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Interview with Social Designer Sara Ricciardi

Sara Ricciardi is an Italian multi-faceted designer teaching social design at NABA, the New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. Working in social and interior design, for shops and hotels, we discovered Sara Ricciardi’s world in this exclusive interview.

How did you start your career as a designer?

It started very early, I was studying humanities and philosophy. I quickly felt the need to connect my thoughts with material, to translate these meanings and understandings I was getting from my studies into a material and design language.

So I started studying product design in Milan at the New Academy of Fine Arts. I was very connected to objects and I wanted to investigate materials and shapes. Then I went to study in Turkey and NYC, where I really understood how to learn from mistakes. It is essential to make mistakes at the beginning. I opened my studio 6 years ago, where I first worked on product design before creating installations and set design. Now, slowly, step by step I have been evolving my work into interior design and designing spaces. 

I am also teaching social and relational design at NABA. My focus is on how to create urban projects together with communities, where the community becomes an active part of the project.

Templi – Picture by Matteo Cavalleri

How do you define relational design? What role does it play in your career?

With my studio, we have created playgrounds and worked on projects in working class neighborhoods. We have also created a magazine called Popular Habitat which has been translated into English. It’s a magazine that is about famous houses in Milan, and I work with students all year long to discover ways we can create more value like those in the suburbs. We got to work with prisoner communities, sometimes creating exhibitions, buildings, videos, and more about and with them. We always try to create value and raise awareness wherever we work. With my relational design, I try to establish a sharing system between communities.

I deeply believe in participative architecture. Of course, you need a methodology to get to an idea as a designer, but you also need to ask the city and the people. In the end, you build a project with and for the community together.

Palazzo Marella, picture by Delfino Sisto Legnani

How does your relational design approach influence your practice in interior design today?

All my fields in design are whispering interesting points to each other. I always bring with me all my knowledge and my expertise. No matter what kind of project I work for, I bring my knowledge of details, my research on materials and designing space. There is no difference in my approach to a luxury brand, a beautiful flat or a street, the quality of my work and input is consistent. My background in product design along with my work on urban projects and social issues influences me and gives me the ability to be a good listener. I am able to understand people, which then influences how I design their interior.

My motivation in all my projects is to showcase people’s identity. We are used to following trends, but to me, the best thing to do is find what you like and your own identity. When I design an interior, I focus on the identity of the person while also making sure the space answers the specific needs of the client. I think that designing the interior of a house is also a type of social design because you deal with different people, needs and expectations and you end up doing the work together too.

L’Île de Serge, picture by Delfino Sisto Legnani

Where do you find your inspiration?

Everywhere, especially at home in my flat. I have a lot of books, I read many books and live many lives thanks to them. I am able to dream thanks to these incredible pages. At the same time, I love to go out and wander, where I don’t have a goal and I simply observe.

Can you describe your creative process?

There is so much inspiration around us, you just have to catch it. Once I grasp some ideas, I put everything in my notebook. I love to work with words first, then I put the points together and I come up with a new story. It’s always all about the story in the end. Everything is poetry that you create.

What are you currently working on?

I have many different projects going on at the moment. Right now, I am creating my new studio and I am working for an Italian collector living in France for a secret project. I am also designing the interior of a cosmetic shop which will open in Milan next year.

I am also the art director for the project “La Grande Bellezza – The Dream Factory” for the Starshotel group. It is a patronage project for high Italian craftsmanship. Next year, I will focus more on interior designing exclusively where I really want to combine scenography and interior design, to have a real vision and atmosphere for interiors.

Metamorfosi, picture by Delfino Sisto Legnani

What was one of your most interesting projects?

Last year during the design week, I actually worked for a French company, Serge Ferrari, that I love in Lyon. One of the biggest brands of outdoor textiles and furniture.  I created l’Ile de Serge where I wanted to critique our consumption style and question how we use products and materials in the long run. It was great to work on that project.

What is your favorite art movement?

Art is an answer to the era in which it is developed. Today, I am very interested in performative arts and relational arts, how you can create art with action and people.

In your opinion, how is art related to design?

Everything is connected to art. Art depends on the level of research. No matter who you are, artist or not, if your way of research is strict and established, then your message, your intentions and your way of being your own character is art. You can be an artist, anyone is an artist in the same way that all artists are not artists.

Eden, picture by Marina Denisova

One of the most important moments of your career?

My thesis project. I was studying and I simply wasn’t creating. Then, for this project, it all clicked. I found my inspiration and identity in people, stories and shapes. It was my first project in which I found myself and it opened that little door. From that moment, everything made sense and the path was clear. I knew that this is what I was meant to be doing and others also understood what I was doing. My parents finally understood my creativity and my path too.

The project’s theme was food, I made seven stories during a coffee break,  I interviewed seven different people and built up the stories, and created 7 objects about their relationship to food. For me, this was my first project where people could see my signature.

What is your biggest dream as a designer?

I love pedagogy, I would love to bring my design thinking to the educational system and rebuild it from scratch. Building a research on how to design schools, their architecture and the tools used to study history, philosophy and maths. The educational system is so interesting to me, it builds our truth and our visions of history, possibilities and I would love to work in that area of investigation. 

Arcadia, picture by Delfino Sisto Legnani