The eight points of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path for relieving the suffering of living beings are so simple they seem obvious, if considered one by one: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. The problem is how to apply them all together, making them into a daily practice that gives meaning to every moment and every action of our lives. Designers Andrea Maragno and Sonia Tasca, founders of JoeVelluto Studio of Vicenza, have translated them into a practical handbook for their profession. And based a method on them, which they share with the design community (and others) in an interdisciplinary project supported by an online platform called ‘Design in pratica-Pratiche di design virtuoso’, meaning ‘ Design in practice – Virtuous design practices’.
The twenty-year history of JoeVelluto Studio (also known as JVLT) in the world of avant-garde design reveals the seeds of the initiative. “The project began with profound reflection on the meaning of design and how Sonia and I have evolved over twenty years practicing the discipline of design”, reports Andrea Maragno from his studio in Vicenza. “We have always worked with the meaning of things, and so we wanted to reflect on this further. And then there’s my own life experience: in 2019 I took my vows and became a Zen monk, a branch of Buddhism”. We talk about the way the word “zen” is commonly used as an adjective describing anything calm, pondered, reflective, balanced, relaxed, used to describe practically anything, from yogurt to aesthetics. “This is only a small part of the practice of Zen Buddhism. We might sum it up in a single word: consciousness”.
It may seem unusual to want to translate Zen practice in the world of design, but there are actually some illustrious precedents, as Andrea explains: “If we want to find a connection, Steve Jobs was a Zen practitioner. The products he created have a Zen aesthetic, because they are simple and immediate: the object practically disappears to make way for the action. Everyone knows that the tools he created are intuitive, uncomplicated, that they have to do with the action itself.” Jobs is certainly a good example for explaining Zen design. To illustrate it further, JoeVelluto’s web site ‘Design in practice’ offers the testimony of significant figures in the world of design and elsewhere, representing their interpretation, from photographer Oliviero Toscani to the designers of Formafantasma, from creative director Joseph Grima to philosopher Emanuele Coccia, from entrepreneur Cristiano Seganfreddo to Carlo Zendo Tetsugen Serra, Andrea’s Zen master.
The site identifies the eight practices of design deriving from the Buddhists’ Eightfold Path: honest voice, sharp operations, limited resources, transformative drive, regenerative habits, collective attention, extensive vision, dynamic energy. It’s a guidebook made available to all, which JoeVelluto represented in an exhibition held last year in Padua, where various projects by the studio were correlated with the eight practices, demonstrating that they are not just theoretical precepts, but real principles inspiring a path of professional and personal growth. The ‘Design in pratica’ or “Design in practice” project (including an exhibition, a catalogue and a book that will soon be published by Flash Art Italia) was recently included in the 2022 Adi Design Index.
Let us take, for example, the concept of right livelihood. How can this be expressed in a design project? “We made vases for a company reusing plastic waste materials, collected and divided by colour. After this first project, the company is now working further in this area; they have realised that this is an important issue, and that people are willing to spend a little more on this vase just because it reuses plastic waste. The company has entirely given up using conventional plastic as a result.” More actions followed as corollaries of this: “In a process of acquiring consciousness, information about plastic and how it can be converted from a problem into a resources is shared,”, continues Maragno, “and this is what we do on our platform.”. Another concrete example, corresponding to the principle of right resolve: “We designed a laundry soap shaped like a classic laundry brush, the common type with a raised rim. You never know where to put the bar of soap, so we cut it to suit the shape of the brush, which becomes a container for it. This ensures that the soap will be used until it is all gone”. Virtuous resolve, transformed into acts; clear thoughts becoming processes and projects, with a single goal: restoring happiness in everyday life.
All photos: courtesy of JoeVelluto
01 JVLT Studio, Saver, universal shower dispenser for plastic bottles
02 Andrea Maragno and Sonia Tasca, founders of JoeVelluto Studio
03 JVLT Studio, NonlasciarlAlì, modular food display unit designed for selling off items nearing expiry.
04 JVLT Studio, DentroFora, indoor and outdoor washbasin made of recycled plastic; it can be connected to a garden hose for outdoor use.
05, 11, 12 Images of the exhibition entitled ‘Design in pratica. Pratiche di design virtuoso. Vent’anni di JoeVelluto Studio’. Galleria Cavour, Padua (September-November 2021).
06 JVLT Studio, Washing Soap, laundry soap bar that can be stored on top of a classic plastic laundry brush.
07 JVLT Studio, Bubble Soap, toy soap
08 Catalogue of the “Design in pratica” exhibition, made on the basis of a number of principles of sustainability. The paper is made from 100% recycled sheets of paper from other printing processes.
09 JVLT Studio, Razione H2O, a single ration of water. It rationalises the amount of water we use in our daily lives, with the aim of correcting excess.
10 JVLT Studio, Insula Collection, set of recycled plastic vases