{ collective production of design objects as a creolizing practice }


The design process lends itself well to experimenting with alternative production processes, particularly given its artisanal dimension; its more horizontal structure compared with architecture; the post-modern turn of ‘entreprecariat’; and the niche market of the discipline.[1]

In a marginalised context, we question the meaning of the design process through participatory practices, exploring how civic and collective means of production could be taken as an experimental model for acknowledging cultural heritage as a common good. After all, many vernacular techniques that are part of material culture are nothing but strategies and ways to relate to environments that often share common traits in Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, design is also a deeply colonial discipline: at its roots, it represents the arbitrary erasure of crafts in favour of industrial production, guided by modernist principles of defining what was worth being kept from the ‘primitive’ handcrafts, and what needed to be forgotten in favour of more profitable manufacture, often based on extractive economies.

However, contemporary design is so ‘democratized’ and precarious that today it is almost a synonym for self-production – autoproduzione. In antithesis to its very origins, designers are pushed to take the risks of production and research without really benefiting from its results. Due to these oppressive forces, they turn instead to engaging in causes that are much closer to their positionality, rather than what the industry demands. In an unexpected turn, this condition can allow communities to take part in the process of making their environment, moving away from purely symbolic art to address both material and intellectual struggles, while shaping the possibility of collective production.

As designers, we find ourselves excluded by the same unsustainable globalized system of production that we help to construct and that determines erasure of local identity. Yet, in contexts such as Palermo, we were able to find high-quality hand-making craftsmen who are on the edge of closure but still willing to collaborate in a new dynamic of production. We are experiencing a distributed ‘studio’ in which, by taking advantage of a common informality, it is possible to open access to marginalised communities. In an attempt to bring back a ‘polysemous set of practices endemic to the rituals, habits, and needs of a community’, we hope to facilitate a space no longer on the periphery of the ‘empire’ but at the center of a creolizing micro universe.[2]


[1] Entreprecariat is a portmanteau that combines entrepreneurialism and the precariat. On a basic level, the entreprecariat refers to the reciprocal influence of an entrepreneurialist regime and pervasive precarity.
LO RUSSO Silvio, Entreprecariat, Eindhoven, Onomatopee, 2019.

[2] The term describes new cultural expressions brought about by contact between societies and relocated peoples; Sociologist Robin Cohen writes that creolization occurs when “participants select particular elements from incoming or inherited cultures, endow these with meanings different from those they possessed in the original cultures, and then creatively merge these to create new varieties that supersede the prior forms.”
COHEN Robin, Creolization and Cultural Globalization: The Soft Sounds of Fugitive Power, Globalizations, 2007.


Francesca Gattello, Zeno Franchini