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Rondina: «Today, we value the fact that Argentine companies produce medical equipment and protective garments and that other industries are able to re-convert their manufacturing processes in order to face the emergency»

Anabella Rondina, a specialist in strategic management, professor, and researcher, reflects about the link between design and national production in our present context, marked by the unexpected global pandemic.

Anabella Rondina is an industrial designer who graduated from the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism at the University of Buenos Aires (FADU-UBA). She, then, completed a post-graduate program in Strategic Design Management, Design and Project Administration at the same institution and at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

Her career in the field of design management and training is widely recognized; between 2002 and 2016 she was a member of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Design Center (CMD), which she led from 2011 until her departure. During that period, she founded the “Program for the incorporation of design into enterprises” and was part of the team that achieved the nomination of Buenos Aires as the first City of Design by Unesco.

In the academic sphere, Rondina is a tenured professor of Industrial Design at the FADU-UBA, where she acted as head of the program from 2016 to 2018, thus leading the most recent curriculum update. There, she also directs the post-graduate program in Strategic Design Management, Design and Project Administration, as well as performing as the Assistant Secretary of Strategic Planning and Institutional Evaluation.

With the purpose of promoting the discipline and generating training opportunities in different locations along the national territory, after joining the faculty of the National University of Hurlingham in 2016, she organized and launched the university’s technician certification program and BA degree in Industrial Design, both of which are currently led by her.

As a researcher and advisor, she has given lectures in several countries of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. She has also participated as a member of the jury in local and international contests. Rondina is currently a member of the Government Council of the Madrid Design Biennial.

Summoned by IDA Foundation, she participates in the “Expert Opinion” by sharing her viewpoints about design, production, and new paradigms.

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design based on knowledge? And redefine knowledge from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?

–To begin with, I just can’t stop pondering about the exceptionally particular juncture we are living through right now, a moment when, precisely, everything is being re-considered, questioned, re-valued, and priorities are being redefined or re-ranked.

In this context, design and production, as I conceive them, have so much to contribute with. As the role of the State as the main organizing and guiding entity in a global health emergency crisis scenario consolidates, we must define what is, or what should be, the role of design in connection to production for such a moment and for the future re-building period.

When I reflect about design, as a professional industrial designer, I automatically think about its close connection to production, technologies, manufacturing processes, and available resources to create a project. From my standpoint, design is design as long as it can be produced (or can be produced), as long as it can become a functional product that can be used by people to address a specific need. Design has a key role in projecting useful outcomes and defining interfaces that simplify people’s lives.

At the same time, production can be re-configured based on design, since many times design transforms processes by making them cheaper and sustainable. However, we must accept that production often disregards design and, consequently, we still have a long road to travel in terms of making productive instances realize that design is a strategic partner. This task is primarily assigned to designers who, humbly and well-informed, must keep up persuading and seducing the productive world into embracing design.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

–Groundbreaking experiences are based on collective work. In my experience at the Buenos Aires Design Center (CMD), the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism, and the National University of Hurlingham, the richness of the projects that bind design and production rely on a collective culture and an interdisciplinary approach where design is “a part of” and not “everything”.

More than focusing on products or elements I see innovative experiences developed in institutions, companies, and cooperatives, all of which link both parts of the equation aiming to transform them, or at least trying to make them, into unbreakable parts of a whole. Just to mention an example, the “Design Incorporation Program” of the CMD had the purpose of fostering a connection between design and enterprises, something so vital and, yet, in such need of consolidation on a local level.

I want to highlight in particular projects instead of single agents; plural entities, not individuals. Many designers, as myself, were educated under the paradigm of “auteur design” and the stardom of design in which people and objects are recognized rather than teams and products made to cater people’s needs. Design and production go hand in hand with collective and collaborative practices, the orchestra surpasses the solo artist. My obsession with linking design and production stems from my formative process while completing the Industrial Design program at the UBA, where I studied under Reinaldo Leiro and Hugo Kogan, two Argentinian professionals that have fervently fostered the union of both elements. In this respect, individuals are indeed important, since I not only acknowledge their expertise but am also grateful for their teachings about the implications actions have in the practice of design.

–Has the bond between design and production changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

–Their connections have undoubtedly changed, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. One of my concerns regarding new technologies is their irrational use. For example, 3D impression, despite all of its virtues in terms of shortening production times and cheaper costs, sometimes eliminates a fundamental stage of design due to its velocity and immediate nature: the moment in which the designer creates with the aim of fulfilling a social need and purposefully conceives “what is this for” and how the resource will be appropriately used. Pondering “what is this for” must always be done, especially if we take into account our consuming habits and production goals.

Ways of teaching, living, and consuming also transform this interaction. However, this process will vary according to particular standings, since living, consumption, and learning conditions are not at all homogenous, which sometimes entails advantages and sometimes don’t.

Referring, again, to new technologies, we see that currently projects are designed in Argentina and produced in China: that is to say that design and production are connected at a distance, mediated by new ways of communicating through virtual interactions. When the pandemic arrives, products that were designed here and manufactured in China can’t physically get to our local market. Theoretical benefits of globalization —usually conceived from the standpoint of developed countries— have turned into a tough reality check for peripheral nations during the present crisis. Today, we value the fact that Argentine companies produce medical equipment and protective garments and that other industries are able to re-convert their manufacturing processes in order to face the emergency by producing essential goods.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing in order to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?–

–Right now we are experiencing the need to provide better answers to some key issues, such as health and education access during the pandemic juncture. These topics, which go beyond design and production, are, or at least should be, priorities in all agendas. Cultural diversity, inclusion, gender equality, and environment protection are concepts that must be embedded in the pairing design/production from the inception of every project.

If, when forming professional designers, we succeed to convey that every project must necessarily take into account all of the aforementioned notions as part of its agenda, we would have taken a significant step. In any case, the pitfall could be that we just consider these issues are in vogue-trends and regard them shallowly, thus regressing to previous models after the crisis ends. Many of these principles demand the promulgation of laws and regulations that promote their fulfillment, as is the case with environmental care. It is not enough to include them into design projects, they have to be integrated as well into awareness campaigns, and the legislative agenda.

Innovative solutions service people. Inclusiveness, diversity, and equity must be seriously considered when designing projects in order for them to become real solutions provided through production. To sum it up, we must aim to design creations that are meaningful for everyone.