Founding Principles

Barcelona

12 May 2017

"A more authentic, up-to-date culture of design". This was the stated aim of design educator Francesco Morelli when he founded the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Milan in 1966. Some 50 years on, the IED has branches in nine cities, three countries, and two continents, and prides itself on upholding Morelli's founding principles of emphatic internationalism, learning-by-doing, and "respecting the mindsets of the market and of academic thinking". To unravel how these principles play out in a design landscape that has changed dramatically since the 1960s, Disegno spoke to Oriol Guimerà, development director of the design school at IED Barcelona Design University, about the school's Interior Design and Product Design Undergraduate Degree courses.

“It's part of our DNA," says Guimerà of the founding philosophy behind the IED. The mid-1960s was a moment in which Italy, powered by the miracolo economico, surged ahead in the field of industrial and product design and spearheaded productive collaborations between creatives and commercial brands. This market orientation is still resonant at IED Barcelona, where Interior and Product Design undergraduates are given multiple opportunities to collaborate with brands and companies throughout their four-year degree.

"We’re marked-oriented," says Guimerà. "We believe that design is connected to society and that it has a potential for transformation. We are absolutely committed to the idea of student-brand collaborations because we really see the benefit for our students.”

This year, for example, Interior Design and Product Design undergraduates at IED Barcelona are collaborating on a brief from the Swiss furniture maker Vitra. “The brief is to research future trends in workspaces," explains Guimerà. "Workspaces are a very important market for Vitra, and they wanted to see how young designers imagine workspaces will look in the near future. It was a very open brief, which is something we want for this kind of thesis project – it has to have the potential for the students to show all their capabilities.”

Previous student-brand collaborations have included companies such as Ferrari, Panasonic and Illy, and organisations such as CERN and Doctors Without Borders. "We try to carefully choose the clients we work with depending on our students' interests and capabilities," says Guimerà. "This year, the students were more into technological solutions so we wanted a project that could fit with them. Last year, we had a group with very high social impact and sustainability principles, so we chose Doctors Without Borders.”

Such collaborations are mutually beneficial. “In some cases the student-brand collaborations end up being produced, and in many cases they simply act as an inspiration for the client," says Guimerà. "It’s very enriching for our students to experience a real brief from a real client. But we also believe that we can give clients a vision of how young people are imagining the future from a creative point of view. It is a symbiotic relationship: they give us a lot, and we believe that we give them a lot in return too." This approach is aided by the small-group teaching practiced at IED Barcelona, with students on each course numbering no more than 20 per year. “They are not numbers in the system," says Guimerà. "They’re individuals, and we know their capabilities and their individual strengths.”

This sense of individualism is furthered by the internationalism of IED Barcelona, with 65 per cent of the school's students coming from outside of Spain. The teaching staff, too, hark from further afield. “Our professors are from many different countries and that’s something we’re really proud of,” says Guimerà. “Barcelona is a very multicultural city. Even historically, it’s been a place of crossroads and multicultural approaches and different cultures living here together."

While furthering Morelli's ideals of international collaboration and market-oriented education on multiple fronts, IED Barcelona is also keen to respond to pressing concerns of 21st-century design and manufacturing. In 2007, for instance, the school introduced a Masters Degree in Sustainable Product Design – the first of its kind in the world. It is a course that recognises sustainability as a central facet in a contemporary designer's work and provides dedicated training to facilitate this. The ethos behind this course has now come to permeate all the teaching that takes place at IED Barcelona today. “Our intention is to implement a circular economy," explains Guimerà. "Designers have a responsibility not to use toxic materials at any point in the production process. We need to look at the entire life cycle of a product.”

How does this inform the teaching of interior design and product design specifically? "We ask what’s going to happen after a product has been used. Is it recyclable; can I separate all the parts; is it going to be biodegradable?" says Guimerà. "Interior and product design will have slightly different approaches. In product design, we are more concerned with the manufacturing process. In the interior design – or space design, as we also like to call it – we have to consider the context of the building or site and how it’s going to interact in terms of energy.”

In this respect, IED Barcelona's ethos has remained true to Morelli's founding suggestion of "a more authentic, up-to-date culture of design". While retaining sound principles from 20th-century marked-oriented design, the school has allied this to a desire to introduce progressive 21st-century design thinking. By cleaving closely to Morelli's original intent, as opposed to the specific context in which he operated, IED Barcelona has maintained its relevance 50 years on from its parent school's founding.