“Ten Bullets”, tongue in cheek and deadly serious at the same time, captures the spirit of a studio, of its people and of the work they do there (without showing the work, really.) I knew right away that we had to make something similar at Fabrica, perhaps in the form of a film, or of a handbook for the researchers—something that served as a kind of welcome gift, user guide, and token to force us to write something down about Fabrica. We’d wanted to do something similar at Sitra (Bryan had shown me "Ten Bullets" there), to replace a hefty and relatively demotivating document that was called “Sitra Rules”. It was a type of project I'd wanted to do for a while.
Having just moved to Treviso myself, I knew the experience was a little bewildering. There was a lot of "foreign" to take in, quickly. So it was with Fabrica, a unique place with tacit practices rather than explicit processes, some of which would need to change (as is generally the case with an incoming CEO, if nothing else!) We could also provide a token that recognised getting into Fabrica was an achievement, as a coveted, limited-edition gift for the first day.
I was also looking for an excuse to force us to write something down about Fabrica, to make something that described the place, for us, as a further way of binding us together. It would also let us explore what we need to make for others, later. So all of this meant the Handbook was a bit of a paper Trojan Horse.
We had a little "advisory group" of staff for the project, drawn from most corners of the organisation, but everything was done by Fabricanti themselves. They weren't used to this level of autonomy, or for it to be given to them. That was interesting, and occasionally tough for all involved.
But it worked. It's a lovely thing, packed full of useful info but presented with wit, verve and care. There are some lovely details, as well as broad brush strokes. The illustrations—and humour—counterbalance the clarity and precision elsewhere. There are different paper stocks in there, with the back section a kind of local guide on thinner paper, as well as some playful cut pages, indicating unofficial views of the official views (like you can tell where Dan Hill is by checking his Instagram feed, and so on.)
The idea is that it is redesigned every year, by two new Fabricanti (as details change—the departmental structure described here is already out of date, having been replaced by the studio format.) We also have a suite of services in development that will be part of what we’re called FabricApp, a set of supporting tools, triggers and technologies for organizational support, created via our collaboration with BERG, Sandbox. We printed up a short run, and so it is already heading to collectable status.
Oh and we're working on an explanatory video too. I'll update when it's done.
This was all produced by two designers from Moscow and Melbourne, Anna Kulacheck and Samantha Ziino. Their fellow Fabricanti produced all the material: quotes, text, illustrations, photography etc. Thanks to all involved, especially Anna and Sam who took the challenge of working in a new way in their stride, and then some.
Below is the explanatory text I wrote to explain the project to “It’s Nice That”, who very erm nicely covered the project recently (thanks!) It's also featured in Inside Art, This Is Paper and many others. As per the Valve Employee Handbook mentioned below, this kind of coverage was another ulterior motive.)
You can download a PDF copy of the Fabricanti Handbook here, but to get the real physical one—it's much nicer—you should apply to become Fabricanti.
Notes on the Fabricanti Handbook project
When new researchers arrive at Fabrica, there's a lot to take in. They arrive from all over the world for a start. For many it's their first time in Italy. There are language questions, cultural questions. We are also based in the country, outside Treviso, so without the distractions of a big city but equally without its inherent support networks. They also have to quickly get their head around a unique organisation, with a particular mission, in a very special space.
There is a lot of tacit information which sometimes takes a while to uncover and understand before they feel like "Fabricanti", the word we use for Fabrica's researchers.
Interested in enabling Fabricanti to hit the ground running, we've made the first Fabricanti Handbook in Fabrica's history - it describes how to live here, how to work here, how to play here. We asked two of our Fabricanti to lead the project: Anna Kulachek from Ukraine and Samantha Ziino from Australia, both graphic designers. (This was also an experiment in self-directed projects by Fabricanti.) They conducted interviews with their fellow Fabricanti, and decided all the content themselves, from text to photography to illustration. It draws on stories from Fabricanti alumni, sharing their knowledge of local tricks and quirks, and most importantly, how to get your personal projects done. We were inspired by the Valve employee handbook, by Tom Sach's "10 Bullets!" videos, Ove Arup's key speech and more, but this is a bespoke tool for Fabricanti only.
It describes place, people, processes and projects - and all the basics in terms of living locally, from ordering pasta and visiting the Biennale to why a fur coat and a little dog makes you a Treviso resident - but does so in a way that is playful, enriching and inspirational. It is full of in-jokes and secrets - though, importantly, we felt it should not have everything in it. Not everything should be so easy to find. Knowing the web is full of iconic shots of the architecture bereft of people—as architectural photographs tend to be—Anna and Sam commissioned Fabrica's photographers to take shots of the building as it is, with people in it. Knowing the institution could get a bit hierarchical, they contrasted the official view with a Fabricanti view, using different sizes of paper (there might be an idea of an official daily schedule, but the day is really only "before lunch" and "after lunch"; there is the official floor-plan, and then the way it actually works, and so on).
It should feel like a beautiful gift for your first day at Fabrica, an invaluable guide throughout the year, and a souvenir of your time there when you leave. The cover is a delicate all white on purpose, such that the scuffs, bruises and scribbles tell their own story at the end of the year. (There is a "FabricApp" developing alongside the book, starting with a Google Map version of the maps in the book, and developing into real-time installations around the Fabrica campus, as part of Fabrica's Sandbox project with BERG.) Different paper stock defines the different sections.
So this book is by Fabricanti for Fabricanti. But it also describes Fabrica. In making the book, we had to commit to print a few key ideas, notions, patterns about Fabrica, which hadn't happened much. So as Fabrica enters a new phase of its history, the Fabricanti Handbook is an excuse to form a few ideas about what it is. It is a functional document— how do you not just survive Fabrica, but thrive?—but also an inspirational one, a sketch of what Fabrica is now.
As Fabrica is an evolving project (and as bus routes change and bars open and close) it will be redesigned each year, by new Fabricanti; but with this version 1.0, Anna, Sam and their friends have made a huge contribution to Fabrica's present and future.
- Make something tangible as an excuse to force us to write something down
- Use a new project to try out different non-hierarchical organisation
- Use a Handbook project to bring organisations together
- Focus on the researchers' environment
- A side-effect of making a great Handbook is that you get great promotional material