A trip into the world of design through the words of those who create and work with it. Enrica Cavarzan is an Italian designer, and founder – with Marco Zavagno, her partner in work and life – of Zaven, a creative research workshop based in Marghera, an industrial district by Venice’s lagoon. Here, design, graphics and communication intertwine, breathing life into one of the most interesting multidisciplinary design studios on the contemporary scene. We meet Enrica on Venice island, the city which has been her home for many years, which is at the centre of cultural and manufacturing dynamics, and which she says is, to a large extent, “perfect”.
– At a coffee-shop table in Campo Santa Margherita, under the sun that strikes the constant flow of passers-by and tourists, Enrica willingly recounts her story with a singular, sure charm and a simple style. We soon address the tricky task of defining design, also because when the topic arises, we must also talk of cultural cross-pollinations with other disciplines.

E.C. Yes, it’s certainly tough to define. In practice, design embraces everything we see, touch and use. For me, “design” is an open concept, in the same way that also the interest in applied arts is open, because it takes in so many project levels. Already during my studies, the subject was divided into “product design” and “graphic design” – which are both distinct yet closely connected, and this is reflected in my daily work. After graduating in Industrial Design and completing a work experience in a design studio, I attended a contemporary art course, pursuing a childhood passion, when I dreamed of enrolling in art school. My parents didn’t let me go! So my mixed academic career and closeness to Venice have taken me to work on various art projects, including as a graphic artist at the Biennale. With the founding of the studio together with Marco, it was natural for us to take an all-round approach to design, taking in all the disciplines it applies to: industrial and product design, interior design, fashion design.
It is in each of these areas that our mark and identity are acknowledged. If I design a vase, for example, I need to know about its packaging, how and where it will be marketed, its target audience, and the type of photo shoot to use in communicating and promoting it. It’s necessary to create all this as a cohesive concept. I think it is both necessary and spontaneous as the designer must have a vision of both the single item and the context in which it lives. Which is why, when we talk about design, we also talk about communication, and vice versa. A multi-disciplinary approach is not an added value; rather, it is a substantial ingredient of my work.


– What is the main difference between design projects and projects that have more to do with graphics or communication?
I’d say that the main difference is time. I like projects that start and end within a given time-span. Graphics have a short, very immediate time-line, they take only a few months to complete, and the results are quickly seen. With design, the process can even take years, as was the case with “The nature of motion”, the installation for Nike curated by Marco Velardi and presented last year at the Salone del Mobile as a light installation inspired by the beauty of an athlete in movement. I gain satisfaction from alternating these different time-spans. I wouldn’t like to risk boredom or becoming “just” a designer of tables and chairs (laughs). That would be tough.
– Design and Art: words that have been a controversial combination since the ’70s. Is your work artistic?
No, it isn’t artistic. As well as being a great passion for me, art acts as the fertile ground on which to research, as it offers suggestions. I’m not an artist though. The basic difference between art and design is that art neither seeks nor gives answers, whereas design is the specific answer to a precise question.
– We live in a moving modernity, and are participatory victims of a consumerism that covers us with objects of varying utility and quality, items that have an ever-shorter life span. Mention of “ethical design” is often made. What does that mean for you?
There is a need for a historical awareness, and design can help us in gaining a better aware-ness of our world. Modernity imposes an eco-sustainable approach, a concept which is “magic” – absurd even – one full of contrasts if we only think that to make something ecologically-sustainable today, we still pollute more than we would if we found it in nature. I think design should raise awareness not merely in terms of single items or actions, but as a conscience for life.

– Italian design is renowned worldwide, along with fashion: why do you think this is?
First, because of Italian know-how, especially that of our SME sector. Nowhere else in the world can one find such high quality and range of craftsmanship. They are family traditions handed down for generations. And then we certainly have a very high design culture.
– It’s clear that you love Venice but if you had to choose to live elsewhere, is there somewhere you would like to go, a place you’ve not yet experienced? Or somewhere you’ve been to that has rewarded you with something special …?
I love living in Venice and then taking off from here. I often go to London as it gives me energy. Perhaps I could live there, or in New York, which I love too. Those cities travel at different speeds than ours: faster and frenzied. Which is why I like them maybe. Among my future destinations I’d certainly list Japan, which I’m really attracted to, and Russia, which for the moment I know only through art, thanks to a currently ongoing project in collaboration with V-A-C Foundation at the Palazzo delle Zattere. Soon we will also hold a workshop at the University of Design of Jerusalem – so who knows what future destinations are in store? …
An intense experience was a sojourn at the Sindika Dokolo cultural foundation in Luanda, Angola, which promotes one of the few art collections based in Africa.

– What would you like to succeed in designing?
I would like to succeed in recounting the future into today, as happens with good artists. I’d like to design something which can still be relevant tomorrow, which will make sense and have value. As to now, I’d love it if everything were designed by people who think. Instead, it seems everyone can do everything: it’s a big mistake.
– What do you do to wind down?
Cooking, and cutting vegetables. I was born in the countryside and appreciate that, in the kitchen, it’s not of so much value what I buy, but what I do with it.
– Ray and Charles Eames, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Robin and Lucienne Day. In no other discipline are there so many couples. And you as a couple are a witness to this too: is there a different way to address the challenge of a design project? And it is an advantage in being a couple, in work as in life?
Those you mentioned are all “benchmark” couples for us, also because they have thoroughly addressed so many types of design. As to us, Marco has a more technical approach while mine is more focused on the formal aspect. Our main asset, though, is how our roles are inter-changeable.
1 – Fritto Misto, collection of items for Maison203
2 – Pila, collection of ceramic pots, limited edition
3 – Lola, wooden chair for Atipico
4 – The nature of motion, for Nike
5 – Boccia, collection of three glass bottles for Atipico
6 – Unbroken, collection of items in glass fibre