in Urbino, Italy.
Tony Brook and I travelled to Urbino in Italy to run a week-long publishing workshop. We’d been invited by designer and teacher Leonardo Sonnoli (below left) to work with 50 MA students at what must be the world’s most beautiful design school.
Urbino is a gorgeous hill town oozing Renaissance glamour. The town is dominated by the University of Urbino, which was founded in 1506. The art school – ISIA Urbino – is hidden down a cobbled street behind a ducal palace. From the school’s windows it is possible to look out over the sort of lyrical landscapes familiar from Italian paintings of the high Renaissance.
We arrived on Monday morning to find a vaulted workspace full of enthusiastic students. Our project brief required them to form themselves into small teams and produce – within five days – a 12pp printed publication with an accompanying digital component (website, app, viral campaign). Each group was free to choose its own subject matter, format, content and design. The only iron clad requirement was that each group communicates their topic to their intended audience with flair, conviction and clarity
An important aspect of the sessions was to provide the students with a taste of collaborative working. Some found collaboration easy, others found it difficult and limiting. Ultimately, however, all the groups discovered ways of dealing with the sometimes problematic but unavoidable realities of communal working.
Tony and I spent the first two or three days working closely with each group offering a mixture of advice, critical appraisal and old fashioned encouragement. The one thing we didn't do was prevent anyone from doing what they really wanted to do – even when we thought it was wrong. Honorable failure was fine, we told them. Complacency, we stressed, was not an option.
As it transpired, none of the groups failed, and there was no complacency. Some of them left their dash to the finishing line till the last possible moment, and there were a few all-night sessions. But in the end everyone met the deadline, and in all cases produced work that exceeded expectations – some even defied the laws of probability!
As a final twist we asked all the groups to present their projects to an audience comprising Leonardo Sonnolli, the school’s dean Roberto Pieracini, students from other departments, and of course, the other workshop groups. With savage cruelty we also made them do it in English. Needless to say, being cultured Europeans, they did this with ease and good grace.
The range of subjects chosen was remarkable for its diversity and sheer inventiveness. Here’s a glimpse of all nine projects.
Big thanks to Leonardo Sonnoli; Roberto Pieracini; our two invaluable project assistants Michela Povoleri and Filippo Taveri: our design theorists and chauffeurs Luigi Amato and Claudia Polizzi; and all the MA students. Special thanks to philosopher and shopkeeper Giorgio, the workshop’s unofficial patron saint.