Paola Antonelli on Designing Ideas, Not Products

Paola Antonelli


When we named Paola Antonelli as a 2007 Master of Design, she hinted at her upcoming exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind, which included both actual and virtual objects by designers that “explore design’s response to the dramatic changes in scale that people must navigate every day, from the view of an entire city on Google Earth to a street map on our mobile phone, from intimate, one-on-one conversations to the vast reach of social networks.” This month, SEED Magazine delivers a fantastic article by the senior curator of architecture and design for the Museum of Modern Art–“A New Map for Design“–that takes that line of thinking a step further. Antonelli questions Milan’s furniture fair as ground zero for design’s future as the manufacturers once charged with cranking out hundreds of chairs in a factory no longer have the geographic pull on the industry:

Milan still represents a big red dot in the geography of design, but design is changing rapidly, and so are its maps. There are myriad forms of design, many of which don’t require movement of materials and artifacts; only curiosity, an internet connection, and the ability to seek, learn, and synthesize from other fields and cultures. These mutants are the future of design and the place to find them is not at big design trade fairs, but rather in interdisciplinary gatherings, pluralistic exchanges and, especially, in certain schools.

In the same way, she says, designers will flock to, and align with, centers of learning–conferences and school–as the objects that designers make rapidly shift from the tangible to the immaterial:

What is important now is the production of ideas: The poles have become lighter and more immaterial, having rid themselves of much of the baggage of material production. The geography of design has transformed; systems are now built around schools rather than industry.

Viewers of the industrial design film Objectified will be plenty familiar with Antonelli’s perspective, as she used her screen time there to stump for designers as idea-generators, even policy-makers in government. Of course, she was filmed at MoMA, and in the background sat a row of fancy show-stealing chairs. We’ll look to Antonelli to continue to lead the way for how designers’ ideas–not products–are preserved in the collections of museums for generations to come.


Masters of Design: Paola the Populist


[Via Joe Gebbia]

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.