This current phase of historical transition in which we find ourselves - marked by the crisis of the old ideologies and the old economic system -, is characterized, on the one hand, by an enormous unprecedented scientific and technological development; and on the other hand, by the inadequacy of the systems of political management and control, which dangerously oscillate between the specific, the reactionary populism, and the utopia, as paradoxical as realist, of the global common good. Undoubtedly, the world is becoming smaller and smaller and the problems it creates ever more complicated, but it is no less palpable that there is a certain millenarian impulse towards greater integration, which we might call "cosmopolitanism", understood as a unification of reason and nature in the name of the common good.
Given this panorama, what is the role of Design? How can we outline its future? Design and technology have always been conversing in terms of the democratization of both consumption and an aesthetic understood as a value extended to all spheres of human life. In this sense, Design represents the humanization of technology, understanding humanization as being the consideration of man, his material and immaterial needs, as a reference point to man in the social, cultural and symbolic dimension that is specifically his own. It is essential to take these factors into account, but this approach will not be sufficient unless it goes hand in hand with granting due relevance to intrinsic quality, creative originality and the specific creative dimension, as opposed to the fetishization of consumer goods. Italian Design is unequivocally characterized by this humanistic dimension, always in an attitude of continuous, constructive and critical dialogue with industry - in a first phase limited to the world of automobiles, decoration and fashion, but later to be extended to electronics, communication, services or self-production.
Design now touches a very wide field of applications. The cause that most likely explains this reality is the transversal multidisciplinarity of its method, oriented towards the constant innovation of its products and to the consolidation of that new mantra so characteristic of cosmopolitanism: to compete collaborating. This extraordinary evolution of Design coincides with the increasingly widespread use of digital media, the use of which has changed even the very way of conceiving the discipline. In fact, the new generations, influenced by deindustrialization, have, in the computer, found their unique instrument of social projection, subverting the traditional ways of projecting, producing and distributing, and so generating new creative opportunities with the use of new open-source technologies and peer-to-peer relationships.
On the one hand we witness the constant creation of new forms of molecular and personal capitalism, characterized by the existence of thousands of small, even tiny, companies capable of resisting competitiveness thanks to their flexible nature, and of optimizing their knowledge and abilities. On the other hand, we are witnessing a progressive hyper concentration of the industry in but a few global brands. These two factors, together with the enormous number of traditional small and medium-sized companies, are the three main constraining factors of Design education.
On another note, the presence of an open and multi-relational character, strongly conditioned by communication and marketing, has even changed the idea of what is «New». Some time ago designers discarded a priori everything that resembled or reminded us of anything that already existed, anything that could be accused of being a mere copy. Today the young designer's concern has changed: what can we do with the tools we have available?, adopting as praxis, hitherto unpublished, the so-called "post-production" imported from the field of “visual design”. It is no longer a question of trying to give a new form to different materials using the language of each individual, poetic personality, but to recombine and transform existing forms, of which Internet, this limitless catalog, gives exhaustive account. This has led to a drastic reduction in the innovative quality of the project and the emergence of celebrities, of recognized and recognizable genius, but also within a very limited cultural perimeter.
New forms and new languages are not generated: new creators do not dwell on the question of subjective language. Now what has already been thought in the past is re-used, recombining it, as do dee-jays or vee-jays, who reinvent what already exists using new contexts, which, in this case, become something completely original. We speak of an aesthetic of mixing and repeating, in a cultural horizon involving the selection and creation of something that is different, but using already existing materials. Thus, what is "New" should not be understood as the original, something which has never been seen before, but rather as part of a “cultural mix” that was already part of a collective heritage; as a result of understanding the past as a source of materials that are usable to invent and interpret the present. It is the reconfiguration of a past reduced to tiles of a mosaic that interprets a present without history. In this sense, the original language of the once individual creative genius is surpassed by a collective language addressed to the masses that transfigures the original in a way that is recognizable to the majority. Faced with a situation like this, it is necessary to provide young designers with a research capacity that is able to find and interpret, in the midst of the gigantic digital galaxy, the cognitive, conceptual and creative references that stimulate both logical-rational thinking as well as lateral thinking; references by which, and from which, to discover the meaning of their own work.
This new collective aesthetic dimension is a consequence of the instruments that technology provides, a technology that gravitates around a cultural and creative atmosphere of which Philosophy, Science, Art, Architecture, Design, the Environment, Biology, Anthropology, are all disciplines ... in a continuous process of "flexibilization of the possible" (a “benchmarking” that is applied to everything), where anything "in relation to" is only one of the many aspects that condition new forms of existence and behavior, in search of a subjectivity that comes into play by inventing, in a precise manner, the space of what is "possible". Faced with this generalized trend, designers who work with more traditional criteria or who direct their attention to new areas of application, such as services, production processes, the agro-alimentary sector, etc., are an exception.
The hybridization of the different technological programs, of languages, of the very idea of labor and of this new technological, social and existential reality, is at the root of the emergence of new professions, many of which affect us.
A recent study by FastFuture, carried out by a score of researchers commissioned by the British Government, has drawn up a list of new professional areas, taking 2030 as the reference year. Here are some of these professions, no doubt with some direct Design competence: the architect-designer dedicated to the colonization of exterior space; the designer of alternative means of transport; the Narrowcaster, i.e. the specialist who will work in synergy with content providers and advertising agencies to create visual products tailored to the specific needs of the public; or also the Personal Brander.
Given this new horizon that lies ahead for Design, it would seem extremely unwise to offer answers in the abstract; we can, however, at least address the issue in terms of what today seems clearly inappropriate. If, on the one hand, specialized knowledge is always necessary, on the other hand it is equally necessary to know that it touches all the parallel fields that constitute this great constellation called Design. "Let's tear down the walls!" should be the imperative of a Design school that offers new programs or modifies existing ones to achieve a solid interdisciplinary knowledge.
It is necessary to address the issue in a radical, programmatic, not circumstantial way, and, at the same time, to investigate the new areas of implementing our discipline. Only in this way will we manage to imagine and devise the world as a whole, and not just create the objects that occupy it.