Clementina Gentile

Clementina Gentile

A love of the Classics shaped the way Clementina looks at the world: Greek mythology, human tragedies, storytelling… ; “And this is how I ended up in HCD”, she says. It could just as easily have been writing, art or history of art… ; However, heeding the advice of teachers, she left her tiny village in the heel of Italy to study Industrial Design in Rome. She followed this with a Masters in Design for Interaction in the Netherlands and an award-winning thesis. She has now settled in Brussels to perfect the craft of HCD.

So, Greek and Latin brought you to Namahn?

In a roundabout way, yes! My Industrial Design Bachelors offered a good balance of art history and art practice, although at theoretical and conceptual levels. After graduating, I worked for one year in Italian architectural firms, mainly on projects with a community focus, such as creating a map to communicate the advantages of a sustainable transport system in Perugia, and a study in Rome to visualise how to connect and valorise the city’s many voids. Although I enjoyed the world of work, I still needed something more grounded and I wanted to experience living abroad. Delft University of Technology was affordable, very international and offered me an opportunity to taste the technical side of design.

We hear your Masters thesis won a prize. What’s the story?

I designed a game called Museumvirus. My goal was to bridge the gap between schools and museums by creating a playful, learning experience for kids. The design agency NorthernLight in Amsterdam agreed to sponsor my internship and Kunsthal, one of the largest museums in Rotterdam, became our client. It was a challenge but great fun, and lots of night shifts! Kids could choose a ‘virus’ profile that suited their learning style and their goal was to hack into the exhibition ‘system’ and discover secret information. The project successfully combined high-tech (an interactive, online game via a whiteboard in school) with low-tech (hands-on museum visit). The kids especially loved the idea of being a virus. The reason I chose ‘virus’ goes back to my classical studies. The root of the word virus is ‘vi’, meaning strong and proactive. This is how I imagined the children to be. The game was realised for an exhibition about Egyptian Mummies in 2011, and in July 2012, it won a service design award from CORE77, the online design magazine.

So, service design is of special interest to you?

I strongly believe service design is increasingly relevant in present times: connecting the dots, combining expertise and merging forces, rather than just creating new products. It all comes back to storytelling, imagining and envisioning experience. Technology is powerful but not a must-have. It can be a catalyst, but it can also act as a filter between you and reality. It is more important to define the goals you want to reach.

Is Namahn a good match with your philosophy?

Their website already gave me the feeling Namahn could be a good match. But when I visited in person, I needed no further convincing: it was like falling in love! Like any new relationship, I am still learning and exploring all the different areas of work we do here, including service design.

How does Brussels compare with other cities you’ve lived in?

Until now, Brussels is a pleasant surprise. I compare cities to women. Rome was noble but approachable. She laughs a lot. Amsterdam and Rotterdam are competitors. The former is a spoiled girl who knows she has it all. Rotterdam is scarred by her past and wants to protect herself but when you get to know her, she opens up. Brussels seems to embrace everything and everyone. She is fluid, multi-faceted, full of contradictions and somehow they all hang together. Some people and cities are convinced of their identity. Brussels is not. She’s not easy, but I think she is brave! I come from a very small village Locorotondo in the heel of Italy, and I liken her to a beautiful bride.

What do you get up to outside work?

I read a lot, especially poetry and English literature; I am a big fan of Virginia Woolf. I also enjoy writing although words are sometimes limiting. You need to dig deep into yourself to write. Then I make illustrations in pen and ink and watercolors. I also value keeping traditional pastimes alive, like taking the time to make real pasta, and the ritual and meaning of food. For me, it doesn’t matter if something takes longer, as long as it has meaning.