Italian Design: Theory and Practice

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Course Information
Design - All Types
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 


Additional student cost: 

For the production of a final design product, there may be an additional cost of 20-25 Euro per student.


This course introduces students to the history and evolution of Italian Design and to the methods of the design process. We will explore the reasons and the context that gave birth to a worldwide trend that still influences contemporary lifestyle today. Italian design will be presented through the life and work of the greatest designers and the most innovative italian companies. During the course, field trips will be organized into the most famous Milanese design locations, such as the Triennale di Milano, Museo Achille Castiglioni and Design Week (in spring semester). Embracing the craftsmanship and hands-on nature of design, each student will develop  his/her own design project from concept to production.   

Attendance policy: 

Regular class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to attend classes each day, including course-related excursions.

IES Abroad Milano allows a maximum of TWO excused absences per semester. Each further absence will automatically result in a penalty of two points off (2/100) on the final grade. SEVEN absences per course (including 2 excused absences) will result in a failing grade for that course. Furthermore, an absence on the date of scheduled tests, presentations or quizzes does not entitle you to recover/reschedule such tests. Failure to attend your midterm and/or final exam will result in an F grade on that paper/exam.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Recognize the role of Italian design in influencing the design practice.
  • Acknowledge the virtuous relationships between artisans, industry and designers, recognizing trends as well as the culture of the design work.
  • Demonstrate innovation through the design methodologies and phases, by applying a trial and error approach.
  • Design a working prototype of their final object.
  • Connect to the production world and test their creative skills.
Method of presentation: 

Lectures, discussions, creative sessions, case studies, field studies, student presentations.

Field study: 
  • Museo Castiglioni – Milano
  • Museo del Design e Triennale – Milano
  • A design company showroom – Milano
  • Design week: Il Salone del Mobile – Milano
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Course participation - 10%
  • Midterm Exam - 20%
  • Final Exam - 35%
  • Design Project, presentation, and written paper - 35%

Course Participation
An important part of the learning will be done in class through discussions and  presentation of case studies, students are expected to take an active part in these discussions and contribute to the learning from their own experience as well as from the assigned readings and homework and lecture material.

Midterm Exam
The exam is an assay type written exam based on the readings and the lectures held during the course.

Final Exam
The exam is an essay type written exam based on the readings and the lectures held during the course.

Design Project, Presentation, and Written Paper
During the course students will be asked to develop an object following the design phases.

The student will receive a brief describing the target, the context, the technology of production and the price. They will be guided through the design process, in a typical learning by doing method. The expected outcomes are a real object and a personal presentation of the work. At the end of the course students will be asked to present their projects showing the progress and evolution of towards the final result.

Students are required to deliver a written paper of 8-10 pages that accompanies the final design project and presentation. The paper will be motivating their design choices in the project and relate the project to the historical examples learnt in class. 

Session Topic Content Readings & Assignments
Part 1: Introduction and Course Foundation
1 Course Introduction

Framing the main contents of the course and exploring the students expectations.

2 Historical background 1

Introducing the Italian context and the reason for a worldwide success

  • Reading: Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design, curated by: Grace Lees-Maffei,Kjetil Fallan. Pages 9-20
3 Historical background 2

Introducing the Italian context and the reason for a worldwide success

  • Reading: Brief History of Italian Industrial Design. Link:
  • Reading: What is Italian Design?: A look to history for ideas, by Giampero Bosoni. Link:
  • Assignment: find a case of American design from post world war II and prepare a short assay about it. 
4 Masters of Italian Design 1 New lifestyle Icons: The Fiat 500, the Vespa Piaggio and the Lambretta Innocenti
  • Reading 1: the scooter - the short history of a cultural icon, By Mike Hanlon. Link:
  • Reading 2: IAT 500 NUOVA:
  • Reading 3: Foot, John (2001), Milan Since the Miracle: City, Culture, and Identity, Berg Publishers, p. 120. and:
  • Assignment: make a short presentation on the vehicle assigned to you, to explain its history and the reason for its success. 
5 Masters of Italian Design 2 A designer and an entrepreneur: Marcello Nizzoli and Adriano Olivetti 
6 Masters of Italian Design 3 Achille Castiglioni and the design of light
7 Field Study Museo Castiglioni  
8 Masters of Italian Design 4 Enzo Mari and the design and research process
9 Field Study Museo del Design e Triennale  
10 Masters of Italian Design 5 The Italian Design Companies: Cassina, Alessi, Danese, Kartell, Artemide
  • Assignment: make a short research on the company assigned to you and deliver a 2 pages article about it. 
11 Field Study A design company showroom  
Part 2: Design Process: From Creativity to Production
12 Creative thinking What is creativity? How to think outside the box? Bruno Munari method
  • Design as Art, by Bruno Munari. Pages 89-112. 
13 Field Study Design week: Il Salone del Mobile  
14 Design Process 1  Concept generation
15 Guest Lecture A guest lecture by a young designer from a working agency  
16 Project | Concept A concept for your own design project  
17 Design Process 2  Prototyping and development  
18 Project | Prototype Prototyping and testing your ideas  
19 Design Process 3 From idea to reality  
20 Project | Production 1 Producing your idea (in collaboration with local FabLab)  
21 Project | Production 2 Producing your idea (in collaboration with local FabLab)  
22 Project Presentation    
23 Final Exam    


Required readings: 


  • Castiglioni, Achille and Pier Giacomo.  Minimum Design.  Ore Cultura SRL, 2012.
  • De Lucchi, Michele and Catharine Rossi.  Masterpieces of Italian Design.  Goodman Books, 2013.
  • Foot, John.  Milan Since the Miracle: City, Culture and Identity. Bloomsbury Academic, 2001.
  • Kelly, Tom.  Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.  Crown Business, 2013.
  • Lees-Maffei and Kjetil Fallan (eds).  Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
  • Munari, Bruno. Design as Art. Penguin UK, 2008.