“I believe the future lies in design thinking, in strategic design as a systemic approach to complex problems and emerging needs”.
Moleskine notebooks, which hit the shelves during the Nineties, were the brainchild of Maria Sebregondi who, in response to a request from Modo&Modo to create objects for cultured travellers, decided to revive the traditional travel journals. Beloved of Chatwin and made famous by him in The Songlines (1987), they had fallen out of production for several years. This led to a first series of notebooks, sophisticated and elegant in their simplicity, curated right down to the last detail and with a rich history of artistic and literary associations behind them.
Maria Sebregondi has never stopped working on the Moleskine range, overseeing its development and brand and communication strategies.
She was head of Brand Equity for Moleskine SpA from 2007 to 2015, with particular focus on brand development projects for building social networks on and offline. She has been Brand Equity Senior Advisor e Company Brand Ambassador since 2016.
She previously worked on a number of different training projects for businesses and institutions, geared to creativity and innovation.
She has authored socio-anthropological essays on contemporary mutations for Electa’s “Industria e Design” series and articles for newspapers and journals, with particular focus on the new languages. She has worked with words in various fields, from creative writing to copywriting, from essays to literary translation.
Her Etimologiario was reprinted by Quodlibet in 2015, a small etymological dictionary of a whimsical nature, in which her invented etymologies disclose their own unexpected and appropriate rightness, which amplifies, overturns or broadens – as the case may be – the primary meaning of the words.
She is a member of OPLEPO, Opificio di Letteratura Potenziale and a member and promoter of lettera27, a non-profit organisation that supports the right to literacy, to education, to instruction and, more generally, to access, to knowledge and to information.
As a sociologist, translator and founder of Moleskine, your professional career is multidisciplinary. How would you describe your work today?
I like to think of myself as an interpreter of the times I live in, with antennae tuned into signals of the impending future and a tail capable of holding onto fragments of the past, a remembrance of what has been. Capturing the spirit of the times is both an inspiration and an aspiration for me: a continuing challenge and something to strive for every day.
The basic concept of Moleskine was to bring the notebooks used in the past by great artists and writers, from Van Gogh to Chatwin bang up to date, how important is the ongoing dialogue between past and present, tradition and innovation in your company?
Given the way in which the project was conceived right from the outset, the combination between these poles has always been a core factor. All the Smart Notebooks collections we are launching right now, and which are proving very successful, are a combination of the most traditional manner of writing – with pen and ink – and the digital dimension, which enables us to edit, archive and share our notes. A bridge between analogue and digital, between high and low technology, between ancient gestural expression and that of the future is both our own familiar landscape, where we feel most at ease, and a developing ecosystem that we are keen to help define and progress.
Can you give us your definition of “good” design from a sociological and creative point of view?
I believe the era of product design is over, in the sense of the design and development of a single object, no matter how beautiful. I believe the future resides in design thinking, in strategic design as a systemic approach to complex problems and emerging needs. We need to come up with systems, connections and multidisciplinary processes in order to design experiences consistent with the times we live in and their demands. These are the parameters for good design these days, which by its very nature always calls for simple and effective responses to specific demands.
For example, I find technology applied to houses very interesting, in that on one hand it simplifies life and, on the other, it broadens our experiences and our relational opportunities. But I think it only makes sense if it is shown to be genuinely useful to the people who actually inhabit the domestic space and not a complication, not just purely decorative and largely superfluous, which is often the case. Design has to be simple and useful, aesthetic and stylistic statements just for the sake of it are a betrayal of its real mission.
What interests you on the contemporary design scene? Is there anything in particular you are passionate about?
I’m really fascinated by interface design; user interface design is the key to all technological innovation, to all the experiences made possible by technology. I think the fields of interface and of artificial intelligence are the ripest for experimentation and exploration.
Architects and designers are still very attached to pieces of paper, for sketching out ideas, translating them into projects. How do you see the dialogue between analogue and digital, based on your experience as a “paper professional”?
It’s certainly fertile ground for dialogue; in fact – as I said earlier – Moleskine is working on new products and new services that will preserve both dimensions together. The old ways are still and still remain very productive and important for designers, not least because ideas can strike when we are not necessarily at our work tables and, when this happens, a piece of paper and a pencil are valuable allies. I also think it’s great to be able to trace a concept from its earliest beginnings to completion, completely developed and, while it’s true that paper makes this sequential process easier to follow, it is also true that it is useful and extremely efficacious to be able to digitise the entire paper process easily and instantly. Basically, I believe in integration. It’s just a matter of working out how best to bring these two worlds together to provide the richest and most intense user experience.
What’s your relationship with your home?
I spend less time at home than I would like to. I love being among my books and papers, sitting chatting on the sofa and especially in my kitchen, this is undoubtedly where I spend most of my time at home.
Are you fond of any particular domestic ritual?
I’m absolutely not into rituals, but I love cooking, it relaxes me. The first thing I do when I get home is to “get down to business” with my cooker and kitchen equipment. I’d say cooking is the closest I come to a domestic ritual.
Is there anything in your home you could never part with?
I don’t get particularly attached to objects in my home, I’m more attached to the things I carry around with me every day, the ones with symbolic and emotional value that end up almost as talismans: a key ring I’ve used for over twenty years that I’d never replace, a small smooth stone that looks a bit like an eye – so I call it my third eye – and my Moleskine diary of course. This means I’ve got a sort of portable comfort zone, so I feel at home wherever I am as long as I’ve got my stone and my key ring.
Is there anything you’d describe as a design icon?
Luckily there are lots of iconic objects and they stand for different moments in history. But if I had to choose one, it would be Vico Magistretti’s small Eclisse lamp, because of the play of criss-crossing and overlapping spheres and because of its portability. A simple yet complex object. I’m very fond of lights in general so, not surprisingly, the second object that comes to mind is Ingo Maurer’s Luccellino, a minimal, very poetic light. It’s almost a token, a haiku.
Going back to your professional career, how do you see your work in the near future?
I’d say that for me, and for everyone else, work will become increasingly mobile, less tied to fixed worked stations and proscribed places. Switching between analogue and digital will become even more marked.
Moleskine has just launched a fascinating new project: the magazine The Towner (http://www.thetowner.com/). Can you tell us how it came about?
I’ve always seen Moleskine as a cultural brand, over the years the pages of its notebooks have been filled with thoughts and notes by thinkers, creatives, writers, travellers; with this history behind us it was quite natural for us to make the leap into becoming publishers of content, by bringing out an actual magazine alongside our publishing area – devoted to special editions of architecture design and illustration. The focus on the city is consistent with the desire we’ve felt to talk about the urban spaces since we launched our City Notebooks, ten years ago now. I think its strong point is its autonomous, extremely competent editorial group, composed of young writers and journalists, spearheaded by Tim Small. It’s still early days, we’ve just launched the English version and we hope to grow. It was a challenge we were keen to tackle and we hope it will attract its own community of dedicated readers.