Interview with Paolo Ulian

Your first products belong to the ready-made category. How did you begin to take this course?

I felt I was almost required to do it at the beginning. I think that many young designers like me who started working at the beginning of the nineties had to meet the problem of a world overstocked with every kind of products. The first reaction, and probably the most logic as well, would seem to remain still and to stop contributing to industrial production rush. I thought that a possible solution to what looked like a deadlock was designing objects that could suggest respect for the environment.
That's why in 1992 I began working on a project which aimed at making marble and stone industry understand the necessity of using the huge wasted semi-manufactured material produced everyday. The next year, I started co-operating with Ceccotti International and designed a little house complements collection using no more than the semi-manufactured stone products wasted during the company manufacturing process. Unfortunately, the operation was not successful because the collection wasn't manufactured. My original aim was to create something like a "destructive" catalogue (or better I should say constructive catalogue) that was meant to be the reverse of the original and official one. Every single product of my catalogue corresponded exactly to one product of the official one and vice-versa.
After that experience, I've projected many products that were manufactured with waste or recycled materials and where I've tried to merge ethical and psychological requirements with the aim to achieve crucial results.

Reuse of old objects with new functions and co-operation with companies: that's a difficult connection to make. What's your experience?
The route from research design to actual production design was very tough. Young designers don't have any negotiating power and many companies try to take advantage from this condition. Sometimes entrepreneurs decide to manufacture some of their products but always without respecting their job and without paying them. In addition to this, I must admit that my difficulties arose from my decision to live far from Milan and from my inconsiderable gift for self-proposing. I've never taken my book and gone visiting a company directly. I've always advertised my proposals in shows and exhibitions and on the articles and books published. It was the managers who came to look for me afterwards and that's really satisfying to me.
However, since the beginning of my activity and since I started taking part in exhibitions like those organised by Spazio Opos in Milan or in competitions, I've always been convinced that it was important to design thinking about an marketable range of products. I was certain about it even when I projected research objects made with waste such as plastic bottles or cans. Moreover, I've always tried to invent something for my products. I can't design only aesthetically elegant products because I need to tell something more.
These are also the reasons why, during the last five years, I've fortunately found some people willing to listen to me and to invest their money to manufacture and distribute my objects.

How have you solved the distribution problem?
I've never produced my products up until now. I've always carried out some prototypes hoping that some companies would manufacture them. I took part at Salone Satellite this year and some Italian and foreign distributors encouraged me to start my own production. Knowing these operators it could be a little bit easier for me because at least I would know who to address to.

Is ecologicall motivation an added value for your products?
ecologicall motivation is crucial for my designing, both because I recycle waste materials and because it represents the utopia to educate more responsible consumers.
However, I'm convinced that the ecologicall aspect is only one factor that can contribute to create global added value. That's why I always try to introduce some other elements in my work such as invention and poetry. I appreciate everything that is research, experiment and innovation in design. It's also through this route that design must pass to become a positive and stimulating message.

How do you figure your work out in some years? How will your work evolve?
We experience a technological revolution that is distinctly changing our daily life habits day by day. At the same time, we have to face a faster and faster impoverishment of the world resources. All this makes me think that being a designer means taking on important responsibilities from an economical, a social and most of all from an environmental point of view. We should all put our shoulder to the wheel. We don't need well-designed tables or chairs anymore.
Nowadays and likely even more in the future, as designers we should try to concentrate our efforts inventing new product typologies that meet the requirements of our new ways of life. We should be more ready to understand the new forthcoming needs. As far as I am concerned, my expectation for the future is to be able to go on working with dignity and to maintain some independence.

Text by:
Gloria Refini


In cooperation with:
M.Angeles Fernández Alvarez
Elena Granchi
Sonia Morini