I was searching for an Italian in Greece and friend suggested Tommaso Taraschi, aka Tommy. Tommy is the guy that you see around facebook , but never actually met in real life. And then you meet him and you know what you are missing. In just a couple of hours, he treat me to some genuine Italian coffee, mocha as they call it, he told me how Made in Italy and industrial design started in his home country, he talked design, travelling, and Greece. And all these things with a smile on his face and an amazing sense of Italian humor. I won’t even begin to describe the wonders he has done to his apartment, the posters, the simple objects that he used to construct a sofa and a bed and his kitchen with the most peculiar tiles. Here is l’uomo della settimana, Tommaso.
So you are probably the only Italian graphic designer in Greece?
Actually I am an industrial designer. That’s what I studied.
But now you are working as a graphic designer?
Because there is not much work in industrial design?
Here in Greece, there is not so much. In Italy there is, but it was just out of luck. I started working in a company and we were doing watches, I was designing wristwatches.
Where did you study?
But you live close to Rome. How come you didn’t study in Rome?
If you are in Italy, basically Milan is the most design – related city. So I did my first year of University in Florence and then moved to continue my studies to Milan. I stayed there for three years.
What made you decide to become a designer?
I always had this passion for sketch and when I was very young I was into commix and stuff.
Who was your favorite hero?
Okay, I have many. Mostly Spiderman and Spawn. He was kind of a creepy guy. He’s like a super zombie or something, very weird face. And also Italian comics. There’s one that is very nice, you will love it, it’s called Dylan Dog. It’s like a private detective for mysteries and horror stuff.
So you were into comics.
Yes, so I wanted to do something related to drawing. And then I started thinking that I might not make is as a comic artist. I didn’t know if there was going to be a job for me. So, I decided the next best thing I could do was to go to some field more technical. I also liked to build things and I decided to study product design. I loved that at the University there was also the ability to build your own stuff, and I spent a lot of time at the workshop and build stuff. I experimented a lot with wood. So in general I loved going to school in Milan, because they taught me how to draw and how to think.
What was the most amazing thing that you designed and fabricated while in school?
There was a project that required we designed a suitcase. With another friend, we worked together, and designed a round, cylindrical suitcase that rolls.
And how did you manage to keep the clothes from getting rumpled? Because the suitcase, I imagine, would be going round and round like a washing machine?
Yes, we thought about making it a washing machine actually. But no, the suitcase had two layers. There is an axis, but inside there is a mechanism, so the outside rolls and the inside part just swings. It was very nice, we made it out of plastic and rubber and we had to think of other things like rolling your suitcase when climbing stairs, so you don’t have to pick it up.
After finishing school in Milan, you started working as a graphic designer?
I worked at the University for a while right after school, in the school design office. We were working with Pirelli. The job was mostly a graphic design job, because we had to design the patterns for the wheels.
Is it hard?
Yes, it kind of is. There are a lot of things you have to take care. But at the same time it was interesting, because you learned things you couldn’t possibly know. And then one of us got chosen to work for Pirelli and the rest of us found other jobs.
Yes.I didn’t go back home because my town is very small, so there are not many possibilities.
Then came the wristwatches?
I was designing watches – the industrial design part – , but the company had just opened, so I also had to do catalogues and the graphic design part. Basically, I stayed in Milan after University for two more years. We founded a studio with three other friends from the University. So each one of us had a day job and at night we worked on our studio. It was nice, because we were all living together and had the studio as well. We were designing lamps mostly and focused on industrial design. So we had some small projects, but then we split. And after that I went to Barcelona.
Why did you choose to Barcelona?
I was very stressed, and didn’t really like my job with the watches and I wasn’t happy with what had happened with our studio, so I was talking to my father and he said: ok, leave Italy. I said okay, where will I go? Barcelona. It’s close, it’s nice, I’ve been there before and I liked it. So I went. But I didn’t know anybody there. First weeks were a bit hard. For six months it was like Erasmus. I had no job and I went out and tried to find one.
So, how long have you been in Greece?
This will be my fourth year here.
You’ve been working on the design filed for quite a while. What is it that you do?
I do graphic design and mostly identities. I also do packaging, which I really love, because it joins industrial and graphic design.
It is a challenge to create something that is appealing and easy to use, but at the same time it is disposable?
Yes, but most of the time you get to design these things. Packaging is something ephemeral. You try to give importance to things… I mean if you are at the supermarket and you have hundreds of beers in front of you, you will go for the most attractive. It is not always the better one, but you will try.
Can you think of any brands that have a very good quality, but their packaging does them no good.
Yes, there are many, but I can’t say any names. For example now I am working mostly with Greek food. So, you see a lot of brands that have many good products, traditional or handmade, but they are not used to the process of design. And they end up with very awful packages. That is because a lot of the company owners don’t know what design is all about. The hardest thing is not to try to persuade the client, but to educate him. It is actually something that you have to do together.
What was the most challenging thing you had to design?
There were some. There was something we designed in Barcelona, for a cosmetics brand. They had already started working on design, and when I started working for the firm, I was doing the packaging. So, maybe as a project it was not so challenging, but for me it was, because the rest of the team had already been working on the project and I had to catch up very fast. For me, the most challenging thing is when you have to start doing something that is completely new. Like something you haven’t worked on before. So you have to start from zero. That’s nice and scary.
Every day we use many objects. What would you re-design to meet your needs.
My car maybe. It is so crap, I would have to redesign the whole thing.
Would turn it into a flying car?
Maybe a swimming one then?
Hmmm… maybe more like a submarine car.
Would you put a mini fridge in there?
Of course. And some freddo cappuccino.
What else would you change on your car?
I would just like to have some way to jump the other cars. In Athens it is very important. Like Inspector Gadget. And also maybe I would make the wheels turn 90 degrees, so as to park easily.
Are there any other objects that you use regularly and you would design differently?
Yes, I really hate plastic forks and knifes. They don’t really work, they break. Every time we have a barbeque and I want to slice the meat… they break!
How has your Italian background influenced you in your creative process?
Look. Basically everything is global, but the background of the person counts a lot. I don’t have a really strict Italian background, because when I work I apply some things I have learned from working in different countries, and this is something I like. But, on the other hand, I can see that my approach is different from, let’s say, another designer. I cannot really tell you in detail what it is, because I don’t really understand it. But maybe it is the way I think, maybe it is the way I translate a thought. This I am sure it comes also from your roots.
But, in Italy you are very close to design. In everyday life you see people, you honor designers. That is not so common in Greece. Designers for us are an elite community that do stuff and just understand each other. The typical Greek is influenced by what he watches on TV, which is basically crap, so we are not really close to the design process, but I feel in Italy it is totally different.
You know, I think it is about the history. In industrial design, for example, we started industrial design in Italy. You know, the famous Made in Italy, with Castiglioni and Joe Colombo. They designed things that we see now every day. They have been replicated so many time. So, all those guys that actually started Made in Italy, they were actually kind of ‘high society’ people. They had enough money and time to spend on something, so they started design as a hobby. It’s not the right word, let’s say it was their passion. They had the material, the connections, the money and time to do it. So, it wasn’t supposed to be something for the masses, when they started out. But then they realized that ok, this is something that can go further and break through. And this, I think, the good thing of the Italian way of thinking, when they realized that, they also realized that they could bring people together from different backgrounds to make an object. So, they started calling companies and companies started thinking: Ok, if this works, if we can use plastic, for example, to make a chair like that. Like Kartell. Kartell was the first company to do design objects with plastic. So, they had the good thought of thinking that this could work, let’s try it, let’s bring it to the masses. But, of course, to do that you need to experiment, so you need a lot of passion. All this, of course, comes from the background we have in art and everything. I am not telling you about ancient art, we are in Greece and everything comes from here. I am talking about Renaissance and people like Leonardo Da Vinci. They were geniuses, but they had also a sense of aesthetics and practicality. So, I think it comes from there and from the fact that some brilliant people at some point realized that they could really do something new and bring it to the masses.
If you were to put an Italian design object in a museum that shows what Italian design is really all about, what object would that be?
I know I am not the most classic Italian person, but I would say the Cinquecento, because it is the most amazing object. The old one. The small one.
Not a Vespa?
And the Vespa of course, but the car is a nice object. Not the car itself. I am not really into cars, actually, but as I see it, the shape and the minimal functionality that it has.
Ok, back to your work. Where do you find inspiration and what is the hardest part in your job?
The hardest part is the blank page moment, of course. There is actually, you know the less time you have the scarier it becomes, because it is like: ok, I can not really get to know what I am doing, but I have to do it. So you spend most of the time you have doing research, but it is never enough.
The blank page is always a stress?
It is stressful. It is something nice, because you think you can do whatever you want. That is the first thought. The next thought is, no I cannot do whatever I want. I have to come down to earth and design something. And even if you have your idea and your research and everything, it is totally different to translate what you have in mind onto paper and then to your computer.
A few comments on the things pictured above:
Tommy has one of the neatest and tidiest apartments I have ever seen. / He loves water bottles. And has a very interesting collection. Pictured above are only some of them. / The lamp he is picking up from the floor and holding on his hands was actually designed and constructed by him. It used to be a water pipe. Now it is a lamp. / The comic book is Dylan Dog. He loves Dylan Dog. / His kitchen tiles are very very strange. I can only imagine how weird the previous tenants were. The lady cook was the most decent amongst them. There was a very evil looking cat, a lobster and a deer as well. Not pictured above, for you own safety. / The three cards on my lap are his business cards. They are designs from Greece, Spain and Italy. I don’t remember which is which though. You will have to guess. Sorry. / The kitchen cabinet on his balcony was found on the street. Tommy had an idea on how to color it, so he sketched it and glued it on the cupboard door, in order not to forget.