Activists engage designers in a Q&A about work conditions


What is the life of a designer really like? How does he or she get paid? How many graduates actually find a job? Who, amongst them, can afford to have children? And to survive without the support of parents, friends or family? A group of designers from Italy (land of precarious work) have recently proposed a questionnaire that asks exactly these (and many other) questions to designers worldwide. They are Il Cantiere, a very militant collective (they do not hesitate, for instance, to quote the methods of the “co-research” of united workers in the 60/70 as their inspiration source).

Who are you? A group of young designers who met last year in Milan at an artists’ residence (Careof). We have independent jobs but when we are together we are Il Cantiere, which is for us both a virtual and physical place where dealing with cultural activism and research. Our first job together was a self-analysis operation on our jobs, social roles and disciplines that turn around our practises. That’s how Designers’ Inquiry was born.

What is Designers’ Inquiry? It’s an anonymous online questionnaire on the social profile of today’s designers and their ways of working as well as economical conditions. In the way it is constructed it is heavily inspired by the co-research methods of the 60/70, participative inquiries that were brought about by the workers’ movements. We have created it to give a glimpse of the border line existence that people working in the design field often experience. We have presented it during the Salone del Mobile because we think that it is time to start on a less superficial thinking on what we are actually doing and which direction we want to take, starting from imagining ways in which we would like to live and work.

The traditional co-research of the workers’ movements was based on the total involvement of people for the long term, so that their voice would not be perceived – after a questionnaire – only as a number in a pile of statistics. In which way do you follow this direction? We want to continue working on the inquiry for the long term and we will do it by proposing tools – the first one is the questionnaire – that will make it easier to understand the status quo of design today. We are considering talks in schools, attendance in festivals: we see the potential of involving other designers to see what sort of attention there is on these issues, and to catch up on all proposals and points of view. Basically, the inquiry is just the beginning of a wider research path that we started off last September (in our group) but that was born from the very beginning to be a virtual and physical space for discussion and self-analysis.

How many people have already responded to the questionnaire? So far roughly 900. More in Italy than internationally but we hope to reach more people in order to have more complete data that will allow us to trace a profile of who we are, how we work and live. We are trying to create as much noise as possible through contacts, web platforms, social network, blogs…

Why do you feel there is a need for clarity in the design world in relation to the themes of the questionnaire? As designers, we feel really engaged not only in the  realization of objects but also of relations, processes, languages and collective imaginary. That’s why we think it’s important to ask which type of society we want to contribute towards, with our work, which position we have within the present economy and how we can challenge it. We feel very close to the discussions and actions of some groups like the Lavoratori dell’Arte and Lavoratori dello Spettacolo and of other Italian activism experiences that see culture as a common good for all. We have also adhered to the initiatives of  Quinto Stato, by signing into their appeal: we are willing to support all those who want to give a voice to social categories and professions that often are left behind or totally misunderstood, just like designers or freelance professionals in general. We also operate internationally: we are linked to Precarious Workers Brigade from London, for instance: for years they have been promoting activism against the precariousness of artistic professions.

What’s your objective, once you have collected the questionnaires? The data will be looked at by a sociologist and graphically represented in a publication that we hope to develop in the coming months (we are looking for financial support actually). This will be a first elaboration and output of the initiative. We will be open to discussions after that: the data will give indications of the activities to carry out together with the free input coming from some of the open answers. We are thinking of actions to form people, the purpose being the ideation, design and propositions of tools that will allow intervention on the present situation and the creation of a more sustainable one for all: how can material, intellectual and affective support structure engage the birth of alternative practises that could foster a new design model? Next week we will be in Utrecht for the “Organising as an Open Source” workshop by Casco, a Dutch association that promotes critical and political activities within the visual arts world. It is part of the exhibition “I Cant’ Work Like This”, a series of critical gatherings, seminars and workshop by the cultural workers on their present work conditions, and on the various collaborative practises.

When will you communicate the results and how? The questionnaire will be open till June 20th. We will keep all the people who participated informed. The elaboration and design phase will start right after that and will be open to all who wish to be part of it and to share his or her specific competence. We will start end of June in Milan at Careof; we will publish more precise info in the coming weeks on our web site:  Il Cantiere – Pratiche non affermative


About Laura Traldi

I am a journalist at D la Repubblica. I also have a blog about #design that sometimes makes people talk. Visit
This entry was posted in Interviews, Something different, Young designers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Activists engage designers in a Q&A about work conditions

  1. Pingback: Interview: “Activists engage designers” by Laura Traldi « Cantiere per pratiche non-affermative

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