Bruno Munari

By: Christian Watson

Bruno Munari

By: Christian Watson

So were going to do something a little different with this article. It is my opinion that Bruno Munari is one of the greatest designers and design thinkers of all time. And so I would like to spend most of this article focusing on that, his thoughts on design.

After a brief overview of his life and accomplishments, I have picked some of the best thoughts from my favourite design book of all time, his ‘Design as Art’ which I highly recommend reading. I think I have probably given away 10 copies of it over the last few years just to get people to read it so I can speak to them about it! It applies to everyone interested in design, art, history, philosophy and more. Such a well-rounded book to read and really puts a designer’s lifestyle and goals into perspective.

His Life

Born in Milan in 1907, Bruno Munari was an accomplished artist, designer, inventor and author. His work contributed to many advancements in practice and thinking in various visual art industries from Sculpture, graphic design and industrial design. His work in the non-visual arts helped with research into the didactic method, tactile learning and the power of creativity in children learning.

Having moved back to Milan in 1925 to work with his uncle as an engineer he began to follow the futurist movement and began displaying work in exhibitions around the country. His interest in the movement was sparked y Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who published his very controversial Futurist Manifesto in 1909. In his manifesto Marinetti argued that “Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.” Which was in complete contrast to the current mode of thinking at the time but was published at a time where fascist ideals were growing and, in a country, soon to welcome Mussolini into power, whom Marinetti supported.

Munari took on a more liberal approach when fascism started to take hold of Italy and disassociated himself from the movement after World War II. Some of the movement lessons would stick with him however, as power, speed and design remained throughout al of his future works.

After Futurism Munari began working within the Surrealism movement started by Andre Breton in 1917. It is here that Munari really seems to produce his exploration of the line between art and design and experiment with various styles and disciplines.

Starting in the 1930’s and progressing during his surrealism thoughts were his ‘Useless Machines’. Creating these objects from Paper, cardboard, string, glass and aluminium he wanted to create a new form of a child’s mobile. He was originally inspired of his memories of plating with his mobiles and hanging strips of paper at his window as a child. The paper would swing and move with the wind and fly out the window which he watched with fascination. Although titles useless machines as they have no obvious function, they are a key moment in his career once again delving into the grey area between art and design.

Munari then went on to founded the Movimento Arte Concreta which focused on the “art of objects”. The movement was clearly influenced by his ‘Useless Machines’ as an emphasis of objects that defy sculpture and ‘still’ art by the movement of his mobiles through the air.

Just like his ‘Useless Machines’, Munari’s ‘Unreadable Books’ have no obvious utilitarian function. (They are however absolutely amazing, and having always wanted a copy, have now ordered one!!!!) The power of books was always a fascination of his as they lay in the area he had always explored. They were as powerfully artistic as they were designed perfectly. He removed the books primary function of displaying information and instead transformed it into a tactile artistic display of colour and shape. Instead of being read, the books are instead played with and interacted with.

In 1966 my favourite book, Design as Art was published and displayed his current thoughts on visual communicating, his useless machines and useless books, his thoughts on the function of a designer and everything in between. So, below are some of his amazing one of a kind thoughts!

Fun fact – He liked to (falsely) claim that his name meant “to make something out of nothing” in Japanese.

His Quotes

What is a Designer?

He is a planner with an aesthetic sense. Certain industrial products depend in large measure on him for their success. Nearly always the shape of a thing, be it a typewriter, a pair of binoculars, an armchair, a ventilator, a saucepan or a refrigerator will have an effect on sale: the better designed it is, the more it will sell.

It does not refer to an industrial designer, who designs machines or mechanical parts, workshops or other specialised buildings. He is in fact a design engineer, an id he has a moto scooter on the drawing-board he not give a great deal of importance to the aesthetic side of the things or at most he applies a personal idea of what a motor-scooter ought to look like. I once asked an engineer who had designed a motor-scooter why he had chosen a particular colour, and he said: Because it was the cheapest.

“The industrial designer therefore thinks of the aesthetic side of the job as simply a matter of providing a finish, and although this may be most scrupulously done he avoids aesthetic problems that are bound up with contemporary culture because such things are not considered useful.”

An engineer must never be caught writing poetry

The designer works differently. He gives the right weight to each part of the project in hand, and he knows that the ultimate form of the object is psychologically vital when the potential buyer is making up his mind.

the designer is therefore the artist of today, not because he isa genius but because he works in such a way as to re-establish contact between art and the public

And finally, Because he responds to the human needs of his time, and helps people to solve certain problems without stylistic preconceptions or false notions of artistic dignity derived from the schism of the arts

On beauty and style:

Today we do not think in terms of beauty but of formal coherence, and even the ‘decorative’ function of the object is thought of as a psychological element. For beauty in the abstract may be defined as what is called style, with the consequent need to force everything into a given style because it is new.

A Leaf is beautiful not because it is stylish but because it is natural, created in its exact form by its exact function.

On posters and visual communication:

Communication must be instant and it must be exact

Anyone who uses a properly designed object feels the presence of an artist who has worked for him
bettering his living conditions and encouraging him to develop his taste and sense of beauty.

Not in ‘Design as Art’ but a great quote none the less.

To preserve the spirit of childhood throughout life means to preserve the curiosity to learn, the pleasure to understand, and the desire to communicate.


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