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How designers write: Notes on compared readings for a discipline of language

Is there such a thing as a design language? The rapid growth of design in Italy beginning in the earliest decades of the past century, witnessed the concurrent rise of a specific language that appeared in the writings of the authors of industrial design (artists and craftsmen), as well as those of its theorists (designers and ideologists) or even critics (art critic authors).

This paper is meant to appraise design literature from a historical perspective, through the linguistic analysis of texts by its most important exponents (Ponti to Rosselli, to Munari and Mendini). The goal is to discern the main linguistic features of one of the most representative productive fields in twentieth-century Italian civil life.

The expected goal is twofold: to begin, as is the case with other disciplines, a study of the linguistic and expressive forms that arose from theoretical changes in the field of design, and to gather into a Glossary the terms that become typical of the design language.

Thanks to the description of the distinctive features of linguistic expression in writings on and about design, we wish to contribute to the definition of the individuality of the design discipline, which reflects the syncretism of the specific activities involved in it: from the different phases of industrial production, to design theory, which has always relied on artistic and aesthetic approaches of its time. This analysis bears in mind the principle that a language used to explain and illustrate a practice in perpetual transformation such as design, is itself “living matter”.


The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.

Questo articolo è stato pubblicato in AIS/Design Storia e Ricerche, numero 6 settembre 2015

Elena Dellapiana

Elena Dellapiana, Architect, PhD, is Associate Professor of Architecture and Design History in the Department of Architecture & Design at the Politecnico di Torino (Italy). She is a scholar of architecture, town and design history of the nineteenth and twentieth century, with several papers and books on Italian and European architects and on the transmission of architectural culture in arts academies, applied arts museums, the discussion about historical sources and historicism. In 2013 she collaborated to Made in Italy. Rethinking a Century of Italian Design edited by K. Fallan and G. Lees Maffey (Bloomsbury). She is one of the authors of Storia del’architettura italiana: L’Ottocento edited by A. Restucci (Milan: Electa, 2005) and a member of several research groups. Among her recent publications: Il design della ceramica in Italia (1850-2000) (Milan: Electa, 2010) and Il design degli architetti italiani 1920-2000, with F. Bulegato (Milan: Electa, 2014). With G. Montanari, Una storia dell’architettura contemporanea (Torino: Utet, 2015).

Anna Siekiera

Anna Siekiera Graduated in History of the Italian Language, earning her PhD in Italian Linguistics from the University of Florence in June 1998. Since 2005 she has been Associate Professor of Italian Linguistics at the University of Molise, where she currently teaches the History of the Italian Language, Italian Linguistics, and Dante Studies. Her research studies focus on the diverse areas of the history of the Italian language in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, based on manuscripts, incunabula and sixteenth-century texts – from vernacular translations and treatises in different thematic areas, to describe linguistic phenomena such as the sixteenth-century Florentine language and various aspects of culture. She twice served (2006 and 2008) as head of the research unit studying Literature in the Visual Arts. Her publications include Tradurre per musica (Paris, “Belles Lettres” 2000), edition of Descrittione del Palazzo ducale d’Urbino di Bernardino Baldi (Alessandria, 2010).

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