Not Enough Women in the Design Industry!

Click here to view our coverage of the “Room for a Chair” seminar held at the beginning of the week at the Zagreb Hotel Regent Esplanade, where we also announced an interview with one of the seminar’s lecturers, Anna Lombardi, the Italian designer and design manager.

Lombardi has been in design for thirty years now, equally engaged in its theory and practice. Following her studies in Milan, she gained experience working for Alessandro Mendini, continued her education in London and ultimately opened her own office in Udine in 1988 . Her office is directed towards developing strategies for high-quality presentations of industrial design brands, she’s organized numerous workshops dealing with raising society’s awareness towards supporting design and has also initiated the ONLY FOR WOMEN Award, an international award for women in design. She’s currently a consultant at the Agency for Design Tradition and Development and teaches the course ‘Design’ at the University of Trieste.

Keep on reading to find out what Lombardi told us about her work, thoughts and design in Italy.

Your scope of work includes pointing out the significance and importance of design to the general public, how difficult or easy is it to practice something like that in Italy and what does your work imply?

Italy was always a country prone to art and I must admit that this aspect makes it a lot easier to raise the public’s awareness in view of art and industry design. In addition, I consider the fact that design has been experiencing a prosperous period within the last sixty years the main reason for Italy’s ties to design. The most credit goes to small factories that count a maximum of thirty employees, which in turn makes for relatively low expenses at the same time boosting their productivity, flexibility, and experimental possibilities. However, Italian factories still haven’t completely embraced the way of working that includes an inevitable engagement on the side of the designers themselves, only a handful work this way. Additional education is necessary, as is design orientation. The institutionalization of the national body is also necessary so as to help bring design closer to the public and make it even more pervasive. Among other things, that would result in the factory being able to select a designer and finding out all the practical issues that don’t have answers in the current scenario. My mission is to foster their merging.

What is the current situation in view of design in Italy?

Even in Italy, which many perceive as a design powerhouse, it’s not easy for a young designer to find and sustain work due to the recession and economic setbacks, so many designers head off to China, Korea or the US in search of work. This is a common occurrence. That’s precisely why I consider that our presence as design advocates is particularly important, so as to enlarge the volume of work and accept design as a highly important and valid export product, the same as any other (Italian). The public still isn’t sufficiently aware of those facts…

Croatian designers as well as their European counterparts consider the Milan “Salone di mobile” as a highly ample opportunity to promote their work; how is Milan Design Week perceived in Italy and what does it mean to you?

The event in Milan, alongside design weeks in London and Vienna, is definitely the most important happening of that sort in Europe, and that’s why it’s crucial it keeps growing. There isn’t an Italian designer who wouldn’t agree. The growth of the event in the recent years has been significant and commendable, especially in the context of promoting design in Italy and Italian design in the world. Milan, so to say, is the absolute center of Italian design, with a significant number of factories in its environs. However, it’s important to highlight the fact that design industry stretches across the entire country, converging in Friuli and Torino, and with Marche as the center of the kitchen industry… Milan is also a place of rich publication life, with a lot of magazines and journals on design and accompanying offices and publishing houses located in Milan and its surroundings. This increases the city’s significance in placing itself in the center of the map of design, and in guiding its citizens and visitors towards design.

As a design expert and a lecturer at the University of Trieste, how would you define the term “innovativeness” today?

I believe design has to encompass the spirit of modernity. That is the most important segment of the definition. One should be aware of research and progress. Materials are very important, and not just materials per se, but also the way in which they are used, all their characteristics. Also, one cannot avoid the ecological aspects, sustainability and contemplation of the use and consumption circle of a certain material. Furthermore, it is necessary to experiment with new materials, to use the possibility of technological development in design through de-contextualization, to use a certain material in different circumstances and scenarios. I believe all the aforementioned are ways of interpretation of modernity in design. Esthetics is not that important, it should come only after steps of contemplation and work have been assured.

What is your take on the contemporary in the technical sense, through the application of 3D modeling and numerous innovations that stand in for the more usual and necessary design elements, as well as contemplation of the product, sketch, model, etc.?

Excellence in computer literacy should be accompanied and complemented by highly developed drawing skills as well as the possibility of working on a real 3D model – a mock-up. I expect both my associates and students to practice and understand all stated aspects. Comprehending three-dimensionality is inevitable in design and the author needs to know to think that way in order to convey his or her vision “on paper.”

You’re one of the founders of the ONLY FOR WOMEN Award, and international award for women in design, which has been presented for the third year running, could you tell us something about that?

This is a very new project with a biennale-esque intensity. The project was initiated in collaboration with Area Declic, and is accompanied by extremely positive feedback, there were already 400 applications in the first year. Another important thing we insisted on is that at least one of the selected objects be produced. The idea stemmed from the reason that I believe that the ratio of women in the industry needs to be constantly re-examined and challenged, not only in the field of design, but in factories and prominent positions within the profession as well. During college, the ratio of men and women enrolling in design study programs is more or less the same, while later on, in the work arena, the number dwindles to the detriment of women. I wanted to motivate and encourage women in the design industry, but not only that. At the same time, I find it interesting to study whether there’s a certain signature and sensibility in the works that we’ll be able to, after several years of presenting the award, recognize as typically feminine – a certain kind of esthetic present both in product and chair design.