MD Journal

edited by
Alfonso Acocella

MD Journal

Design as cultural heritage. Studies, projects, research


As part of the wider topic of design for cultural heritage, issue 8 of MD Journal will be focusing on design and, more in general, applied arts and material culture that can be defined as "cultural assets", and the role of design in protecting, enhancing and using these assets.

Although, on the one hand, it has been underlined how, today, the terms assets, heritage, value and valorisation refer more to economic disciplines than to cultural fields (including design), the transition from the concept of “things” that need to be protected and preserved to “assets” has been the result of a long process implemented, in Italy, by the “Commission of inquiry for the protection and valorisation of historical, archaeological, artistic and natural heritage”, chaired by Francesco Franceschini and active from 1964 to 1968. In the 1960s and 1970s, this work led to a cultural change and to scholars newly focusing on evidence of so-called “material culture”. (Kubler, 1962; Baudrillard, 1968; Emiliani, 1974, Francovich, 1974)

The work by the aforementioned commission resulted in the modern definition of “cultural heritage”, as being everything that refers to «the history of civilisation» (Declaration I), and the specification that, with reference to cultural assets, «adequate ways for the public to enjoy them must be guaranteed and they must be able to be studied as extensively as possible» (Declaration XVII). Furthermore – of fundamental importance for our topic – it was stated that the following were to be classed as cultural assets of artistic or historical interest: «uniquely valuable, rare or representative real estate or moveables related to humanity's cultural history», specifying that said definition did not only refer to «goods referring to art, but also those referring to, by means of example, history, ethnography, numismatics, epigraphy, furnishings, applied arts, customs and the history of science and technology» (Declaration XXXII).

Thanks precisely to this opening of cultural heritage to “something of value to everyone” - strengthened at the time by the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972 - people’s awareness went to recognition and to protection, not only in the archaeological and historical-artistic fields, but also in terms of archiving, ethnography and, more in general, all artefacts produced by people to meet their needs, acting as traces of civil history.

It was this declaration that first recognised artefacts, including their design and production, as being worthy of protection, preservation, valorisation and use.

This attention led to valorisation processes for material culture artefacts being intensified during the 1970s, especially with reference to Italian design. Exhibitions and corresponding historical research were then designed for increasingly larger audiences, who were no longer made up of just collectors. Starting from the 1980s, “mediation” experiences continued and expanded, with many other types of public and private exhibitions being developed, aimed at making cultural heritage more accessible, in terms of both moveables and real estate. By means of example, focusing only on industrial artefacts, a number of dedicated museums were opened - such as the Industrial Heritage Museum in Bologna, created in 1997, or the incredibly recent Design Museum at the Milan Triennale - together with numerous exhibitions all over Italy. In addition to these, archives, collections and museums linked to design companies were created, as were foundations to manage designers’ studios-museums. Preservation, archiving and digital accessibility projects were also launched.

From one point of view, this topic therefore refers to the contribution made by design tools to helping people understand the culture of design, i.e. interpreting society over time - the society that has designed, produced, consumed and given value to its artefacts (industrial goods, applied arts, work tools, artistic craftsmanship). On the other hand, this topic is about the ways in which design can use these assets to improve “mediation” experiences: what role does design play today in building tools or systems, whether physical or digital, to protect, valorise and use these cultural assets?

The lowest common denominator between these two chosen aspects is the relationship between the assets and their users.


By narrowing down the field of investigation, this issue of MD Journal gathers contributions to shine a spotlight on theoretical observations and critical assessments of design experiences regarding the relationship between users and the artefacts. The aim is to highlight how the meaning of a piece of work from the past can be transformed to become meaningful also in the present.

The critical explorations presented by the essays therefore may have a dual purpose.

On the one hand, they look at how the aesthetic, iconic and technical qualities of the useful objects and the communication artifacts that tell the story of past episodes can help us not only to contemplate the present, but also to understand the valuable role that design, as a human activity that produces material goods, used to and continues to play for contemporary culture. On the other hand, these essays also explore how, through design - of products, communications, interiors, installations or interactions - material cultural heritage can be given greater identity and made more accessible, nurturing a culture of protection and valorisation.  


Please find below some possible topics for discussion, focus points and research questions:

–      Reflections and research into design as cultural heritage, in relation to the different forms adopted over time to make it more accessible.

–      Reflections and research into the expansion and review of design definitions and categories as a cultural asset, in response to the more recent ways of organising production, distribution and consumption.

–      Reflections on the contexts in which design falls within non-specific valorisation forms and methods, such as publications, museums or exhibitions on material culture, farming culture or science and technology.

–      Systems and interpretations adopted and design measures used as part of the “mediation” experience, to facilitate understanding of design culture (e.g. in projects and physical and digital exhibitions, archives, museums or publishing products).

–   Reflections and specific cases that highlight the role that design - of products, communications, interiors, installations or interactions - can play in improving accessibility to material cultural heritage.

–   Reflections on specific cases of exhibition settings where design has allowed for the preservation and/or remembrance of the original conditions, as is the case for house museums or the return of lost evidence.


Announcement and Submission Instructions:


Important dates:

Abstract submission June 09, 2019

Notification of Abstract Review Results June 24, 2019

Submission paper September 22, 2019

Notification of Peer Review Results October 25, 2019

Submission of final version November 05, 2019

Publication December 2019

#8 Issue Editors:

Fiorella Bulegato, Iuav University of Venice
Emanuela Bonini Lessing, Iuav University of Venice

Alessandra Bosco, University of the Repubblic of San Marino

Dario Scodeller, University of Ferrara


Publishing process

Researches are invited to send to the Scientific Section of the MD Journal an abstract of 4000-5000 characters (including spaces), written in Italian (only foreign authors may write in English), by June 09 2019.


The abstract, written in a clear, succinct manner, must be pertinent to the topic of the Call, set forth the objectives and purposes of the paper and be accompanied by keywords that highlight the project’s main points.

Editorial guidelines in:


Abstracts must be sent to

Authors will receive a notification of acceptance by June 24 2019.


After that, authors must send the articles (including all documentation, see link below), by September 22, 2019, to the same email address:


Following the review by peer referees, comments will be notified to authors by 20 November 2016 and they will have to send the final version of the article to by November 05, 2019


The e-version of the open-class MD Journal 12/2019 is free and will be published on December 2016.

The magazine will also be printed and sent to the authors and to the main national libraries.


Nature and style of MD Journal scientific articles.

Please be reminded that scientific articles must comply with the following:
- definition and development of research topics;
- peer to peer argumentative intersubjective structure and style
- introduce connections and comparisons with established knowledge
- explicit references (notes, bibliography, sources).


Articles must be written in Italian; only foreign authors may write in English.

Authors must comply with the Editorial Rules.


Kubler George, The Shape of time. Remarks on the history of things, Yale University Press, 1962, (trad. it, La forma del tempo. Storia dell’arte e storia delle cose, Torino, Einaudi, 1976, pp. 188)
Baudrillard Jean, Le système des objets, Paris, Gallimard, 1968, (trad. it., Il sistema degli oggetti, Milano, Bompiani, 1972, pp. 264)

Emiliani Andrea, Una politica dei beni culturali, Torino, Einaudi, 1974, pp. 306

Carandini Andrea, Archeologia e cultura materiale. Lavori senza gloria nell’antichità classica, Bari, De Donato, 1975, pp. 181

For Riccardo Francovich, Archeologia Medievale, Review edited since1974.