People ask me: So what do you do exactly?
First of all, I am not a designer. I deal with design though. Design, that is for me: the culture of consumption. When it comes to my professional output, I am a publicist, writer, researcher, curator, moderator, speaker or, like Bild am Sonntag recently noted with a splash of glamour: "a design star doubling as an entertainer".
With a 100% Italian, thoroughly humanistic heritage, generalism is my realm. I do understand the Teutonic passion for specialists. Then I truly would be "one of Germany‘s most prominent design experts". And yet, isn’t design the most undisciplined of all, a truly universal discipline?
Besides, the world is full of specialists. If you run a company, a magazine or a school, your staff must be filled with experts of all kinds. A very convenient divide et impera, my latin ancestors would say. Well, sometimes it is good to keep the thing together and see through its whole—and around it.
This is what I have been training my upper parts for, having studied architecture, sped into design, careened into marketing, drove through strategic brand consulting and finally handbrake-skidded to become a Professor at the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Cologne University.
All this across industries, cultures, markets and projects of all kinds. Multiplicity, and not repetitive specialism, makes for the quality of my work. Ten years of writing a weekly design critique in Handelsblatt made me into a rather enjoyable partner for a substantial talk about "the stuff that surrounds you".
So now, whatever your business, here is your chance to speak to a one-of-a-kind generalist. Unless of course, you are you afraid of the General.
Inside Paolo Tumminelli
Talking about design, no one seems to be right or wrong. A common weakness is being too romantic—or narrow sighted—and stay where it all began: the rural form-follows-function story, the petty bourgeois art-versus-design debate or the postmodern idea of invisible design. A major mistake though is ignoring Immanuel Kant’s elaborations and reducing design to one’s own taste. I have little if no interest in that.
Gradually, I understood that, before seriously talking about design, one has at least to accomplish the following: absorb the comparatively scarce theory on the matter, be aware of western consumption patterns, at least since the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s, get rid of one’s own preconceptions—not to say language restrictions—and finally be prepared to accept the inevitable confrontation with the unexpected.
This accomplished, design reveals itself as a wonderful thing, or the human being’s original impetus. Realizing that politics are just as much about design as the making of vases and megacities, running a blue chip company or a Chinese restaurant, writing a scientific book or a love letter, is the inevitable consequence.
If design can be that much, I still wonder why people know so little, and talk so scarcely about it. I suspect that the original idea of industrial design as an exquisitely commercial topic, directed to making and selling goods, has much limited the spreading of a broader cultural understanding about design. Still today, most media seem to consider design-talking as an avoidable form of advertising.
Yes, design is connected to consumption. But then, isn't art a form of consumption too? Or photography, literature, entertainment? Modernity has increased the evidence of classical design—i.e. physical objects—to an almost crazy pace though. Event that wouldn’t be unusual. Just absolutely anything—except perhaps city traffic—has got faster: the way we communicate and manage money, thoughts, relationships.
Nobody likes the idea of design as a superdiscipline. Undeniablys still, design is everywhere at any time, as is the need to talk about it. If so, at least seriously. Which also means, not taking design too seriously, not trying to make it feel snob (like art) or academic (like sciences) or technocratic (like engineering).
While it is less of a discipline than a trans-discipline or even indiscipline, design is the most human centered of all ways of thinking. Material and immaterial at the same time. That of design is an eminently free world. First thing to avoid is making it look and feel like Wallpaper lifestyle.
Talking about design is talking about life. Daily life with all the ups and downs, good and bad. Being into design—and really into it—implies handling all the dimensions of society. Out there. Therefore I hate design museums—prisons of taste—and call for a design to go with anybody, everywhere, anytime.
This lesson I understood early enough. My guru has been Stephen Bayley, whose Sex, drinks and fast cars (great title for a sweetly serious book, don’t you think?) has been a revelation to me back in 1989. Besides, I shall not forget Tom Wolfe, Thomas Hine and Donald Richie—all masters of creative writing, all witty observers of society. All of them actually of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
To them I must add Duncan Fallowell. His exhilarating To Noto, or London to Sicily in a Ford may be of lateral interest to design and automotive commentators. In it a sentence is contained though (about Sicily in fact), which perfectly reflects my attitude towards the world around me and that I must marry and report at once: "I’m observing, marvelling, loving, hating, approving, disapproving, but I am not complaining". Never.
Never in fact—because of my latinity—will I be able to reach their literary heights. Therefore I try to match with passion and flexibility. My writing aims at both the upper minded readers of domus (the art, architecture & design bible where I began writing) or Handelsblatt (Germany’s economical and financial paper, for which I produce a weekly column) and the hugely popular pages of Bild (where I may show up on Sundays) or any sort of corporate publication (often reaching millions of people).
I am a passionate writer and I would write almost anything: brand names and books, epitaphs and press releases, interviews and forewords, tweets and love letters. Would you like anything to read? Please enjoy!