AIS/Design Storia e Ricerche #4: Italian Material Design: Learning from History (July 2014)

Deadline for submissions: 7 July 2014

Editors:  G. Bosoni and M. Ferrara

The 4th number of the “Ais/Design. Storia e Ricerche” Journal (expected journal publication November 2014), is proposed as an occasion of confrontation on the theme of the relationship between materials and Italian design. The aim of this call is to collect a series of original contributions with unpublished writings or re-positioning well known stories, that provide documentary evidence of the proposed topic (the particular attention of the Italian Design to materials, technologies and productive processes), with its various stories – product, fashion, interiors, visual, etc. – also focusing on how communication design contributed to build this myth. Even if based on the Italian history, the call also demands a other contributions that could compare foreign episodes and experiences with these Italian realities to better understand the specificities of the Italian case.

Several theoretical contributions (Bosoni & De Giorgi 1983; Branzi 1983, 1984, 1996; Antonelli 1995; Doveil, 2002)[1], analyzing the history of Italian products, pointed out a particular capacity of Italian design to apply materials and technological processes.  Italian designers’ and entrepreneurs’ way of work that “imaged” and “interpreted” materials, conferred a specific character to the Italian industrial design, generating innovation both of languages and uses, to the point that a new sense of materials was defined, re-elaborated by the Italian design research, one that goes beyond the strictly technological innovation.  There was the coming  out of the idea of an Italian way to technology innovation in the field of design that bases itself upon a thin historical dialogue between technique and aesthetic and on the particular attention that designers dedicated to the symbolic-communicative values of materials.  This specific design method, led to a generation of manufactures that still today wonder for their surprising and sophisticated use of materials and techniques, as well as for the elaboration of ideas that broke up a consolidate knowledge introducing elements of discontinuity – compared to the common thought – anticipating social aspirations and supporting the growth of new life styles.  This “Italian way” of doing innovation, communicated through exhibitions, polish visual artefacts and theoretical materials diffused by media, is the place of a mythology that still supports the image of the Italian design, even if in the last decades only few researches have gone deeper into the subject trying to understand the motivations at the base or to develop this supposed Italian peculiarity.

Authors could propose contributes (essays, researches, micro-stories) that deal with the call taking inspirations from the following questions:

 –       What could have been the creative and innovative dynamics in the relation materials-design-production in Italy?  What the prominent moments, actors and above all histories not yet unveiled and technical flops?

 –       What kind of material innovation and production histories emerge from the political and economical history? What from the technological one, the history of industries and patents? How could these histories  be read in the Italian design culture context? What kind of role had the conditions developed during some specific historical moments? What new reconstruction of the Italian material design emerges from the study of industries, exhibitions, collections and archives?

 –       How has Italian design contributed to build, diffuse and call into question the identity of materials and technologies? In which way have  materials and productive processes been interpreted when defining a new life/identity/image of products? What kind of tensions and contradictions do stories of Italian design related to the material culture reveal?

–       Which are the founding characteristics of the Italian culture of Material Design?

 –       Does This supposed peculiarity of the Italian design match with reality, or is it only a myth because the competence to apply materials is intrinsically connected to the designer’s know-how in every context? What are the relationships with international design theories and histories?

–       If it  is a specific Italian capacity, why is that so? What are the fundamental reasons that allowed this development? What kind of role have material culture, traditional crafts, relationships with arts, context conditions and practical know-hows had?

–       What role have visual and exhibit design had in the creation of the myth of Italian Material Design? What kind of exhibitions and museums (art, applied art, science and technology, industrial heritage, fashion, architecture etc.) involved Italian materials design and which kind of narration emerged from them?

 –       In what way did Italian design contribute to stimulate the international design landscape toward a strong attention to the characteristics of materials and its interpretation?
 Proposals that provide less known and studied histories, possibly documented by archive sources and inedited materials, will be particularly well accepted.
The chronological focus for contributions will be the XX century; anyway also contributions that extend their view beyond this period can be taken into account
 For the book reviews section, authors could propose reviews of books with pertinent topics related to this number of “Ais/Design. Storia e Ricerche”, as well as reviews of exhibitions related to the history of Italian design.

Full texts must be received by July 7, 2014.
Submit to: and
All texts will be blind reviewed by peer experts.
Authors will be informed of the results by August 25, 2014.
Authors of accepted papers will submit the final version of their text by October 1, 2014.
To discuss proposals and for more information, please contact Marinella Ferrara and Giampiero Bosoni writing to: and

The proposed contribution must be original texts – not already appeared in other publications, journals or books in any language.
Texts will be divided into the following categories:
1. essays (texts with a theoretical, critical, and methodological stance that offer an in deep discussion or a re-reading of broad historical arguments and questions) [20,000-30,000 characters / 3,000-4,500 words]
2. research (writings based on studies conducted on primary sources and offering original historical insight into specific topics or stories) [20,000-30,000 characters / 3000-4500 words]
3. micro-histories (writings that analyze peculiar and specific stories, that have been neglected so far or that also draw on the border areas of the discipline) [10,000-15,000 characters / 1500-2250 words]
4. reviews (of exhibitions, books, major events etc.) [5000-10,000 characters / 800-1200 words]
5. news (events or exhibitions, publication of books, openings, etc.) to be published on the AisDesign website.
Each text will be accompanied by an abstract of up to 100 words (600 characters) both in Italian and English version (for a total of 200 words / 1200 characters), a list of max. 5 keywords in Italian and English, and by a short bio of the authors of max. 120 words (800 characters) both in Italian and English version (for a total of 240 words / 1600 characters).
About images/pictures, authors will provide copyright-free images or images for which they obtained rights/permission of publication (for “Ais/Design. Storia e Ricerche” online journal), accompanied by full captions (including credits). Images must be sent in JPG format with a  minimum resolution of 580×700 pixel.
Detailed information about types of contributions (essays, research, micro-histories, reviews, news), texts and images editing and editorial guidelines, are available at the following links:

See also:

About Fil Salustri
I'm a design methodologist and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Adjectives that describe me include: secular humanist, meritocrat, and long-winded. Some people call me a positivist too, as if that were a bad thing. Go figure. My real home page is

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