Canadian Wool Month & WOO Stories: Unveiling Creativity amid Challenges

At Arts & Labour, we’re passionate about creativity and innovation. In this article, Mariana Grezova, the Founder and Creative Director, will share her journey with The Campaign for Wool and her WOO Stories project, highlighting the challenges, opportunities and surprises encountered.

The Campaign for Wool, led by its Patron, the former Prince of Wales, has since 2010 passionately advocated for showcasing the unique benefits of wool. Beyond underlining the importance of supporting this sustainable industry, the Campaign champions the well-being of farmers and communities globally. The organization’s influence extends across borders, featuring collaborations with design and fashion brands like Andreas Murkudis, Barbour, Droog, John Galliano, Knoll, Mark & Spencer, John Smedley, UGG or Vivienne Westwood. 

Holt Renfrew, Campaign for Wool Canada to spotlight the latest in fashion with 2021 Capsule Collection
The Campaign for Wool Canada was honoured to welcome HRH the Prince of Wales back to Canada in support of the Platinum Jubilee at Government House in St. John Newfoundland and Labrador in May 2022.
Marks & Spencer 2021 launched THE ORIGINALS – Reworked-Remade-Responsible
Highgrove and the Prince’s Foundation have collaborated with Johnstons of Elgin to create the Highgrove Heritage Scarf.

Upon discovering The Campaign for Wool and its inspiring celebrations, particularly Wool Month, I was eager to connect. I reached out to the Canadian office, presenting my WOO Stories project with the goal of contributing to one of their future celebrations.

A selection of the digitally replicated swatches

The synergy felt right, and it was. The concept resonated with genuine enthusiasm. At its core, the project involves digitally replicating hand-knitted patterns, transforming them into independent knitted figures, and integrating them as characters of my short animations. Uninhibited by anything except the page edge and their own unique preferences, each character often behaves much like we might if similarly liberated.

A selection of the replicated knitted forms: vessels with tentacles and paper planes below

Subsequently, with The Campaign for Wool Canada’s president Matthew J. Rowe, we delved into the collaborative process, exploring objectives, designs, deliverables, and budgets. However, just as we were ready to kickstart the production phase, our engaging communications unexpectedly came to a halt. The collaboration was put on hold. 

The question arises: was the collaboration paused due to the transition of The Campaign for Wool’s patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, to King? Or was it affected by post-pandemic economic strains, with organizations coping amid rapidly shrinking marketing budgets?

A selection of the Canadian Wool Month & WOO preliminary collection for the H project

Disappointed with the abrupt disruption while grateful for the initial enthusiasm, I had to part with the vision of seeing the project with its animations and newly designed WOO collection realized. Despite looking forward to collaborating with organizations like the Canadian Guild of Knitters and NONIA, I had to accept the reality.

If these walls could talk
Me, myself & I
If you want it

The evolution of the WOO project continues with unwavering determination. Since the pause, the knitted characters have become monarchs of my own creative output. Each claims a life of its own choosing. Their animated stories keep unraveling and expressing more strangeness that can be as visual as emotional. Undeterred, I believe that one day, they will not only help honour the Canadian Wool Month celebration but will do so with a fully realized and triumphant collaboration.

Mariana Grezova, Founder and Creative Director of Arts & Labour, facilitates collaborations between pioneering brands and creative professionals. She leads A&L MAG, an online publication highlighting diverse art and design projects worldwide.


The Graffiti Wars: Punks vs Homeowners in Little Portugal

The other day, my friend was showing me a series of kids’ murals displayed at Ontario Place. He liked the idea of using whimsical portraits to boost the appearance of neglected public places. In fact, he decided to replicate it on his own property. Fed up with the unsolicited graffiti on his neighbours’ garages, he believed that an artwork would improve the look of his garage and discourage potential vandalism.

New Futures, 2018, Ontario Place, a selection of murals completed by youth, aged 9-13, from the Street Art summer camp at Design Exchange in Toronto.

This “decorate to discourage” movement has become highly noticeable in my own neighbourhood, Little Portugal. Its back alleys, populated with countless garages, is one of the places where this graffiti trend has taken off. As a result, many garage doors are now covered in all kinds of artworks. The residents seem to like the bright and shiny door paintings. Other than broadcasting ‘wannabe cool’, the colourful doors also scream “do not touch”.

Commissioned graffiti showcasing idyllic artworks.

Regardless of how effective the anti-graffiti formula is, the problem with commissioned or DIY artworks is that they are visually and conceptually boring. Typically, they lack the edge of real graffiti. It’s like they’re holding something back by trying to appeal to toddlers and adults alike.

Commissioned graffiti with lots of attention to detail and also with an abundance of time and tools and hopefully cash.

Paul Mezei, a principal of Relish Design in Little Portugal, finds the idea of commissioned graffiti contradictory: “That art form is mutually exclusive of being sanctioned so officially. It loses its activist foundation when it is sponsored by capitalist consumption”. Indeed, it’s a paradox that an art form invented to violate private ownership of urban scenery is now being used to do the opposite: to protect private property from anticipated vandalism.

Obviously, what the commissioned graffiti lacks in activism, it compensates with materials. The hired artists have plenty of time and tools at their disposal, which is probably one of the reasons their work appears too polished, or in other words, fake. Without its rawness, the artwork lacks its underlying vitality and validity.

Steve Quinlan, a Professor Emeritus with the Faculty Of Design at OCAD University, believes that this type of surface treatment is best developed organically and not in a contrived way: “I always stressed with my students a need to consider an ‘honest’ use of material (like the architect or industrial designer would use real wood, or real metal and not use a synthetic to simulate it—let the plastic look like plastic and not fake some kind of wood grain).” In that case, the honest use of a garage door is keeping its appearance true to the original material instead of turning it into a retractable painting.

Unsolicited graffiti executed with a limited amount of time and tools and no cash.

Whether it’s a distinctive image or type, the full control over time and material can indeed dilute the urgency of the artworks. Instead of being vibrant, they can appear stale. Such lack of constraints can often become an unexpected detriment.

Certainly, a turf war between commissioned and non-commissioned graffiti is on. Yet, the best outcome is when graffiti progresses spontaneously: when diverse artists randomly add a splash of their own originality to the existing, multi-layered yet open surface.

Scrubbing the neighbourhood of its graffiti is obviously not the answer. But what if Little Portugal’s residents relaxed and let their graffiti evolve on its own and trust that there’s no such thing as a finished product? Every single graffiti is a work-in-progress that can be seen as a chain of surprises, instead of offences. When my friend decides to cover his garage doors with a gigantic doodle, I hope it will become an invitation, not an obstruction, to his graffiti transformation.


Warhol’s Variations: What 50 Marilyns Can Do For Brand Identity

How many Andy Warhol retrospectives can you see and still enjoy? For me, it took a year and a half of Covid lockdown to give the ubiquitous American pop artist a fresh appeal. The exhibition, organized by Tate Modern in London, in collaboration with Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the AGO in Toronto, has brought many art-starved museum-goers to the reopened gallery floors.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962 Tate, © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

The expansive retrospective reminded me that unlike literary works (which I found to be the best remedy for lockdown boredom), visual arts don’t need to be limited to a singular showpiece; they can happily exist in multiples. It made me rethink a project I’ve been developing for the past year: a series of knitted replica animations and graphic storyboards. I realized that working towards one perfect colour and form combination is not always necessary. In fact, it can become detrimental to the project. READ MORE IN THE APPLIED ARTS MAG.


Taste is the New Bread: Making Our Own Aesthetics While We Stay Home

In a time of global lockdown, when almost everyone is either shut-in at home or covered head to toe in PPE at work, why should anyone be concerned with maintaining their appearance? Lifestyle articles like “Giving In to Letting Go” or “Why Get All Made Up with Nowhere to Go?” encourage us to swap a high maintenance look for something more low key. 

Sorry we're Closed due to Covid-19. Foldable advertising poster on the street (Photo GETTY IMAGES)
The U of T team’s serological test, which works in under an hour, involves dousing a blood sample with purified SARS-CoV-2 proteins so that antibodies can bind to them (Photo Tajinder Ubhi)

The quarantine shows that many of us prefer to obey a dress code, instead of dressing for personal satisfaction. While we cannot dismiss the human need to conform and to belong, we can still aspire to make our individual aesthetics our own, free from social and cultural pressures. If we recognize our aesthetics not as an obligation, but as an individual choice, then our routines become irrelevant. Even if our fierce individual aesthetics may not get the respect and recognition from others that they deserve, they’re worth the effort—if not to challenge social norms, then at least our own fears. 

The current slowdown might be the ideal opportunity to reevaluate our urge to fit in and to explore alternative options we haven’t had the time or reason to consider before. It may seem insensitive to be examining our aesthetics while the world is in turmoil, but one aspect of human nature is that there are always imaginative people who find possibilities in difficult times. While we acknowledge our collective grief, we can also embrace our individual creativity. 

During World War I, when thousands of men were fighting in the war, women were encouraged to take their place in the workforce. The revolutionary French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, spotted the need to develop practical, yet chic women’s clothing that could support their new demands and responsibilities. One of Chanel’s greatest contributions to the world of fashion was ditching the feminine corseted form and introducing outfits that were as functional as they were beautiful. Like Chanel, developing our aesthetics during the current lockdown could allow us to emerge as less conventional and our more creative selves. 

Coco Chanel in 1972 by Man Ray. (Vintage Photography Archive)
Coco Avant Chanel (Photo: Warner Bros)

First and foremost, remember the primary audience is ourselves: If we aren’t enthusiastic about the clothes, the hairstyle, the makeup or the glasses we wear, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. It’s vital to recognize the way we feel about ourselves, before we let anyone else share their opinions. 

Differentiate our inner voice from our inner fear: We all have intuitions about what we like and are comfortable wearing, but we tend to give more weight to our incessant  inner critic. We need to learn to trust our gut and develop the courage to stay loyal to our own vision. Being brave and taking ownership of our aesthetics is an intensely liberating experience.  

Champion taste over fashion: While taste can be fashionable, fashion isn’t always tasteful. Tasteful clothing is timeless, while fashionable pieces usually only offer a temporary sparkle before becoming an embarrassment. Good design has a long life. Take the Japanese fashion designer Johji Yamamoto. Yamamoto’s pioneering fashion collections from the early 80s still look spectacular a half century later. Personally, I’ve treasured my own white oversized Johji Yamamoto men’s cotton shirt since I bought it in the 90s. 

A look from Yohji Yamamoto's Fall 1981 ready-to-wear collection (Photo: John Bright/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock)
Yohji Yamamoto (Photo: Nicolas Guerin)

Incorporate high with low-end fashion brands:  Cultivating our aesthetics doesn’t have to break the bank, particularly during these financially trying times. On the contrary, it can teach us to become creative consumers and to spend our money wisely. If we use contrast—one of the key principles of design—then we’ll learn how to skilfully combine pricey with bargain brands. For example, a vintage Louis Vuitton Speedy purse with an understated Muji trench coat will never go out of style.   

Buy only what we love and will value for a long time: I find this is the simplest way to live a less wasteful and more enriching lifestyle. Whether we’re dressing down for a cottage weekend or up for a dinner party, every article of clothing needs to embody these two key attributes: longevity and commitment to one’s taste. 

Rate every potential purchase on a scale from 1 to 10: Before handing over our credit card, let’s ask the following: Is it our style? Is it well made? Is it timeless? Will it work with what we have? It’s crucial to be as honest as we can and make each question worth up to two points. If the final score doesn’t add up to more than seven, let it go. Life is too short to buy shit. 

Invest in quality, not luxury: Well-made luxury clothing lasts a long time. Yet talking about ‘luxury’ brands can sound elitist. Luxury conveys something that’s neither common, nor easily available or affordable. While luxury brands don’t always deliver quality, they offer a sense of exclusivity. Nowadays, the concept of quality has been reduced largely to luxury brands. But if we have something we’ve loved and worn for a long time, we’ll understand the value of good quality as opposed to the price of a  glamorous brand. 

Embrace criticism and accept compliments graciously: Defining our aesthetics is packed with unforeseeable moments of criticism and compliments that require a great deal of graciousness, courage, and resilience to handle well. I try to take each comment as they come and see what happens. The rewards may not be immediately obvious and they often come from unexpected places, yet I find that each adds to my own enigmatic sense of aesthetics. It’s an ongoing process, with one self-realization at a time.


Making Space
for Time

In his inaugural 1961 speech, John F. Kennedy told Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In 2020, during our COVID-19 lockdown, we might “ask not what we will do with our time, ask what we will let our time do with us.” Under the current quarantine, we’ve realized that having an abundance of time can be as hard, if not harder, than not having a second to spare.

COVID-19 assessment centre in Ottawa (Adrian Wyld/CP)
A messaging advising Canadians to ‘stay home’. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg/ Getty Images)

According to today’s standards, to live a meaningful life means to keep busy. Even during the Coronavirus’s ‘new normal’, we carry on in our old ways: filling our days as much as we can. Whether working from home, watching Netflix, listening to podcasts, baking bread, or FaceTiming with friends, there’s no shortage of activities to distract ourselves with.  

The unexpected amount of free time has become overwhelming, mainly for those of us living alone or staying at home. Certainly, the global lockdown has generated unforeseeable limitations, and every day only deepens our nostalgia for our frantically busy pre-COVID lifestyles. Instead of addressing what we cannot do, why not scrutinize the ‘old normal’ and recognize the opportunities the current lockdown offers? Although we’re restricted to certain kinds of activities, we have permission to do less, to slow down and reflect. Instead of our being compulsively busy, we could use time to create space. 

No shortage of activities to do during Covid-19 lockdown.

In graphic design the role of space—or negative space as it’s often called—is essential. Without a sufficient amount of breathing room, a design solution can easily become unremarkable, if not irrelevant. Contrast of space is one of the key principles that designers can not do without. The right amount of negative space allows design elements to visually connect with one another and to provide an opportunity for people to engage with the design. Despite the importance of negative space, designing emptiness is intimidating for many designers, especially at first. Doing less is harder, because we’re not measuring the quantity of what we do, but the meaning of it. 

An effective use of negative space for the Royal Shakespeare Company poster for their Othello production, 2010.
A diferent use of negative space in Emigre #55 issue, 2000.

If we take our cue from good design, we’ll also challenge ourselves to do less, and to realize that we’re not wasting our time if we don’t use every second to text friends while filling our nails and learning Russian. Designers know a design needs space that’s purposefully left empty–it’s not a waste, it’s an investment. 

The value of space is as crucial in our daily lives as it is in graphic design. Like numerous aspiring designers, we too feel more comfortable packing our days to the fullest. We don’t realize that by doing so, our busy lifestyles can become as flat as cluttered, overdone designs. Applying the principles of negative space could help to transform the apocalyptic lockdown experience. It could leave time and space for the possibility of something meaningful to emerge and give us the tools to resist what we do the best, keeping busy.  


From Beans & Beer to Brightening Creams: How Minimal Typography Can Shrink Wasteful Packaging

Product packaging is everywhere and people are sick of watching its short journey from store shelves to garbage bins. Toothpastes, body soaps and facial creams come encased not only in their own jars and tubes, but often in extra cardboard boxes buried under unnecessary plastic wraps. Quality goods do not need ribbons and bows to attract consumers. On the contrary, they demand less waste and better design.  

Dove maximum & clinical protection antiperspirants protected in unnecessary cardboard boxes.

But better is harder. In the graphic design courses that I teach at the Ontario College of Art & Design University, I tell my first and even second-year students that the greatest challenge is to unlearn everything they think they know about design. Teaching them to recognize decorative from functional design elements is probably the hardest. Out of insecurity or ignorance or both, many believe that the more they throw at their designs, the better they’ll become. It’s not only the design students who believe this. Numerous brands struggle to design simple, yet captivating, product packaging for the same reasons. It’s uncommon to find an understated package design that is visually innovative as well as ecological.

Often, the missing piece is good typography: letters, words or numerals that are inviting and easy to read, be it a product’s name or its ingredients. After all, ingredients can no longer be seen as incidental, but as key factors influencing every consumer’s buying decisions. Undeniably, they deserve to be treated with more than the typical near-illegible five or six points type size. A more readable approach to ingredients can be found on any bottle or jar from the LA-based natural age prevention skincare line Youth to the People (YTTP). The brand is so proud of its naturally derived products, that it has turned them into the centrepiece  of its plain typographic packaging. This enterprising direction is unconventional, yet entirely sensible.  In their words, “The packaging design takes the concept of juice packaging, listing out the natural wholesome ingredients, and brings it into skincare. This skincare line is revolutionary in the ingredients it is made from so it only made sense to make them the hero of the design.”

Youth to the People Superfood Air-Whip Moisture Cream & Superberry Hydrate and Glow Oil.

I would say that the type is the real hero of YTTP’s design. Created in 2015 by San Francisco-based Ashleigh Brewer, YTTP’s packaging uses only a single typeface, Milieu Grotesque’s Generika Regular, in all uppercase. The distinctive typeface was inspired by a rare typestyle “Bulletin” found on an old Adler typewriter and the condensed typeface with its blemished typewriter style provides a desirable contrast to the YTTP’s products’ pristine ethos.

The No Name brand utilitarian packaging.

Minimal type is highly democratic; it’s  a design principle that translates well from luxury goods to basic necessities. Canada’s No Name is another example of how a brand can stand out by using only one brilliant typeface with a couple of type sizes or weights. It’s easy to recognize the black printed, all lowercase, Helvetica Bold on a yellow background, whether it is printed on a can of beans or a can of beer. The No Name utilitarian packaging was designed by Toronto’s legendary Don Watt in the 1980’s, and is as relevant today as it was then–if not more. The pragmatic design has taken on an old-school cool because of its look and its bargain prices.

With a steady growth of ecologically savvy consumers, brands everywhere have been introducing “green” alternatives to their usual goods. To win over environmentally conscious  clientele, they have no choice but to do without double- or triple-wrapping their products. Brands that have reduced their packaging to the bare essentials have been gaining consumers’ attention through their massively appealing minimal style.

Good typography encourages better packaging design and less waste. We are already seeing  more brands minimizing their ecological impact as a way to maximize their profits and they are using type as an integral part of their strategy. Type may seem like a purely superficial solution to excessive packaging, but these small changes contribute to a greater shift in what we buy and don’t buy based on what we are willing to throw in our trash bins. 


Why Graphic Design
is Good for Fashion

When the Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela created his first collection in 1989, the label he sewed into his pieces was blank. Instead of advertising his company by placing his name on every garment, he left four diagonal white stitches showing on the outside of each piece. Only those in fashion’s inner circle could appreciate the secretive Margiela’s unorthodox and conceptual signature.

Original plain blank Maison Martin Margiela label on the outside and inside (left-to-right).

Fast forward to 2019: the discreet Margiela tag is now widely recognizable. John Galiano, the company’s new creative director, has transformed the once enigmatic label into an overt branding ticket, and with it, Martin Margiela’s revolutionary fashion brand has become established as “Maison Margiela”. Galiano has begun capitalizing on Margiela’s avant-garde approach to logos, which paved the way for other alternative designers and even mainstream brands to consider how to make their own logos a conceptual component of their collections. What they’ve discovered is that exceptional graphic design can easily generate buzz, not to mention monetary rewards.

Maison Margiela FW 2019 'Memory of' label sweatshirt.
Maison Margiela FW 2019 pocket bag.
Vetements 2016 streetwear collection inspired by 1990s reinterpretations of their own logo.
Lorde with Kanye West in Vetements logo hoodie.

Today’s fashionistas do not want static, predictable logos across their T-shirts. They’re looking for labels that do more—both graphically and culturally—than just spell out the designer’s name; brands that are not afraid to dissect their own logos to find a new relevance.  For example, the Paris-based collective Vetements based their 2016 streetwear collection on 1990s-inspired reinterpretations of their own logo. The Vetements’ sans serif capital letters in Helvetica Neue Bold Condensed was literally dissected and translated into all kinds of typographic styles. Two years later, Comme des Garçons collaborated with Supreme on the 2018 Nike Air Force 1 low to simply and provocatively chop the Swoosh in two. It was a simple take on the classic model that became an instant sellout. These deconstructed logos have turned out to be the perfect antidote to sleek, over-polished digital aesthetics.

Comme des Garcons Shirt x Nike-Air-Force 1 Low x Supreme split box logo hoodie.
Air Force 1 Low Supreme x Comme des Garcons.

Martin Margiela’s effect on the fashion industry only becomes more obvious as designers work towards turning their labels into essential visual and physical elements of their collections. This means that innovative typographic designers can have more impact on fashion industry than ever before. If integrated logowear is here to stay, then more brands will be looking to skilled graphic designers capable of transforming conventional logos into captivating graphics. It seems that fashion designers are realizing what graphic designers have always known: good typography goes a long way.


Apartments: the Ultimate
Exhibition Space?

Milan Design Week has become legendary for many reasons. One of them is the celebrated show’s innovative use of private apartments instead of showrooms and trade show booths to display their exhibits. Design installations curated inside private residencies of all kinds throughout the beautiful Italian city have come to play a significant role in the experience of Milan Design Week.

In contrast to overpopulated trade show floors, domestic interiors engender more genuine, intimate and memorable experiences. A well-imagined and displayed apartment installation suggests visual and conceptual aspects of its design. It presents a story that invites visitors to engage with and imagine their own narrative.

Apartment installations also add a layer of voyeurism that makes the experience far more intriguing for attendees than the same display set in a conventional showroom. The ingenuity of this curatorial decision has made Milan Design Week a destination not only for design geeks and professionals, but also social media influencers and journalists eager to broadcast the experience.

For the participating designers and brands, apartment installations are an opportunity for multi-disciplinary professionals to collaborate with pioneering brands to demonstrate what visionary design can do.  Instead of merely displaying the latest goods, the installations enable visitors to experience their imagined concepts of homes. Italian architect and designer, Ella Ossino, remarked in an interview about their Milan apartment installation Perfect Darkness:

“At this moment, it’s much more interesting for people to see a real apartment. Showrooms are so cold, and the home is something special.”

Perfect Darkness, a multi-room apartment installation by Elisa Ossino and Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer for Milan Design Week 2019.

A well-received apartment installation is clearly a victory for everyone involved. In fact, we’d suggest that design installations displayed in real apartments isn’t an idea that needs to remain exclusive to Milan. Is there any reason Toronto’s eclectic neighbourhoods and interesting homes couldn’t house art and design shows of our own? Exhibiting in private residences would add a new, fascinating aspect to our continually evolving Toronto Design Week.  It would also attract a broader range of corporate sponsors, participating brands, cross-disciplinary professionals and associated media outlets. The possibilities are as wide as the benefits are substantial. So, what are we waiting for?


At the XXII Triennale di Milano, Preparing for Human Extinction

While attending Milan’s Design Week 2019, I was struck by the Triennale di Milano exhibition Broken Nature (running until August 31) and its unconventional perspective on the environment and global warming. In a city full of spectacular design events, it was Broken Nature that I kept thinking about.

The XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature

The exhibition’s large-scale format can be overwhelming at first. With over a hundred artifacts, concepts and installations, the wide spectrum of projects on display explores a multitude of human relationships with their natural environments and cultural ecosystems. Presenting perspectives from international art, design and architecture, each installation is independent, yet together they initiate a timely and moving conversation.

Unlike anything else I’ve seen on the subject of our current environmental crisis, Broken Nature has decisively moved away from discussing ways to ensure human survival to preparing for extinction and curating our human legacy. Instead of urging action to prevent an imminent doomsday, MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, curator of Broken Nature, has turned the exhibition into an invitation to ask crucial questions. Her bold inquiries prompt visitors to envision opportunities and face the inevitable with a new sense of humility and openness.  Instead of seeing the end as tragic, she suggests, we can turn it into an occasion to embrace design as a tool to connect us with our natural environments—while we still can. As Antonelli says:

“Even to those who believe that the human species will become extinct at some point in the—near? far?—future, design presents the means to plan a more elegant ending. It can ensure that the next dominant species will remember us with a modicum of respect: as dignified and caring, if not intelligent beings. Our only chance at survival is to design our own beautiful extinction.”

Patricia Piccinni’s Sanctuary(Copyright La Triennale di Milano, photo by Gianluca Di Ioia)
"Restore and repair, don't simply build and consume," MoMA's Antonelli says

One of Antonelli’s strategies for becoming dignified and caring humans is to design communication that is more inclusive and diverse—language that allows us to cultivate our interconnectedness with the natural world.  Without recognizing the limitations of our current communication, we remain oblivious to finding other ways of relating.  Antonelli believes that “it is also important to find the adequate language—visual, spoken, sung, legislated, or other—that materializes and represents a necessary shift towards a more inclusive multispecies justice… ”

There are certain aspects of design that we generally don’t question: the production of sustainable goods, robotics, the classic vision of the mid-twentieth-century domestic lifestyle. Broken Nature challenges these views. It also urges us to realize the vital role design can play in human legacy. Each exhibit encourages us to depart from the traditional terms of design, and instead, to embrace its new phase as a key tool for representing human legacy and our reparation for it.

Even if we feel more comfortable talking about human survival instead of human legacy, the immediate goal remains the same. We need to start recognizing design as a tool to repair our natural environments and build social and economic justice for all. Ultimately, it’s time we begin to redesign our way of relating to the planet and its many species. As the Mayor of Milan said in his comments on the exhibition:

“Visiting the XXII Triennale di Milano is a way of getting informed, participating, discussing and renewing our way of inhabiting the Earth.”

XXII Triennale di Milano Broken Nature is on until August 31, 2019.


How to Become
Design Literate

Rarely a day goes by when we’re not asked to buy one thing or another. From a conventional refrigerator decked out with the latest technology to an upscale humidifier drenched in vintage nostalgia, there’s no shortage of new and improved products we ought to have. Thanks to a growing number of marketing trends, we as consumers need to learn how to examine the design of products more skillfully so we can separate the wheat from the chaff.

The question is, how does the average consumer become design literate? By learning a few key design principles, we can begin to recognize the differences between good and bad design, and by becoming more discerning, curb our environmental footprint. With newly trained eyes, we can recognize the difference between innovative and obsolete technology, separate the enduring from the merely fashionable designs and spot the ingeniously functional amongst the essentially redundant products. Through the basic design literacy principles outlined below, we can begin to identify products that generate lasting value, instead of lasting waste.

There are five key design principles that can be divided into two categories: Internal and External. The Internal principles are: Contrast, Deconstruction and Integration; the External are: Notoriety and Relevance.

Contrast is about balance. The correct ratio of structure, form, colour, size and material can transform an ordinary product into an extraordinary one. Being aware of how this ratio works can help us choose products that will not only last a lifetime, we will want to last a lifetime—and maybe even pass on to the next generation. Contrast is about balancing extremes to create a dynamic relationship.

Artek stools’ simple form contrasted with the whimsical line drawings of the beloved Mummins conveys instant playfuness and elegance.
The Austrian artist Esther Stoker’s geometric installation with its structured & unstructured contrasts creates captivating spaces time after time.

The next two principles are about reinvention. They encourage us to seek innovative products that over time can become collectibles — many products that are good examples, are often highly sought-after auction items or kept for posterity.

Deconstruction breaks objects down: an existing product is fragmented into multiple parts and then reassembled under a redesigned configuration. Even a small degree of deconstruction can make a dated product highly relevant again. But deconstruction shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it. It needs to be natural and functional, not contrived and merely decorative. Knowing how to recognize good deconstruction will help us select a product that’s not only useful, but also desirable for years to come.

The Japanese fashion brand Undercover has thoughtfully deconstructed a trenchcoat, a hoodie and a down jacket into a single, multi-functional and irresistible coat.
An unforgettable and unorthodox Comme des Garçons campaign developed in a collaboration with Stephen Shanabrook was based on the deconstruction principle.

Integration is about incorporating previously unrelated materials, textures, finishes and techniques in order to redefine a stale product. When we apply the principle of integration we imbue undesirable or irrelevant products with freshness. The more unexpected the combination is, the more culturally meaningful the product can become. However, it’s critical to recognize an excessive integration from an unexpected integration: one is tacky and the other is both refined and aesthetically-pleasing.

Comme de Garçons x Nike’s lace-ups drenched in paint splatters exude freshness and originality.
By adding utilitarian stripes, the American clothing brand OFF WHITE has turned a traditional leather jacket into relevant streetwear.

Notoriety is not just about standing out—it’s about having cultural and creative currency. A large number of products are designed to generate mere noise instead of lasting value. Understanding the principle of notoriety means we can identify products that stand out for their sustained design integrity as opposed to superficial buzz that will be forgotten tomorrow.

With its iconic art collections, Illy has been reinventing the meaning of coffee not only in Italy, but across the globe.
For over 60 years the UK-based Vitsoe has been producing simple, timeless furniture that encourages us to use and reuse it, and ultimately to buy less and better and for longer.

Relevance is about distinguishing good marketing from good design. Most marketing makes products seem desirable, whether they are or not; being able to detect items that are genuinely relevant to our aesthetic, practical, and emotional needs can prevent us from falling victim to products that are merely well-marketed, not well-designed.

The Brave Brown Bag’s timeless and sensible design has been sought-after since its launch in 1996.
The uncompromising style and functionality has made Timberland boots must have footwear.

No matter what we’ll be buying next, if we learn a few key design principles and improve our design literacy, we can become more skilful consumers and inhabitants of this planet.