Fabrica Interaction Design Trial

Before applying to Fabrica I spent some time searching things like “Fabrica trial experience” and “Fabrica interaction Design Trial.” Now I am adding mine to the stacks, using a boring title for search engine optimization.

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During my skype interview, Sam Baron asked: “Why do you want to come to Italy?” I replied “I want to go to Fabrica.” He asked why I wanted to come to Fabrica, I said: “The pictures look nice.” “Pictures are sometimes bullshit” he responded. “Everything is a joke and an illusion,” I countered, “that’s why you should hire me.”

Fabrica is just like the pictures.

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There are some things that aren’t mentioned in the literature, like that there is a nearby field where several black cats hang out and that two dogs bark at you from a neighboring fence as you walk down a path denoted by a sign that says: “Rugby.”

My trial was broken down into four projects for which I was to propose ideas: An event at Milan design week for Veuve Clicquot, an in-store iPad display for Benetton, an exhibit at Fondiazzione Benetton, and a personal project.

The workflow felt natural. Designers think independently, then meet to discuss ideas. The collaborative nature of larger projects brings out everyone’s strengths.

In the open concrete room that the design department works in, I overheard a 3 hour meeting centering around the name of the Veuve Cliquot project. Sam said he liked “Particle” and an Australian graphic designer said that “sounded too sciency” to a native English speaker. I interjected: “Call it Party-cle” and a product designer responded “Party-Cool!”

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When I met with the interaction design head, Angelo, he encouraged me to begin prototyping my ideas. I made a water vapor screen with the materials around (computer fans, foam core a dry paint bucket…), did some sound design, and built a patch for ultrasonic distance sensors. My thoughts were to ephemerally delineate the Veuve Cliquot  event space. The granular projection surface went with the theme: particles projected on particles. I was also interested in defining the space sonically, specifically to make parts sound like the chalk caves where Veuve Cliquot is aged by adding sharp reverb to visitor footsteps.

For the “Color Run” Benetton iPad display I outlined four ideas: a 2-4 player racing game (encouraging a longer interaction and playing on the theme of “running”), a color-personality quiz (flippant and self-aware of the vapid fashion world), a motion-sensitive “mirror” of colors “running together” (also related to a retail context, and using Benetton’s SS16 palette), and a simple video loop of running paint.

The borders project was trickier as the docket was written in Italian, and the subject matter was historically specific. I approached this proposal in a more general/abstract way, with visitor-based light projections. Angelo said this was too art-oriented and to think about contemporary issues and/or data-driven interactivity. My next proposal was an interactive rights map. The refugee crisis was the biggest contemporary issue that came to mind, specifically in regard to Europe, so this was one direction. The other was a global map of LGBTQ rights. I’m not sure either hit the mark with regard to the client. As I discovered later, Angelo has already covered European borders in a gorgeous way.

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I was encouraged to have fun on the weekend… So I came to Fabrica to continue work on my projects. This was the most luxurious and relaxing thing I could imagine. The acoustics in the building are amazing when you are in there alone singing and I’m sure Tadao Ando designed this building with whistling in mind.

Marta, (admin of design department?) was giving a tour to some guests and offered me a ride. She said that they used to throw a party at the Trial apartment every two weeks, and neighbors complained every time. I took this as a hint – personal project? Throw a party.

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I arrived at a busy time, but it appeared to me that no one was working on personal projects. If I were accepted it seems I would have to put in extra evening/weekend hours to complete everything I envision. This is what I am used to anyway ;)

The hours Fabricanti put in are long, which I am also accustomed to, but the lunch breaks are longer than in U.S. capitalist culture. You walk by a giant abandoned building to get to Benetton’s mensa, which features pasta every day (and other options for omnivores). I had pasta with tomato sauce, fruit, a salad, and sparkling water during each lunch hour (these were the entirety of the vegan options). Vegetarian options weren’t robust either (add cheese to the above and have desert if you want it), and food quality was a notch above mediocre. The stipend of 700 euro a month (before taxes) on top of free rent and daily pasta seems geared toward Europeans fresh out of college (without loans to pay off) and is less than I’m used to making for full time work (it would equate to about 7.50 an hour including an estimated 400 a month for rent and 200 for lunches). Still, I would rather do interaction design alongside a creative group than continue to manage social media/SEO for high end designer fashion.

There’s still some fashion industry to contend with, seeing as Fabrica is funded and run by the Benetton group. I respect Benetton’s socially aggressive marketing platforms but am critical of them in terms of manufacturing practices – they follow the tropes of fast fashion and are “unable to” regulate/be transparent about their labor. The Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013 was connected to Benetton production and there is the problem that most cotton produced in the world involves slave/child labor at some point in the supply chain. Come to think of it, I can’t believe I didn’t incorporate wordplay on “Fast Fashion” into Benetton’s “Color Run” themed display.

If Benneton is “socially conscious” fast-fashion, Fabrica must largely function as a tax write-off and a resource for semi in-house marketing (“essential part of the Benetton group” and all) though overall Fabrica feels relevant and independent. This is due to the strengths of the people and the tremendous building.

So there’s my Fabrica Interaction Design Trial experience. I had a fun time at villain-tryouts.

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(Update: after > 8 weeks I found out I was accepted)

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