italiaDesign is an eight-month long undergraduate field school offered by the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University that contributes to the discourse of Italian design, history, and culture.
The field school is comprised of three phases—four months of deep research, two months of living and conducting interviews in Italy, and two months of post-production work.
As one of 12 senior design students selected to participate in this legacy project, our team conducted in-field research and interviews which were produced into a film series. These films emphasise the personal design philosophies of 18 designers that can be viewed on the italiaDesign—11th Edition website.
Shannon Boyd, Elizabeth Chan, Annette Cheung, Tobi Cheung, Kosuke Futsukaichi, Sean Leach, Sabrina Ng, Summer-Lee Schoenfeld, Mark Strathern, Sonia Yau, Rana Zokai, Russell Taylor—Field School Director
Designer, Art Director, Photographer
Excerpts from the interviews of Odo Fioravanti, Kazuyo Komoda, Armando Milani, Sean Wolcott
Defining our design principles & visual approach
The 11th Edition of italiaDesign is a continuation of a legacy project that has been running the past 17 years. Each iteration of the field school follows a similar process but results in a distinct output of research, media production and web design.
Every field school team has the opportunity to create a unique identity that represents their values and approach to design. Our team defined three principles that helped guide the design, content strategy, and art direction of our digital experience.
1. Honour the designer
In every facet of digital experience, our team aimed to represent the designer authentically and with respect. In practice, we minimized the presence of our team in order to highlight featured designers as well as the insights learned in field school.
2. Respect the content
An extension of representing the designer and their work with accuracy and care; content organization played an integral role in crafting the design of the website.
3. Embracing ambiguity
An approach by Massimo Vignelli described in the Vignelli Canon, our team was interested in exploring how ambiguity could evoke “plurality of meaning” through the design.
In parallel to defining these design principles, our team also pursued a tactile process to begin visualising how the website could look like. To initiate this ideation phase, we collected imagery and design precedents we were inspired by, and then distilled these visual artefacts into distinct themes. This process revealed our inclination towards a Modernist design language, as we appreciated its timeless quality and striking elegance. To conclude our visual exploration, our design team—myself, Kosuke Futsukaichi, and Michael Lo—outlined two approaches that became significant pillars in shaping the digital experience:
1. Adopting a print-paradigm
We were interested in translating the form and content structure of a poster or editorial spread to a digital context; while taking inspiration from the graphic works of our subjects: Armando Milani, Sean Wolcott, and Jekyll & Hyde.
2. Experimenting with typographic scale
Massimo Vignelli’s perspective on visual power prompted us to consider how we could use contrasting scales of type that challenge the range of legibility to create a powerful expression in our design.
The form—key user experience decisions behind the design of the website
The film series
The website aims to evoke emotion and an immersive experience primarily through visual storytelling complemented by slow-revealing interactions. Viewers are first introduced by the headline copy that bleeds off the page prompting them to discover the Film Series.
Within the film series section, large-scaled numbers are used to visually categorise the films into three discrete volumes. This structure prompts a clear entry point to the series and provides a linear narrative arc where viewers can hopefully gain a fuller understanding of the contemporary discourse of Italian design.
The field school legacy
This page provides viewer access to the websites and interviews conducted by previous field school groups from italiaDesign and dutchDesign.This page was an adaption of dutchDesign 2017’s legacy page iterated to streamline the experience. This design provides the ability to switch between the two field schools—italiaDesign or dutchDesign. By organizing content within a lateral structure, viewers are able to easily navigate from the field school year and to a specific linked video of their choice.
The credits and behind-the-scenes
Through user testing, a valuable insight our team gained was that the credits page did not meet the expectation of most field school alums. In the past, this page is typically dedicated to highlight each team member and their personal experience of field school. Since we chose not to reveal any personal content and instead placed more focus on the locations we experienced, this way of representing ourselves fell short for field school alums who were interested in learning more about each of us on the team.
As a result, we redesigned the layout and experience of the page to include a behind-the-scenes section that showed a glimpse of us in production. This iteration allowed an opportunity to reveal small moments of surprise and delight by featuring the behind-the-scenes section as additional material.
Establishing the art direction—how we honour featured designers & represent our team
As the Art Director, I had the opportunity to establish and execute on the visual approach for our imagery, film work, and website. The idea was to honour our featured designers by capturing the essence of their personality as well as their design philosophy.
To achieve this concept across our moving and still imagery, still, long takes of the designers working in their studio and shots of their interactions with their work were weaved into the visual sequences of our interviews. Portraits of the designers were captured in close proximity.
As a way to continue maintaining emphasis on the featured designers, I captured our team from afar in compositionally framed within architectural and natural landscapes we experienced during field school. These subtle distant portraits of our team members minimised our presence and contrasted to how the featured designers were being represented.◾
Entering into Kazuyo Komoda's interview