Design focus: Chiara Onida

Eleonora Usseglio Prinsi talks with Italian-born designer Chiara Onida about tackling new projects and her development as a designer


Chiara Onida (1984) is a London based designer, who after completing her BA in Product Design at Polytechnic in Turin, went on to graduate in 2010 with an MA in Industrial Design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.

Since then she has collaborated with some prestigious design studios such as Martino Gamper and Studio Toogood, and taken part in exhibitions across Europe. Most recently Onida exhibited her Domestic Soundscape collection at Rome’s DOS – Disegnare Oggetti Sonori (Designing Sound Objects) at the Music Foundation. Following this Onida will take part in London’s Learning in Glass exhibition at the Aram Gallery.

What’s the first thing you do when approaching a new project?

I buy a sketchbook and make a coffee; it’s then I can start researching. Depending on the project, this could mean reading books, magazines, blogs, going to exhibitions, collecting images and samples that I consider relevant, talking to people etc.
When I first approach a project I tend to generate lots of ideas, then narrow down focusing on the aspects that interest me more. I use visual maps to link keywords and concepts, in order to track my choices and ensure my approach is consistent.

What’s the hardest object you’ve ever had to design?

A challenging project has been the one we (myself along with designers from AUT) collaborated on for Barbara Brondi and Marco Raino, curators of the project “Another Terra”. They invited six designers to design a unique object to be found within a compact hand luggage, made for a human’s hypothetical journey towards a twin planet Earth. We were given the opportunity to design the one object that embodies the past and the future, a human’s culture and memory, and also the possibility of a new start. It was definitely not an easy task, but as we could imagine anything without constraints, it’s probably one of the most exciting research projects we have done. As a result, we developed a hypothetical tool to anticipate human interaction in a foreign space.


What do you think is key to creating an innovative object?

Ah! A difficult one – perhaps to think outside the box, and yet within constraints. Banal, but still true I think. 
For me, innovative projects are the ones that end up with some results that didn’t exist before, being these results part of the process or the outcome itself. For me “Innovation through design” today is imagining new possible ways, and hopefully better ways, of living and using objects. Innovations are small revolutions that happen when objects drive or enhance behaviours that are smoothly integrated into everyday lives. So the answer is: to have the freedom to imagine a number of better possible worlds.

Which of your designs are you most proud of? What is the story behind it?

That would be my final MA project at Central Saint Martins – The Domestic Soundscape– it’s a series of objects that explore themes of sound and music in the house. As I wanted to use an analogue sound and avoid the use of electronics, it took me a long time to understand what the outcomes could be. I came up with a number of different objects each with a delicate aesthetic, which also solved the purpose of sound objects. My tutors initially discouraged me from working with sound as other similar projects weren’t successful, but in the end the project got approvals from Wallpaper*, Elle Decoration UK and Italy, and in one year was included in exhibitions in London, Stockholm, Milan, Rome, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The Learning in Glass exhibition at London’s The Aram Gallery will run from 22 February- 6 April 2013. For more information visit