Paola Antonelli is an Italian-born curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and one of the world’s foremost experts on contemporary architecture and design. She received her MA in Architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1990, and worked at the design magazines Domus and Abitare before coming to MoMA in 1994. At MoMA, where serves as curator for the Department of Architecture and Design, Antonelli has been a strong of advocate of treating design as art: she’s written that "everything is designed, one way or another.” Antonelli is known for her eclecticism, and has curated well-received shows such as Workspheres (2001), devoted to the workplace of the near future. Her recent exhibit SAFE included – among other materials – a UN refugee tarp, camouflage cream, and a baby buggy. Antonelli has taught design history and theory at UCLA and Harvard and is the author of Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design, and co-author of 2008 book Design and the Elastic Mind.
Question: How is technology changing the world of design?
Antonelli: A designer’s most important role, in my opinion, is to act as interpreters and as translators. What they do best is they take major scientific and technological revolutions and they transform them so they can be used by people. And the Internet is the biggest example. It used to be DARPA was the military complex that formed . . . It used to be only lines of code. It’s only when in the ‘80s that the designers of Mosaic designed the first interface that we started being able to use the Internet without any particular preparation, just some training. So that’s what they do all the time. Say there is some abstract idea that is really complex. They . . . They incorporate it in an object – or in “object” I also mean an interface, not only a physical object – so that we can use it. And even now what they’re helping us to do is to manage all this technology. There are many designers – you know one is ___________ – that are really preaching the gospel of simplicity. The more complex technology becomes, the more we need to have a simple platform to understand it. So for instance remote controls with fewer buttons that are set in a way that is almost instinctive. Or the Wii – the Nintendo Wii. Instead of having game controllers that are 15 buttons, you have sticks that actually use your body; so more gestural interfaces. That’s what designers do. They bring new technology back to our more . . . most ancestral habits.