Isabella Nardini: “Creativity for me is to invent, is the ability to create the new”

Responsible for designing the Experience behind MESA, a method created to unleash people’s full potential and deliver great results for extraordinary business challenges in 5 days. Since 2015, she’s been dedicated to conceive and bring to life every single detail for a unique work experience: from real objects to sensible rituals that guarantee professional high performance and personal transformation.

With a degree of Graphic/Product Design and Jewelry, she has worked part of her early career as a jewel designer running her own brand with handcrafted pieces which gained the attention of major labels in Italy, where she lived for years. Still, in Italy, Isabella Nardini shared the time working in the Design Week in Milan and the Art Bienalle in Venice. As the Mesa Global Experience Leader, today, Isabella, have been helping organizations from all over the globe – including Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Netflix – and some of the most brilliant professionals of our times – including Kobe Bryant, Perry Chen, Cindy Gallop, and Neil Harbisson – to achieve a level of performance they themselves didn’t know was possible.

I talked with Love is in the Cloud’s Founder, speaker at Unfinished 2020, about trust, personal experience path and learnings, creativity and inspiration, differences between cultures and how she is perceiving the world today due to the pandemic.

an interview by Romanita Oprea

When did you first feel you are attracted to design?

I think I very first felt attracted to design in the early stages of life. When I think about how I used to play as a little kid. I was the type of kid that was way more into building my dollhouse with pieces of boxes and paper, than playing with a doll directly. So, I’ve always been into creating from scratch, creating with intention and functionality.

If you think of design as the ability to create the world around you, I would say that I have been feeling attracted to it since the time I realized I could use and explore my hands to produce something new.

What were your first steps in the design world?

My very firsts steps into the design world were in the university in Brazil where I graduated both in Graphic and Product design (because I just couldn’t pick only one). My final project in school was a report of a journey into exploring ordinary materials and turning them into meaningful objects/adornments, which ended up becoming the creation of a brand new contemporary jewelry brand. I, when graduated, kept working on it. And with the work I was doing with my brand, I was invited to go to Florence/Italy to work in a traditional jewelry brand called Nomination.

You have a serious international background in important education in Brazil, Italy (Siena, Florence), UK (London). What were the most important learnings from each experience and each country?

The most important learnings from each work/study experience I had in different geographical places are:

Europe (UK, Italy) was the place that brought me the references, in terms of esthetics and meanings, where I learned about tradition, history, how things are built and what makes them remain relevant throughout centuries.

In the United States of America is where I learned to be fearless, shameless, and humble. It’s the place that gave me the guts to put a project out there and show my face to the world without any reservation.

And Brazil is where I’m constantly encouraged to create new ways. It’s where I learned how to be creative. And that’s mainly because being creative in Brazil, a place with so little financial and governmental resources, is a survival mechanism. But at the same time, for being so abundant in terms of biome it can give you countless possibilities.

What are the trends in 3D jewelry design these days?

Since 2015 I’m not close to the jewelry world anymore, especially the 3D jewelry. What I could say is that I see a lot of cyborgism pieces coming to life in the jewelry world as accessories that bring functionality through technology attached to adornments to everyday life.

What was your creative approach at Maison 203?

At Maison 203 I worked as a project manager and festivals and fairs coordinator, so my creative approach was related to how the customers would experience the brand in art and design fairs – the space, the rituals, and the relationships you establish with the people by the scenography you create, with the jewelry pieces and the context.

At Nomination, I was projecting pieces that would be made in the factory in silver, and in the brand created I created my own back in 2011, called FLOW, I used to have a very contemporary creative approach in the jewelry world where I would create pieces with not noble and ordinary materials, where the value of the piece was in the story it tells. Everything was handmade and every single piece unique – from the jewelry piece to the packaging. We didn’t have a physical store, the way people were able to buy the pieces was through sensorial experiences created once a month where people could try the pieces and experience the emotions related to the stories of each piece.

Where do you find your daily inspiration?

I find my daily inspirations in every possible live being. In every story that crosses my way.

In all the Interactions that I have and all the relationships, I establish.

I feel inspiration is really about how you choose to relate yourself to the world, at the end of the day. And to me, I choose to see every detail and piece of life as a possibility, as a way of multiplying my world and being able to create a prosperous life.

So with that, every single thing, places, people, contexts, rituals, emotions, nature, conversations, and so on, become fuel to live.

What does creativity represent to you?

Creativity for me is to invent, is the ability to create the new. It’s not only about putting projects in the world, it is about creating something no one had done before, it is about solving a problem, finding a solution, finding new ways, and helping the world to move forward.

And to achieve that, I believe it is essential to be curious and open to learning. Creativity is like a body muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it gets to keep using it.

How did you decide to join MESA and what were the most important projects you worked on?

I decided to join Mesa in 2015, when Barbara Soalheiro, the founder of Mesa was looking for someone to put their whole heart into creating one of the most important pillars of her company: the Experience. The company at that time should have 2 pillars, the Curatorship/Talent and the Experience, and that’s because you can not only have a group of brilliant people around the table, you gotta make sure they perform well enough to be able to create something relevant to the world in only 5 days, together.

So she was looking for someone who could combine the sensitivity, the human aspects into objects, scenography, and tangible rituals that would provoke the behavior. The challenge was big enough for me to decide to leave Italy (I was living in Venice at the time) and move to São Paulo to create something I didn’t think was possible. And it was. And it worked.

And even though by that time I’ve never had a title like that, “Experience Designer”, today feels like I’ve always been that. Now I look at myself as a 360 experience designer, since what I do for a living and being is to create experiences – mainly the ones that move people’s senses. For me to be an experienced designer is to be constantly creating emotions. Throughout the 5 years of being the Global Head of Experience at Mesa, I was the person who had the biggest number of Mesas done. During that period I did 70 projects in different parts of the world, like São Paulo, New York City, London, Athens, Venice, etc.

The most challenging and unforgettable Mesa were:

The Artistic ones, the ones we do together with artists to put a project they always dreamed of but never had the resources (time, money, team) to make it happen. We created together with Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas, in just 6 days, the first-ever transcendental communication system: two teeth that can send and receive vibrations from one person to another. One tooth was inserted in Moon Ribas‘ mouth and the other one in Neil Harbisson’s mouth which allowed them to send vibrations to each other’s teeth and therefore communicate using the morse code.

The other Mesa that keeps a special place in my heart is the one we did in Venice with Aperol (Campari Group), the challenge of the Mesa was a communication one, but the Mesa itself had to be a branded experience action for the brand. And being able to create an end to end experience on an island like Venice for a group of 26 influencers/clients – from the logistics to design/aesthetics to human interactions and sensations. Putting both things together – practical and sensitive aspects of this experience and building memorable moments was huge.

Other than that, creating a learning experience for a group of selected people to learn how to be a Mesa leader in the middle of the Atlantic forest in brazil, mixing the holistic challenges of being a leader with the survival tools you need when in the forest.

Most of my experiences in NYC were memorable, from training a group of directors of THE Facebook HQ to work in their daily challenges more efficiently, then to create a project called Mesa Summer House, with a chain of dinners for selected influential people in the city to make Mesa be known in New York City.

What does a global head of experience do?

A Global Head of Experience at Mesa is the person not only responsible to design the work experience of a Mesa, a method created to deliver great results for extraordinary business challenges in 5 days but also someone who is aware of the experience everybody has with the company, all the touchpoints, through social media, talks, the Experience Designer has a careful look at the emotional relationship anyone carries with the brand one way or another.

It is also someone who conceives and brings to life every single detail for a unique work experience that is capable of unleashing people’s full potential (helping each participant to achieve a level of performance they didn’t know was possible): from real objects to sensible rituals that guarantee professional high performance and personal transformation.

How did you decide to start the project Love is in the cloud?

I like to say that I did not decide to create Love Is In The Cloud, it happened to me. It was happening. It all started during the pandemic when I had just gotten back from a sabbatical three months’ trip to Asia where I was living serendipitously. When I got back to Brazil and saw myself isolated, I understood I had to concentrate on my real needs and desires and not the fictional ones that the system often brings to our lives.

So, everything started 5 days after the lockdown, became of the reality I was living. I realized I would have to improve my survival mechanisms. I had two things constantly in my head:

one was: how can I, in the middle of this chaos, when everybody is mainly accessing feelings like sadness, fear, stress, and anxiety, because of the context. how can we once again feel the good feelings of being alive? Those feelings that push us forward, brings joy, excitement.

And the other thing I had in my mind was: our worlds reduced. Our worlds used to be this place of many different landscapes to see, different people to meet, places to go, with a lot of space for surprises, for chances. Now, the world is reduced to this, this square meter that I’m at, my world is now only what I can see, and I’m relating only with the people I already know.

Everything happening within this space is designed and predictable, and that’s to compensate for everything happening outside. Which we don’t have any control over.

And not being able to access the NEW, once all the things I don’t know, might not be safe for me, so I do not trust. The new and the unexpected has become bad instead of good. So how can I access, surprises, chances, in a safe way closed at home? Well, I guess through people. accessing new universes connecting to new people. But of course, virtually.

Ok, good. That was one thing.

Now, back to the good feelings of being alive, which has a lot to do with accessing the new in my case. I realized that the good feeling I was missing the most was: butterflies in the stomach. which is this physical feeling, this mix between being excited and being nervous about something that is about to happen.

Kinda like adrenaline. And usually, I feel that when I’m taking risks. But provoking risks in a moment where everything is already so risky, and people are so sensitive, didn’t seem like a good way to go. Therefore, I keep thinking about it, looking for things that would translate the same sensation as risk – which is doing something without knowing what is going to happen, and that was when I found the way: FLIRTING.

Flirting, yes, flirting, which is playing with the uncertainty of things. And at the moment we are living in, being able to deal with some uncertainties lightly is something that everyone is missing, right. It’s important to mention that I’m not talking specifically about dating here or flirting to find your next partner, I’m talking about being playful with one another, open to explore, to experiment, to dare a bit, without necessarily a plan on where to get or a reason why.

So that’s when I got it all in my head: The way to solve that need is by creating an intimate and guided experience of connection and butterflies in the stomach.

The format: for an hour and a half, a group of 20 invited people will get the chance to have 8 encounters (virtually for now) of 5 minutes each with people they don’t know, in a safe space, to connect and expand our worlds AND love and loved even if for just 5 minutes.

What are your goals with it?

My goal is to enable people to get VULNERABLE and allow for CHANCE and (and therefore TRUST) again to enter their lives. Make the UNKNOWN and the UNEXPECTED EXCITING again instead of scary. And all of that through one another.

What do you still have on your professional bucket list and why?

When you talk about a professional bucket list, everything that would come along on that would be: uncountable and many different formats to do what I’ve been doing in the last couple of years. Which is keeping unleashing potential and emotions from people from different cultures and different places, focusing on real (but sometimes hidden) desires and needs through transformative experiences.

What I feel like exploring and learning more about next is a mix of formats that may include the virtual and the digital world like: theatrical immersive experiences, reality shows, expeditions, and an expressive residency/hotel for a community of doers.

If you were to characterize yourself in just two phrases, what would those be?

I am a tireless Experience Designer that is constantly exploring new ways of moving people’s senses through transformative and simple experiences with a very clear intention behind it.

As an explorer, I tend to be very open to change. Flexibility and adaptation are some of my strengths and tools to help me navigate the unknown. My nature is to bring people together, by curating, connecting, and caring.

How would you characterize the trust today and do you believe it changed during the years?

Yes, I do believe that our relationship with trust had changed throughout the years, just like the relationships with everything else.

With the pandemic, an approximation is now synonymous with contamination, making us trust less and less in anything that we don’t know. And after a while of living inside our own houses, we had become more self-centered, making it harder to open up to others.

So, indeed the soil is not fertile for trust, but I deeply believe that the lack of trust is a more expansive way. And we’ve had enough of hard ways. As we all navigate into insecurities and fear, I hope we understand we are all in the same boat, and by that understanding, we will use trust as a way to bring us close together again, so we can get through this stormy moment stronger.