Aug 11, 2009

TalkingDesign: Fabrica!

“Una Conversazione sul Ruolo della Cultura e della Responsabilità Sociale nel Design”

editors note: For a slideshow of Fabrica’s entry in the AIGA XCD competition, click here. To review Fabrica’s ongoing social campaigns, click here

AIGA XCD: Fabrica! Who are you and how did you come to be?

FABRICA: Fabrica is a unique hybrid environment of learning and research practice supported by the Benetton Group. From its opening in 1994 by Luciano Benetton, research practice in communication through multidisciplinary and multicultural collaboration has been one of its most successful philosophies, making the institution today the central node of an advanced international network of students, teachers, artists, designers, photographers, musicians, publishers, writers, filmmakers, programmers, critics and entrepreneurs.

Only 20 kilometers from Venice, in a 17th century Palladian villa re-conceived by Tadao Ando, 50 selected under 25 year-old residents from around the world research through a full grant for 12 months. They learn by working and experimenting on concrete communication projects, with the supervision of an international team of professionals and a training program of visiting artists who come to Fabrica to hold lectures and workshops.

Residents can develop projects in partnership with commercial, cultural and non-profit institutions and also their own personal research goals.

AIGA XCD: Please briefly introduce the UNWHO project. Who was the targeted audience? What were the goals?

FABRICA: This global awareness raising and advocacy campaign was commissioned by UNWHO in occasion of the First United Nations Global World Road Safety Week 2007.

It includes five posters and public service announcements addressing “young road users” which are the most frequent victims of road accidents.

The aim of the operation is to raise awareness and promote action amongst decision makers and the general global public around the five factors of greatest impact in road injuries regarding young road users: helmets, seatbelts, drinking and driving, speeding, and visibility.

AIGA XCD: How did Fabrica get involved in the project? Anything particular about Fabrica that made you the natural choice?

FABRICA: We have a unique relationship with UNWHO that has enabled us to contribute to many important worldwide health issues through global awareness raising and advocacy projects. Some of the topics have been violence prevention, road safety, child injury prevention, tuberculosis, and anti-tobacco culture.

The destination of the work strongly regards developing countries that do not have modern infrastructures so this brings us to do a good deal of print based work where posters are still the most efficient media.

Our intentions for the future, however, are to collaborate with our UNWHO and UNESCO partners to explore non-conventional, post-advertising strategies (guerrilla, user-generated, participative, etc.) to apply to this delicate scenario.

We’ve been working with UNWHO since 2003 when we conceived the Global Violence Prevention multi-campaign, made of 3 different campaigns for different regions and cultures of the world, for a total of 24 different posters. This was so successful that they are still used today. Many other projects followed. In 2005 we were invited to work on the first “Road Safety is No Accident” campaign and after also redesigned the project brand. In 2007, when “Road Safety is No Accident” needed to specifically address young road users, the success of the past projects and our team of multi-cultural under 25 year old creatives seemed to be an ideal pick.

AIGA XCD: Please introduce us to the Fabrica-UNWHO team

FABRICA: I’ve been responsible for creative direction of UNWHO projects since the Global Violence Prevention campaign in 2003 and each project after that has had its unique team of art directors, photographers, writers, video makers, etc. The “Road Safety is No Accident” campaign of 2007 awarded by AIGA-XCD was conceived and designed by Yianni Hill (Australia) and photographed by Reed Young (USA). The models, which are all Fabrica residents, have great merit too because they posed for difficult shots wearing only t-shirts in February at 5 C°.

AIGA XCD: Can you share briefly with us your concepting process, ie., how the Fabrica Team devised concepts for the campaign? What was the “client’s” reaction, and what was their role in determining the final posters?

FABRICA: In Fabrica our concepting process and final results benefit from a sum of important factors: cultural and economical support from Benetton, international body and network of experts, young selected multi-disciplinary creatives, multi-cultural environment, advanced resources. All these together enable us to have a much higher degree of freedom as compared to ordinary educational and commercial contexts.

Concepting starts only after a deep study of the issue in its diverse cultural contexts. Working in close collaboration with the UNWHO project leaders throughout the whole process to understand the goals and strategies and define the brief is of central importance. This is a great “learning” phase for us, because with UN we are often working mainly for developing countries so we need to explore cultural diversities and discover what happens in “the rest of the world” regarding the issue.

For a month or so, each Fabrica resident on the project will have the opportunity to conceive a proposal. The whole process is guided by frequent general crits and one-to-one reviews with me. In the end, the proposals will be presented to an international commission that can sometimes be of around a hundred UNWHO representatives. The review of this commission is again another important learning step for us, because the feedback, mainly regarding the delicate cultural diversity aspects of communication, always positively influences both our content and design.

AIGA XCD: How did the campaign “translate” across UNWHO constituencies? Any interesting stories in realizing the campaign?

FABRICA: The campaign has been adopted worldwide. The posters are online and downloadable by all UNWHO offices. They are available as open files so they can be translated into any language and printed on demand. In developing countries (70% of the world) the poster on the corner of the street, the hospital or post office wall is still the ideal media.

AIGA XCD: Do you believe Designers have a role to play in addressing Social Issues/Responsibility? Do you believe that Culture impacts Social Issues and consequently the Designer?

FABRICA: As soon as I finished design school at the end of the 80s I started working with Massimo Dolcini in Pesaro, father of modern Italian public utility design and master social poster artist, dedicating the first ten years of my career to civic and cultural communication between local municipalities and communities.

My social commitment moved from a local to a global scope in 1998 when Oliviero Toscani invited me to direct the Visual Communication department of Fabrica.

Today, the world is on the brink of environmental, social and economical collapse. As communicators, designers and educators our work must ever more positively influence millions of people around the world, in their actions, decisions and thoughts. If our main concern as designers is committing only to aesthetics and profit, we would be wasting a crucial opportunity for the good of humanity.

Getting this message across to the new generations of designers and creatives is essential for a dramatic global change. Hundreds of thousands of designers graduate each year globally, so just think of what a massive energy of change we’re speaking about.

More than ever, it is priority that design students understand from day one of their careers what an enormous responsibility they have for social impact and how vital their role is for the future generations of humanity.

Beyond the importance of the results of the single projects, the fact that Fabrica has inspired hundreds of young creatives in this direction by giving them the possibility to understand their potential as catalysts of social change is definitely meaningful.
In this perspective I also run the lecture and workshop program “Environmental, Social, Relational” at Fabrica. The title of this program is rooted in Fabrica’s heritage of cross-cultural creativity for social concern. Environmental, social and relational themes are central to human ecology, a transdisciplinary field using holistic approaches in the search for harmony between people and their natural and created environment but mainly between people and their societies. Along these lines we want to investigate, experiment, document and disseminate how contemporary communication, design and artistic expression can contribute to helping people solve problems and enhance human potential, within near and far environments.

The workshop series has brought in international creatives from all fields of communication, design and technology who share a common desire to apply innovation to social improvement. Cameron Sinclair, Sebastiao Salgado, Sophie Thomas, Kevin Slavin (Area/Code), Mark Randall (WorldStudio) and Bruce Sterling are the most recent.

Regarding the second part of your question, yes Culture does impact Design. Communication designers are very important cultural mediators.

Important cross-cultural design issues regard strategy, image making and typographic design. If we want our work to function and transcend all visual cultures and languages the images we create must be culture sensitive and as “universal” as possible at the same time. In the cross-cultural context the images must do most of the attention grabbing and persuasion. While the typographic system, that usually carries the straightforward core information, must be simple and functional enough to accommodate all language translations. These issues are also determined by economical reasons in the sense that budgets normally do not allow for totally customized regional solutions that go beyond text translation.


Many Thanks to Omar Vulpinari for participating in this interview. Omar was born in the Republic of San Marino and raised in the United States. Today he lives in Treviso, Italy.
Since 1998 Vulpinari has been Head of Visual Communication at Fabrica, the Benetton communications center founded by Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani.
At Fabrica, he has directed projects for United Nations, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Witness, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, United Colors of Benetton, ArteFiera Bologna, Istituto Luce, Porsche, Vespa, The New Yorker Magazine, Walrus Magazine, Domus Magazine, Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica, Mondadori, Fox International.
He also directs the center’s transdisciplinary workshop program Environmental, Social, Relational. Fabrica’s visual communication work under his direction has been featured by major international media and dedicated exhibitions at the GGG in Tokyo, the DDD in Osaka, the ZeroOne Design Center in Seoul. Fabrica: Les Yeux Ouverts was featured at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, La Triennale in Milan and the Shanghai Art Museum.
Vulpinari has been a frequent speaker and juror for major international design events organized by ICOGRADA, AGI, AIGA, ISTD, JAGDA, Profile Intermedia, GraficEurope. He teaches Fundamentals of Two-Dimensional Design at the IUAV University of Venice where he also directs the conference series “Graphic Design and Social Responsibility”.
Vulpinari is advisor for United Nations World Health Organization, Design 21 – Social Design Network and Index Awards – Design for Social Improvement. Presently he is Vice president of ICOGRADA – International Council of Graphic Design Associations.
Photo by P. Martinello.

1 Comment

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