Around the body

The reasons for an issue

This issue examines in depth the relationship between body and design. The discussion includes a historical perspective while also examining contemporary implications and examples, particularly in the light of digital technology.

Text by Claude Marzotto, Jonathan Pierini, Silvia Sfligiotti

This article (qui in italiano) has been featured on Progetto Grafico, an international graphic design magazine published by Aiap, the italian association for visual communication design. The issue #31, “Around the body”, has been edited by Claude Marzotto, Jonathan Pierini and Silvia Sfligiotti. You can subscribe to the magazine here and buy the current issue here.


A page from the book by Cristina Lastrego and Francesco Testa, “La figura dell’uomo”, (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1976).

Communication design is perceived today as one of the most intangible of design disciplines: its artifacts circulate increasingly in digital form and production has over time shifted away from the physical dimension. Digitization is a well-established fact, and yet the picture would be incomplete if we were to ignore the various signals (the most obvious perhaps being a widespread return to hand printing) that indicate an irreducible and contrary effort to rediscover — or to reinvent — a physicality of doing.
So, for example, if on one hand designers seem to have forgotten their bodies when defining their relationships with work and others in their everyday life, on the other hand we are witnessing an increased attention to the spatial and performative possibilities of graphics in situation design.
This was what gave us the idea to devote an issue of Progetto grafico to everything that in visual communication moves around the body, starting with its most immediate expression — the cognitive approach of the body from the outside, the aim of which is to represent — and then extending the investigation to a more internal experience of this relationship,
in the bodily and relational processes that develop in daily work and education.
The first part of the issue includes a series of contributions addressing representation of the body: the face, always a catalyst on posters and covers (Claude Marzotto and Maia Sambonet); ourselves, as in the case of designer self-representation (Silvia Sfligiotti); the ideal person, as happens in the algorithmic simulations of many ads (Bardelli, Colombo and De Gaetano); or the enemy, at the center of the self-styled Islamic State’s communication strategy (Elisa Angella and Nicoletta Raffo). Representation of the body is always a construct, even when, as in the case of anthropometry, analyzed in Lucia Miodini’s historical essay, the image purports to render an objective taxonomy of a human being. A reaction to this was the anatomic disintegration of the Sixties Japanese avant-garde, described here by Maria Pia D’Orazi; a radical experience of rediscovery of the material essence of the body through dance and photography.
Artifacts of communication can be seen as prostheses we use to enhance our senses and in which we try to objectify experiences and particular points of view, in order to share them with a wider audience. In this sense, awareness of physical working conditions and their political implications is a prerequisite for effective communication. To address this aspect, in the second part of the issue, we invited five studios, designers and collectives (Fanette Mellier, Moniker, Erica Preli, Evening Class and Fictional Collective) to express their position visually and in written text, comparing their approach to that of four designers from different generations.
In an interview with Briar Levit about her documentary Graphic Means, Jonathan Pierini discusses the evolution of graphic design techniques and their relationship with the designer’s body. In Tereza Ruller’s
contribution, the focus shifts to the possibilities of putting the actual process at the center of the designer’s work, until process and product become one. The second part ends with some considerations by Giovanni Anceschi on the centrality of the living body and the special relationship between soma and eye that unites art, design and movement.
The third and final part, introduced by an interview by Roberto Gigliotti and Jonathan Pierini with Laure Jaffuel, teacher at the Studio for Immediate Spaces at the Sandberg Instituut, takes a look at teaching. In education, the experience of connecting body and design often forms the basis for preliminary courses prior to specialization in the various disciplines, thus they inspire new practices and possible career paths.
The article by Chiara Barbieri on the Bauhaus reveals how interest in the body was not simply a question of adding performing arts to the curriculum but included stretching exercises, dietary principles and breathing techniques.
After gradually disappearing from the training of designers, physicality is again at the core of various educational experiments: an overview by Azalea Seratoni looks at some contemporary examples where the body is considered as an instrument for understanding the world and design practice.
This collection of contributions converges around the body as around a center of necessary gravity, which the immaterial space of the digital world has not done away with and which, quite the contrary, seems today to require a renewed awareness. By investigating visual communication in depth, the somatic perspective allows us to capture a set of emerging practices and research we feel cannot be disregarded in future developments of the discipline.