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Some Virtues of Design
By Gui Bonsiepe

An Unfashionable term

I chose to focus on the issue of virtues of design when I was reading - once again - the Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino. As is known, he finished only five out of a plan of six memos before he died. In this remarkable small volume he speaks about the values he would like to see maintained and brought into the next millennium as far as literature is concerned. These shared values he calls virtues. Taking his approach as starting point I want to talk about the shared values of design for the next millennium.

Virtue 1: Lightness

The Six Memos for the Next Millennium include: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity and Consistency. Without wanting to push the issue, several of these values for literature can be - with due corrections - transferred to the domain of design. A literal transfer certainly would be naive and inappropriate. But parallels and affinities seem to exist. For instance, when Calvino defines Lightness as the attempt to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language, are there not analogies in the filled of design? Lightness in design might be a virtue to be maintained, especially when we reflect on material and energy flows and their impact on the environment and when we confront the mundane issue of congested lines cloaked with digital trash in the Net. When later he refers to the "sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing… That what many consider to be the vitality of the times - noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring - belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars," lightness acquires a critical dimension and dissipates wrong associations of easy going aloofness and superficiality.

Definitely I would include under the term Lightness the notions of humor, wit and elegance for which we have particularly in Italian design so well known

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