Interview to Co.Mo.Do. by Michela Zoppi

The necessity of this interview born from a personal curiosity about the cooperative’s practice within society, also in relations, with actual and future role the graphic designer with a social approach.



First of all, I would like to start from scratch Co.Mo.Do? How was born Coop.? Attached to its name there’s a ambitious claim. A strong statements linked to the of precise social commitment: “Communicating multiplies obbligations”. What kind of duties are involved in communication? What was the first job you worked as a coop.?

Comodo is a collective established in 2003, after an educational and training experience helds inside the Spoleto high security penitentiary. We organized design oriented class and labs for inmates, as part of the prison’s rehabilitation program. We then realized that, graphic design as discipline, if contextualized became a redemption and reintegration tools. The name Co.Mo.Do. born from this awareness. Since then, we never forgot how fundamentally design process is a dichotomy between form and content.

For sure, the work approach structured is quite different from the usual studio logic, also because Co.Mo.Do’s headquarters are located in three different cities. How is the workflow set up and how much has it changed over the years?

In reality, we are dislocate in five cities: Perugia, Rimini, Rovigo, Milan and Barcelona. Even Matteo Guidi, who has been living in Barcelona is part of the collective.
We have chosen this way of work in contrast to Bcpt Associati, my other company in which my practice is more relate to the traditional studio methodology. For CoMoDo, we wanted to use multiple points of view and contexts as additional values to the conceptual and ideational phase. Each project starts with an online call, an open discussion through collaborative working platforms. Very often this brainstorm takes place regardless of real clients commision. Usually, these are the most interesting once.
After the overall conceptual framework is defined, a single person is in charged by the collective. Evolution and progressive development are shared within the group, untill the final proposal. Very important is our project manager role, Alba Beni, without her in this online shared reviews everything would blow up.
My role instead is the artistic and design director. I take care and assured quality, homogeneity recognisability in visual terms of every project.

The Co.Mo.Do collaborator are multifaceted figures that come from different educational background; visual designers are supported by an editorial staff and research group. In this term, I believe that graphic design, and overall design, opens up to the possibility of having a new active social role, and a different type of objectives and goals. In this sense, Which is for your collective, the designer role in contemporary society?

The answer is already tolds by the question. We are convinced that nowadays design is more and more linked to content, process and relationships. What is really important in our projects is not just the graphic outcome. However we are fascinated by it, as a direct consequence of changements in client knowledge. Usually, we spend more energy and effort in to design or redesign the context. We work intensively in redefining the cultural paradigms that belong to our clients to gain their personal points of view. Reaching this goal, the graphic theme no longer encount obstacles and you can really experiment.

Pierre Bernard, French designer and founder of Grapus, in The Social Role of the Graphic Designer states:
“Today the production of visual communication takes place in advertising.” And again: “There is a difference, however, between advertising and graphic design: advertising is today increasingly centralized, international generalized and, therefore, standardized – like the economic forces that produce it, and the products with which it has a tariff. While the graphic design, continues to be created and structured in an autonomous and diversified manner – in direct contact with specific aspects of the world.”
This kind of argumentation take design at a considerable within society itself. Can we apply the same though in actual society? Could you comment this quote, referencing your design and adverting experience?

It is a way of thinking, hard to follow these days. We consider it outdated. Continuing to talk about disciplines and fields, responds to a work compartmentalization that for us at least no longer exists. When the Jordan government commissioned us a campaign for the national tourism development, we rediscussed the entire commit, by converting the request into a inhabitants survey, that would help understanding the perception of the area. They asked us a brochures and we designed a nomadic exhibition. The English word ‘you advertise’ literally means to advertise something, but implicitly means doing it through the investment of large sums of money. Today we prefer to talk about ‘spreading’ a message through multiple and contextual channels, which can often be activated spontaneously by working on the concept of existing reputation among users and sharing of key values.

Today, we hear more and more terms like speculative and critical design, new design etiquettes where designers are their own clients. Where designer critically questioning theme, trying to provide visual answer. Where and how Co.Mo.Do is in relations with this sorts of new “specializations”, design segments?

Together with Bcpt Associati we organize an annual event called ‘Polpette’ (or simply meatball), endorsing lectures and meetings under the commune topic of design capability to produce real changes, both in the private and public sector. This year we will publish a volume or collections of custom ‘titling’ fonts. Typefaces designed over the years. In other cases, we propose events conceived directly by us. For exsample, this year it happened with Umbria Libri, a festival about umbrian Publishing houses. Where, a part from designing the visual identity, we curated two workshops about D.I.Y. book and expressive typography, with Valentina Alga Casali and Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo. To answer your question, I do not believe in design label or category, such as speculative or critical. I think these are more inner qualities of any projects. I rather believe in my professional moral duties and their impact on community. An assumption of responsibility is mandatory for what we design. Without this, we would be decorators.

In the early ’90, when Grapus was formed, the graphic designer figure was connotate by a much more political and ideological conviction, shared in common by designer and client. Today political commitment, and probably politic itself, has almost disappeared. Leadership of state, of nations, is economy based. Design has been emptied of any political ideology and communicative power, especially in relation to society critique. In this sense, which is the CoMoDo position? What aims, purposes, and even belief are at the basis of your work?

Who said politics is over? Perhaps political parties are done. The onces acquired from the past. Politics of opposite parties is in captivity, like authority management is. It is not over the political or collective responsibility. For us the idealistic belief still remain, any knowledge enpowerment or dirict awarness is accepted. It is definetly a political facts, that communication hasn’t never seduce to sell lies. Instead it has to challenge people opinions. These are the first things we discuss with new customer, refering to responsabilities and transparency obbligation.

Last question is little bit provocative. Can design change the social environment in which it operates? How?

The answer relies in “Design and Democracy” a talk by Gui Bonsiepe, held in Santiago de Chile in 2005.
“I am using a simple interpretation of the term “democracy” in the sense of participation, so that dominated citizens transform themselves into subjects opening a space for self-determination, and that means ensuring room for a project of one’s own accord. Formulated differently: democracy involves more than the formal right to vote. Similarly, freedom goes farther than the right to chose between a hundred varieties of cellular telephones; or a flight to Orlando to visit the Epcot Center, or to Paris to look at paintings in the Louvre. I favor a substantial, and thus less formal, concept of democracy as the reduction of heteronomy (i.e., domination by external forces)”. Our task isn’t to show off our skills, but to make our clients able to array theirs.