Design as Art by Bruno Munari

Design as art Bruno Munari, book review by Giuseppe Gallo
Giuseppe Gallo

Giuseppe Gallo

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Munari is a giant of 20th-century Italian design, a figure of incredible depth who helped define the role of the designer as we know it today. Design as Art, originally published in 1966, is probably not his most important book, but it represents an interesting journey through his thoughts. It is useful for young people aspiring to a design career as well as for experienced designers who want to improve the communication of their projects.

 

Bruno Munari, polyhedric researcher and communicator.

I am ashamed to write these few lines about Munari. Not only because reading his story makes me realise how unattainable the quality and scope of his imprint is. But also because Munari did so much and so well that it is impossible to reduce him to a biography.
I will limit myself to saying that Bruno Munari is one of the most important designers of the last century, a figure who defined the role of the designer, both with his professional experiences and with his thoughts.

Born in Milan in 1907, where he worked as a graphic designer from a young age, he opened his first studio in 1929 with Riccardo Castagnedi, another important figure in Italian design. He adheres to Futurism, from which he breaks away to develop a path characterised by curiosity and a desire to overcome conceptual and technical limits.

 

Bruno Munari in his Milan Office, 1988, photo ISISUF - Istituto Internazionale di Studi sul Futurismo.
Bruno Munari in his Milan Office, 1988, photo ISISUF – Istituto Internazionale di Studi sul Futurismo.

 

During his long professional career, he designed graphics for some of the most important Italian publishing houses, such as Einaudi and Mondadori, and created industrial designs for Danese and other well-known Italian brands. His biography crosses paths with some of the greatest Italian artists and scholars, such as Gillo Dorfles, Umberto Eco and Enzo Mari, to name but a few.

What has always impressed me about his work and aptitude for research, coupled with a poetic and pragmatic ability in making the complex simple. This is evident in his design projects as well as in his artistic production and writings. Munari is an incomparable communicator who has left us dozens of books aimed at both professionals and children, books imbued with his experience and the desire to reach an audience, which he always does with great agility.

 

Design as Art di Bruno Munari

Originally published in Italian by Laterza in 1966 and in English by Penguin Books in 1971, this is a 223-page book illustrated with photographs and drawings by the author. The book collects Munari’s thoughts in five main chapters: Designers and Stylists, Visual Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design and Research Design.

As it is a collection of texts written at different times and occasions, no uniformity is to be expected, neither in the length nor in the depth of the chapters. The author ranges from observations on form, functions and materials to deeper reflections on language and the different perception of signs, accompanying the text with particularly effective examples.

 

Fast & Very Slow, from Bruno Munari's Art as design.
Fast & Very Slow, from Bruno Munari’s Art as design.

 

In the first part of the book, Munari dedicates several pages to the concept that gives the English edition its title “Design as Art” defining the role of the designer as an artist who addresses the needs of society. I would like to quote a passage that, although over 50 years have passed since the book was published, I still find relevant.

The designer is therefore the artist of today, not because he is a genius, but because he works in such a way as to reestablish contact between art and the public because he has the humility and ability to respond to whatever demand is made of him by the society in which he lives because he knows his job and the ways and means of solving each problem of design. And finally, because he responds to the human needs of his time and helps people to solve certain problems without stylistic preconceptions or false notions of artistic dignity derived from the schism of the arts.

Between the pages of the book, Munari illustrates some of his most interesting projects, such as the Useless Machines, the Falkland Lamp and the Tetrocone, but also some of his research activities.

Useless Machines, 1935-1945, from Bruno Munari's Art as design.
Useless Machines, 1935-1945, from Bruno Munari’s Art as design.

 

The chapter on Research Design is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Munari demonstrates and conveys a great interest in nature and the oriental tradition by talking about concepts such as growth, and natural structures, but also continuous topology before others.

 

Why Design as Art is important, for whom I recommended it

As mentioned above, Munari has written many books aimed at both experts in the sector and children, and certainly Design as Art does not reach the level of masterpieces such as Fantasia and Da Cosa Nasce Cosa, texts not yet available in English. Nevertheless, the book is a journey into Munari’s poetics, useful for young students approaching the world of architecture and design.

Similarly, Design as Art is useful for designers and architects interested in communicating their projects effectively, as Munari does in this book, narrating the development of some of his most interesting projects.

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