Francesco Morackini’s projects would not be possible without the designs of Campana’s Brothers. In 1998 They created the Vermelha Chair. The chair is made of iron, aluminum and cord and it has been inspired by materials and traditional weaving from Brazil. Thread was interwined to form the ropes, which were then hand-woven into upholstery. “We always say that first comes the material, then the form, and finally we elaborate the function of the product by studying its ergonomics, limitations, and capabilities,” explain Fernando and Humberto Campana. Thanks to them, product design drifts away from the classic “Form/Function” duality. It all starts with a story and the function comes later. What is sold as a functional chair has been elaborated like an artwork.
Design’s third dimension: The Story
No matter if you decide to make design history start with Leonardo da Vinci or Raymond Loewy, the definition of modern design is always based on the two pillars of form and function. However, form and function are not sufficient to conceive a contemporary design object. By relegating function to the last stage in their design process, the Campana brothers opened a Pandora’s box. When the function becomes an outcome of the form, when function is not relevant enough or not sufficient to define an object, the design paradigm shifts. Designing no longer necessarily means creating an object in order to solve a problem.
One of the main goals of modern design consisted in making “better” products. In order to do so, modern industrial design goes way beyond creating great shapes and improving function. Developing a product has become a very complex process with an an endless list of domains taking part. The sound of a closing flap, the smell of a specific material, the environmental impact, the behaviors a new product could evoke, … those are just a few factors to consider while designing a new product. The aim of “good design” was simple and clear: improve the user experience and satisfy the client. A product with greater performance will simply sell better. But why am I supposed to go on buying more efficient product? Where is the limit? Once optimal ergonomics have been found, designers are still trying to improve the user experience in order to stay competitive. New customer needs are created, rather than proposing something “good” or actually new. The products are then sold as “new”, however do not genuinely improve the user’s life anymore. How can user satisfaction be redefined? And what should be the goal of designing a new object Francesco Morackini asks himself?
In the post-modern era of mass production, industrials and manufacturers put a lot of effort in creating new innovative products. Marketing has overcome the common sense, and came up with “Storytelling”. Narration and communication are such strong and powerful tools – they even can defeat the truth. Story telling distracts from the actual facts – not only in the field of design, but also in politics for instance. Consequently, the concept of a product has become more important than the object itself. According to Francesco Morackini, this has created a new space where “conceptually perfect objects” have become possible. When the tangible experience or the facts become less relevant than the Story you are told, the faith takes over reality. Storytelling makes you buy running shoes just for walking because we believe they represent the idea of the perfect pair of shoes. The newest product will appear with virtually zero default regardless of the real experience or function it actually provides.
Morackini’s items seem at first sight like humoristic gadgets, but in reality they are pessimistic representations of a vicious circle we all form part of. The French semiotician Roland Barthes said that an object is something responsible, it is more than a thing, it is responsible for what you put in it. But the balance has shifted, Industrial design in combination with marketing have created products that “put something in us”, slowly eroding our minds and shaping new behaviors. Paradoxically, dematerialization has increased the influence of design on our actions, especially since the raise of smartphones and tablets.
Agreeing with the fact that the definition of contemporary product design is more diverse now, Francesco Morackini rejects the traditional definition of product design. For him design is not about finding optimized solutions to specific problems. Morackini proposes another direction by putting storytelling in the center of the design process: the scenario is the finality of the project. Thanks to new technology, design objects can become more than tools to improve our daily life. Roland Barthes explained their intellectual and psychological influences on us by describing the power of objects as a new mythology. Barthes said that when the new Citroen DS was launched, it worked like a magical product, it was glossy, without joints, with a lot of glass surfaces, this was the kind of object falling from the sky like in the Tales of Voltaire. The human natural thirst for novelty creates this fascination for new objects. Whether it is positive or negative, new designs produce irrational reactions. Those reactions are like signals emitted by objects surrounding us to communicate. Morackini uses those signals as a language in order to create narratives with his projects.
Design’s purpose: The Concept
Usage is not the finality of Morackini’s works, it is just a step in the process. The designer unusual scenarios provide the user with an observer’s persepective of the process. Morackini wants to generate a distance between the product and user and therefore create a space for reflection.
For example, the Dildomaker refers directly to Raymond Loewy’s iconic pencil sharpener, but it is not only a tribute to a great designer. The project also shows how much complexity design has gained throughout history. Loewy, ahead of its time, had a special talent to draw products with the perfect balance. He gave a round and soft aspect, with just enough tension, to his design to make it sexy. Loewy is one of the first designer to consider the notion of Marketing. By definition Marketing puts the consumer in the center of the process and explores new ways to flatter his senses in order to make him buy a product. The Dildomaker flips this method and puts, instead of the user, the story in the center of the creative process. Morackini describes the Dildomaker as a paradigm of the “marketing” product. All products are designed to give satisfaction, but the Dildomaker literally promises, in an ironical “mis-en-abime”, one thing and one thing only: sexual satisfaction.
The Dildomaker is a machine designed to work and look like an easy-to-use kitchen appliance. You secure the object to a table top, insert a vegetable, turn the crank to obtain a vegetable in a shape of a dildo. All the vegetables machined in this tool, designed to be easy and fun, will inevitably wither and rot. The material produced has a limited life time, so every time you want to use a dildo you have to operate the machine. It is a cycle. For Morackini, the Dildomaker is an allegory of the consumer society. The designer wants to show how calibrated pleasure and satisfaction is mechanically and repetitively produced in the society.
Morackini’s work has been influenced by of the Dada movement and Surrealism. This can be seen in the Seul en Selle project. The object can be simply described as an oversized bike saddle. The saddle is just big enough to reach the height of standard bench. Seul en Selle could have been also named “Ceci n’est pas une selle”. Morackini plays with our perception and preconception. The bench is not really furniture and not exactly a sculpture. The instantly recognizable shape slightly floats over the floor on a lightweight metallic structure. It is reminiscent of a sculpture, but also could be a piece of furniture. Indeed its sitting function remains feasible. In the end, the bench is not really a saddle, the saddle is not seat and the seat is not a sculpture, but all of it at the same time. Using the minimal design of a bike saddle for an excessive result, the designer address an ironical message to the industry. Do we really need to design another Sofa? What is the sens of this quest for novelty? And yet again the designer failed in a grotesque way to deliver a solution to this questions… but on purpose.
If the storytelling is the cornerstone of Morackini’s work, it can also be the base upon which he builds a project. This is the case with The Banker project. The project is entirely built on an historical event: the Sub-prime crisis in the year 2008, and how the international banking system survived. Just after the Sub-prime Crisis, a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences showed that 90% of the banknotes in circulation in the United States contained traces of cocaine, the study also noticed that this amount was increasing in comparison with previous studies.
The Banker consists in a machine able to count, clean and extract the traces of cocaine on banknotes. The top floor is composed of a banknote counting machine and touchscreen to control the machine. The banknotes are then sent to the washing unit on the second floor. Due to different solvents the banknotes are cleaned and the “dirty juice” is sent to the centrifuge on the third floor. In the end the extracted solution goes through an HPLC and a mass-spectrograph for the cocaine crystals to be extracted.
On one hand the machine cleans currencies and on the other hand manages to generate extra wealth by extracting the traces of cocaine transported by the banknotes. Morackini ironically refers to the typical banker’s drug when banking reached its apogee in the 80’s. The Banker creates a metaphor of the banking system’s darkest aspects: money laundering. However, it also illustrates how you can hide yourself behind the complexity of a system. It illustrates in a tangible way how he world of finance generate money with money and sometimes dirty money. The project also speaks about the “myth of the machine” and the idea that technologies can alter our freedom. Morackini neglects the user in favor of the process. Humanity is indirectly evocated, but the focus lies on the procedure’s cold mechanism.
Even if the project focuses on the process, a great attention to form, materials and details can be noticed. The friendly, slightly retro-design of The Banker, evokes the 70’s – the beginning of computing. The rounded shelves reminds of the silhouette of a Brionvega television set. The reference is not adventitious. Back then, technology generally was not perceived as a threat, but as a way to a brighter future. The machine is built with a lot of transparent parts, which is meant to communicate an “honest” feeling to it. It could be reminiscent of a medical device in a hospital that cures the human body with a lot of light, pipes and screens. The designer intention is here to shows the effort to make the technology acceptable and friendly even when the result is something ethically arguable.Morackini wants to denounce the Hypocrisy of the Gouvernements who bailed out the banks and took no coercive measures after the crisis. The State and the Bank proposed this solution to “save” the system, to save “us”. But is it really? After ten years is the Financial system becoming a better designed machine? Safer? More clean? More simple and more transparent just like Morackini’s Banker project?
Francesco Morackini’s projects are inspired by the spirit of the Dada mouvement created after World War I to denounce the absurdity of the war and the modern capitalist society. Morackini’s creations question with irony and humor the logic and the aim of the products surrounding us. The designer developed a specific language using codes and post-industrial aesthetics of consumer goods. His hyperrealist objects remind us to look at things twice and/or with a different angle. Post-modern items, and this includes Services are full of beautiful promises. Those promises often hide fallacious intentions and Morackini’s objects act like little whistle blowers telling us stay alert.