Brave New Alps

Designing Economic Cultures


This practice-led research project was set out in order to understand, articulate and develop a range of strategies socially-engaged designers can adopt to deal with socio-economic precariousness and market constraints.

Our initial questions were:

How can designers avoid the conventional choice between financial stability and the production of meaningful work?
What alternative values and organisational strategies can designers adopt to make their socially-engaged practices viable in the long-term?

To work through these questions, we created a series of relays between practical experiments of “working otherwise” and Foucaultian, feminist and autonomist Marxist theories of power and labour.

Here the links to the main practical iterations the research generated in its making:

My Castle Is Your Castle (2011)
Construction site… (2011-2014)
Designers’ Inquiry (2012-2013)
Commons & Commoning (2012)
New X Commoners (2013-ongoing)

Our situated proposals emerging from the research can be broken-down in three main points:

a) undoing the docile, industry-ready creative subject: conceiving of design as work and not as a vocation helps in the struggle for better working conditions;

b) acknowledging how precarising value-practices shape the work and lives of designers: questioning normalised practices of time, innovation and social relation so that we don’t continue to precarise ourselves and others;

c) reshaping design practice around values and practices of the common(s): constructing design practices around noncapitalist values contributes in the everyday to small- and large-scale transformations;

The overall proposition we extract from this research is simple in its formulation, but has important practical implications: it is that socially- and politically-engaged designers not only focus on the content of what they produce, but also on how the values of that content are synchronised with how one practices and lives. There is a need to generate a de-precarising culture and ethics among designers that goes beyond the content produced; a need to generate ways of relating to each other that both undo self- and reciprocal-precarisation and that collectively challenge the exposure to precarisation from multiple directions, within and beyond the field of design.

This would imply to add to the proliferation of signs and artefacts of resistance, a proliferation of ways of doing and relating that refuse to be governed by the – more or less subtle – procedures of precarisation. Establishing such a culture and an ethics that breaks with the individualisation and competition currently experienced at all levels of a designer’s life, would finally indicate a move towards making socially- and politically-engaged work not despite precariousness, but against it.

To read the academic 60,000 words version of our findings and proposals, download the thesis here.

To see the website that accompanied the research, visit

Here the links to further practical iterations that were generated:

Constructive Dismantling (2011)
Public A-I-R – festival (2011)
DEC conversations (2011-2012)
An hour, a month, a year (2013)

This research project was made possible through a Design Fellowship of the Design Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. The practical experiments were supported by project grants from MUSEION (Italy), DE.MO Movin’up (Italy), Amt für Deutsche Kultur der Autonomen Provinz Bozen-Südtirol (Italy), GIZ (Germany) and many other non-monetary forms of support. See appendix K of the thesis for an extensive but not exhaustive account of the economy of this research.