With a Communication & Philosophy degree under her belt from the University of Calabria in her home region, Alessandra moved to Florence to study Product Design followed by a Master in Communication Design at ISIA di Firenze. By necessity (rather than design), she spent three challenging years in a web agency, describing it as ‘a tough way to discover what I didn’t want to do but a training for my eyes’. She brings these myriad skills and experiences to Namahn where she is now developing her UX skills.
You have studied and worked in different fields. How would you describe yourself as a designer?
I really enjoyed studying Communication & Philosophy but it was not concrete enough. It did not give me the practical tools I needed to make change happen, which even then was something I wanted to do. Moving to Product Design was not the answer. I did not want to become part of a factory production system. But in fact the question is wrong: you do not have to ask yourself what kind of designer you are or want to be – graphic or product – you are simply a designer with interests in special fields. First you focus on a problem, and then you find a solution using the appropriate tools. Don’t specialise in software; the mindset and methodology are more important!
Why the move to advertising?
After studying, I worked at ISIA on a voluntary basis. It took a lot of effort for a very small result but it made me very proud! I did this because I felt it was necessary. Education is so important. Educated people are free to decide about their lives. I had benefited from the public education system and I wanted to help improve the condition of students and teachers. ISIA really changed my life as a person and student. I learned what it means to love your job, to identify yourself with what you are doing, to appreciate diversity and to be critical of yourself. I want to thank all the people there for these precious gifts. Eventually, I needed a job to survive, and I found one as a graphic designer in a web agency, where one of my roles was to direct fashion photo shoots. At the beginning it was a disaster but I was determined to make it work. I did so by collaborating closely with the photographers and models. There are high standards of appearance in the fashion industry, so it’s perfect training for a visual designer and in those three years, I trained my eyes to see. I learned what works and what doesn’t work. Design is not about colours and shapes; it’s about balance.
When did Namahn appear on your horizon?
I had compiled a full dossier on Namahn by the time I joined! My first encounter was in the final year of my Masters when I attended a workshop on UX given by Joannes. I was fascinated that Namahn worked with this methodology. As the student rep, I was assigned to taking Joannes out for a drink after the lecture. He told me all about Namahn. One of my teachers had also visited Namahn and confirmed there was good vibe, plus a friend did an internship here, so I developed the habit of regularly visiting the Namahn website to follow cases and news.
The moment I decided to apply, a friend had just moved to Brussels so I took that as a good sign! Although five years had passed since we first met, I told Joannes and Kristel that I was ready to leave everything to come and work here. When you take a big decision, I think it should always be cold-blooded, especially when it’s deciding to leave your country and move to a new one! I wanted to remember why I had decided to be a designer in the first place. That was my drive and during the test day, I thought ‘I have nothing to lose’.
Was it easy to adapt to Belgium?
The first months were hard: a new country, city, field of work, company, and new languages. But now I can look back and appreciate that I took a big step and it is enriching for me and I hope for Namahn too! The only downside is maybe the weather… for someone from southern Italy Florence was already grey and now even more so. But Brussels offers a lot on different levels: change area and you change language and mood.
We hear that sharing means a lot to you…
In Calabria, we strongly believe that you must share whatever you have with your community, including food! In Italy, the best flat mates are Calabrian because they come with il pacco roughly translated as ‘the box’. Every quarter, my mother sends me such a box filled with food! Delicious homemade and seasonal food, from tomato sauce to cheese, from aubergines in oil to dried biscotti. Thank you mama! And also a big thank you from my colleagues with whom I share the food.
The Namahn culture is also about sharing knowledge and an ethical way of working. As a student, I thought this only applied to certain professions. I’ve since discovered it applies to all. How you work with your clients, colleagues and employees. At Namahn we all need to be able to manage the process of sharing.
What do you get up to outside work?
I love cooking (for others), reading and writing stories. For example, I wrote the story of my grandmother, whom I never met, and gave it to my family as a Christmas present. I’ve also written the story of Albert Steiner, an Italian graphic designer during the 1950s and ‘60s, whose uncle was assassinated by Mussolini. At the age of 8, he designed a poster denouncing Mussolini as a killer and this poster was widely distributed. How did he do this as a child? How did he get it printed? It’s a total mystery so I wrote his story. I always want to discover and safeguard memories. Writing stories is a beautiful way to do this.
Drawing is another passion. A teacher of mine in Florence started his career as an art forger. He told me that if you want to copy a Picasso, you need to think like Picasso. I started to do this exercise. It’s truly amazing. There are some artists I simply cannot reproduce. It’s all in the details. You don’t draw with your hand; you draw with your mind.
Your life motto?
My favourite poet — whom I have only read translated in Italian and English as life is too short to learn German — is Rainer Maria Rilke. He writes a lot about change.
This comes from his Sonnets To Orpheus, Part Two, XII: ‘Every happiness is the child of a separation it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel, dares you to become the wind.’