I have always been fascinated with writers and illustrators’ creations on blank paper. What intrigues me is the inner conflict and the dialogue they have with the blank page before their creations come to life. So when I stumbled upon Gianluca’s project, where he rendered 50 of the bicycle sketches he collected over the past 6 years into prototype designs, I was fascinated.
What I loved about this project is that its construct permitted us to observe a designer’s awareness of aesthetics and functionality of the product designs against a non-designer’s independent, non-biased, non-aligned thought process. Maybe this is one area we must all consider for product designs and innovations.
I interviewed Gianluca for Blank Paper Project and he had some interesting insights and stories to share about his project ‘Velocipedia’.
Gianluca: There is a quite funny story behind this project. It all started in 2009 in a bar in Bologna where I was chatting with a friend. We were talking about school time memories and I recalled this very embarrassing moment: a classmate was being questioned by our technical ed. teacher. He was doing pretty bad and was on the verge of tears at a certain point, so the teacher tried to help him out by asking him to describe his bicycle. The poor kid panicked and couldn’t even remember if the driving wheel was the front or the rear one. My friend laughed at this story and said that anyone who has ridden a bike must know how it’s made. Then he tried drawing one on a napkin and miserably failed. That’s the day I started collecting bike drawings.
I would walk up to friends, family or total strangers with a pen and a sheet of paper in my hand, asking that they immediately draw me a men’s bicycle, by heart. Soon I found out that when confronted with this odd request most people have a very hard time remembering exactly how a bike is made. Some did get close, some actually nailed it perfectly, but most ended up drawing something that was pretty far off from a regular men’s bicycle.
Little I knew this is actually a test that psychologists use to demonstrate how our brain sometimes tricks us into thinking we know something even though we don’t.
I collected hundreds of drawings, building up a collection that I think is very precious. There is an incredible diversity of new typologies emerging from these crowd-sourced and technically error-driven drawings. A single designer could not invent so many new bike designs in 100 lifetimes and this is why I look at this collection in such awe.
In 2016 I eventually decided it was my turn to take part in this project. I decided my job was going to be to present the potential and the beauty inside these sketches. I selected those that I found most interesting, genuine and diverse, then rendered them as if they were real. I became the executor of these two-minute projects by people who were mainly non-designers and confirmed my suspicion: everyone, regardless his age and job, can come up with extraordinary, wild, new and at times brilliant inventions.
What is the creative process behind your art?
Velocipedia began as a collection and I really did’t have a purpose for doing it. At some point I understood I was gathering some great material for what is called a crowd-sourced project. Many projects of this kind are aimed at making the exact average of the collected materials, but I thought each and every one of the bikes I was receiving had unique features that needed to be brought to attention rather than merged together into a single design.
In general it would not be easy to say what’s the thinking behind my projects. I like them to be meaningful, that’s for sure. I know I tend to work by association of ideas and that my love for puns always comes up. My coin box for BVR and Ciro Minimo for Helios Automazioni would be two good examples of how play on words influences my designs.
How do you dismiss all the conflicting thoughts in your head and focus on the singular process of creation?
I teach product design in University. I think the best exercise for me is doing this together with my students on their projects. It makes the process much more natural when it comes to my own because I do it so many times together with them.
Give us a sneak-peek into your typical day. How does a ‘A Day In Life of Gianluca’ look like?
There is no rule and that is probably the best part. During the academic year I go to university twice a week and have lessons to prepare, exercises to mark and so on. I also started teaching in high school this year. When school is off I might find myself for a month in a row inside a big studio working as a consultant on some big project. In between these occupations I carry on other client work and personal projects. Probably what is common to my days is that I don’t spare a lot of time.
What do you feel when you stare at a blank page, before your art take shape on the whiteness of the sheet?
I feel the horror of vacuity. That’s why I need to feel my concept is strong and why I use puns to find an appropriate shape. For many designers styling is more like a final phase of the so called creative process and it can have nothing to do with the function or the meaning of the object. I feel I’m not able to do that.
If someone issues a search warrant through your tools and sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble into?
A PC first of all, then a smart phone full of pictures I take at things that somehow inspire me (I spent some time publishing some of these pictures last year); and then objects I gather in flea markets and at times use to develop prototypes (this is a different kind of process I use, in which I overcome the horror of the white sheet letting that the shape or part of the shape be determined by something that I can’t control such as a found object). Other tools are linked to prototyping “the old fashioned way”: cutters, balsa wood, glue, plaster and so on.
Tell us more about projects. The one you mentioned are based between crossing the borders between product design, graphics and illustrations.
I think it has to do with the fact I wasn’t trained as a product or graphic designer. I studied as architect and that influences my mentality. I am at the opposite of a purist in any discipline. Also the fact of speaking more or less fluently two languages (Italian and English) and knowing a bit both of Italian and U.S. culture pushes me to look at things from more than one point of view…I guess.
This is a very minor project but I think it’s eloquent. I was asked to develop a cover design for a yearbook and ended up putting together a mock-up for a fictional product, just to make the cover design. The whole thing took me just 4 hours.
This other one, called Instalegs, went viral in 2013. It’s a physical object that I actually produced as a series, but it’s rather a satire that could have been made as comic. I thought that actually making it would have been even funnier. It certainly would not have gotten all the attention if it had remained just a sketch.What are your can’t-live-without stationery essentials?
I love the Pilot V5 because it’s dirty. It always messes up the drawing a bit. Purists of sketching tend to dislike it for the same reason. I also like very soft pencils: B6 is one of my most frequent choices. And I like drawing on scrap paper though it tends to get lost very easily on my messy desk.
Some stats: Total number of collected bicycle sketches: 376
Youngest participant: 3 years old
Oldest participant: 88 years old
Different nationalities of participants: 11
Bicycles facing left: 85 %
Bicycles facing right: 15 %
Fun facts collected during the making of this project:
Some diversities are gender driven. Nearly 90% of drawings in which the chain is attached to the front wheel (or both to the front and the rear) were made by females. On the other hand, while men generally tend to place the chain correctly, they are more keen to over-complicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it correctly.
One of the most frequent issues for participants was not knowing exactly how to describe their job in short.
The most unintelligible drawing has also the most unintelligible handwriting. It was made by a doctor.
Gianluca Gimini is an Italian/American designer. As a professional he carries out projects of different nature often crossing the borders between product design, graphics, and illustration. He loves the communicational aspects of design and adds a humorous twist to whatever he does. He teaches product design at the University of Ferrara and occasionally writes in design magazines. He also helps big architecture firms convey their design projects to their clients.
Check out his projects here: http://www.gianlucagimini.it/