that can extend to advertising, beyond the phase of communication? “We might say that for Foscarini it is important to shift the viewpoint. We are not interested in narrating our lights by constructing hyper-controlled situations around them, where in any case one doesn’t get a sense of the central product, whether it is a lamp, a table or a sofa. I believe design has to get over this sense of insecurity that shows through in the setup of perfect scenes. The hundreds of video interviews broadcast in these months on TV or on the web have proven that perfection is not a part of reality. On the other hand, many people have become more aware of the shortcomings of their own spaces: our homes have showed their weak points, and that is an opportunity for design. This is why it is even more important to get into tune with a widespread feeling, also in the awareness that for some time the buying power of people will diminish, so when they do spend money they will have very high expectations. I believe we really do have to become more human.”
What comes first: the product or its story?
Humanism and personal history have always been the key concepts of the way of communicating of Antonio Aricò, a designer who has drawn on the story of his family, particularly of his grandfather, who was a carpenter, to tell a story that last year became an engaging biopic, Le radici e le ali. A film that brings together crafts and industry, Calabria and Milan, spirit and product, far from scenes of glamour, yet complementary to them: “Communication was already changing in design, and the pandemic has simply made the evolution faster,” Aricò says. “Those who didn’t have time to understand the mechanisms of Instagram and the potential of the social networks have had a chance to do so in this period, so companies and brands are there now, ready to seize the opportunities.”
In Aricò’s world the social networks are not the end but the means, in a reversed logic where communication, rather than product, is the real driver. “In the months to come we will see an acceleration of this process: to start from communication and trace back to the project. People will design by starting with the construction of a story, as if the brief came from the finale of a film, not from a brainstorming session. All this thanks to the fact that we have become digital, to the speed with which we are accustomed to gathering images, news and information.”
But the risk of losing control of the mechanism is definitely real. “Of course, around the corner pseudo-designers are lurking, the spokesmen of a pseudo-modernism. Years ago, as a student, I was intrigued by the forecast of this great historical moment that was supposed to arrive after post-post-modernism. Today the reality that is narrated on the social media or streamed there and has to do with processes of creativity is often a pseudo-reality, but the question is: what do we want to narrate? Who is our audience? Does the marketing of ourselves really have to form the basis of our design ambitions? My grandfather is part of the generation that experienced true ‘storydoing.’ I often tell his tale as an artisan because it has the charm of true stories.
Today, on the other hand, there are more and more ‘doingstories,’ and I won’t deny that I too (in a conscious way) can be intrigued by ‘invented’ narratives, or the ones formulated for that purpose. In the end, ‘inventing stories’ and not products is a new way of making product. The story is the true product, perhaps because the age of the product is truly finished.” So will design companies start to sell books, documentaries, films, palimpsests for the social networks? “Maybe,” the designer continues, “we will soon enter the era of metadesign, of everything that goes beyond the object, the piece of furniture, decoration and aesthetics. Clearly we will have to reinvent what we do, because our core business can no longer be based on matter, but has to shift into thought. Real? Invented? What is important is to assign priority to the elevation of our ‘status animae,’ and not our status symbols.”
Antonio Aricò, interview, 2016