Learning from the Cuban 'technological disobedience'

Figure 1. The +Lab corner with 3D printing facilities.

In this post we want to report some reflections drawn from an experience of reinterpretation of products intended purpose which may help to look at the digital DIY devices in a different way, with the aim of fostering people creativity and product innovation.

The Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Oroza coined the expression ‘technological disobedience’ to define the everyday creative practice of systematic disrespect towards complexity, closeness and exclusionary characteristics of industrial objects logics raised taking place in Cuba in the 1990s.

The greatest majority of industrial products are closed, complete and nearly airtight, while their design may explicitly exclude the possibility for the user to repair or intervene upon them. From Oroza’s studies and collections (2002, 2009), we can infer that Cubans weren’t discouraged by complexity or scale: moreover, they learnt to disrespect the ‘authority’ of any kind of objects. They weren’t afraid of repurposing such artefacts, as professional designer may be.

The watchwords were ‘resolver’ (the Cuban for ‘to solve’) and ‘inventar’ (‘to invent’ but also ‘to dream up’) and with these aims the Cuban manufacturing culture dissected, opened all possible bodies, repaired and altered all kinds of objects, undeterred by their technical complexity and scale, including vehicles. As a surgeon becomes desensitised to wounds, Cubans became desensitised to designed objects. They stopped seeing the original purpose of the object, instead thinking to this as a collection of parts. This is the first Cuban expression of disobedience in their relationship with objects, a growing disrespect for an object’s identity and for the truth and authority it embodies.

People of Cuba also invented, designed and produced the tools and machines needed to create and modify objects coming from the domestic manufacturing production, because the Cuban houses became archives, storage places, warehouses, workshops, design studios, production places and shops. They created a completely new market with reinvented industrial products transformed thanks to a craft approach, in a communist country where the concept of market was forbidden. It is remarkable that questioning industrial objects and logic came from a craft and DIY perspective. They were industrial products reviewed from traditional processes and manual operations. People are used to tinker with the industrial products which they accumulate over time, thus leading people to radically question manufacturing processes and mechanisms. They started looking at objects with the eyes of an artisan. Potentially every object could be repaired or reused, even for a different context with respect to its original design.

Drawing on this concept, a workshop organised by Valentina Rognoli, Ernesto Oroza and Marinella Levi with the support of +Lab and Max Romero was held in May 2014 at the School of design of Politecnico di Milano, Italy to introduce product design students to the topics of objects repair, reuse and repurpose. It was been chosen to emphasise the DIY approach and the use of additive manufacturing technologies such as desktop 3D printers. Furthermore, Oroza’s concept of ‘technological disobedience’ was used because considered innovative, exciting and promising. It casn be said that it is an extreme case of Everyday Design and Making approach that allows students looking at the design process as something that has never actually an end, but they can always consider this as always in-progress process. In addition, this concept permits students to look at objects according to another logic, starting from a different point of view and disobeying to their predetermined authority.

Figure 2. Termoformastira, the dometstic thermoforming machine.

You can enjoy some results here:

1. Termoformastira https://vimeo.com/95498670

2. SHOW-er https://vimeo.com/95500867

Such DIY approach demonstrated its potential of empowering laypeople (Cubans) and stimulating expert designers (master students). In the context of the digital DIY field and project, we believe that digital devices and networks could further exploit this potential thus empowering digital DIYers and producing innovation.


PoliMi team

Valentina Rognoli, Giuseppe Salvia, Carmen Bruno, Marita Canina, Laura Anselmi


Oroza, E., & de Bozzi, P. (2002). Objets Réinventé. La création populaire a Cuba. Paris: Ëditions Alternatives.

Oroza, E. (2009). Rikimbili. Une étude sur la désobéissance technologique et quelques formes de reinvention. Publications de l’Université de SaintÉtienne. Cité du design.