Interviews at The European Centre Tell a friend

Alberto Alessi

Six Principles of Good Design


Interview with Alberto Alessi 


Kettle by Michael Graves for Alessi design -
Good Design Award 1988

Michele de Lucchi coffee maker for Alessi dezeen

Anna Corkscrew by Alessandro Mendini -  
Good Design 1994


Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck for Alessi design -
Good Design Award 1991

Diabolix by Biagio Cisotti for Alessi design

Richard Sapper 8091 Kettle, 1983 -
Good Design Award 1988 

Principle No. 1 
DO NOT CREATE A STYLE
 
We do not have and we don’t want to have a “style.”
On the contrary, we like to be open to many different styles.
I do believe design excellence goes far beyond the concept of “style.”
 
In my vision, “style” is limiting, something low profile and superficial; or maybe, in the publication of our catalogues with so many various designers and architects, it may happen that some of them they do have something that could be described as “a personal style.”
But, this is not mandatory.
 
An Italian design factory like Alessi is similar to a publisher: we are not interested in having a style; but instead, we want to build a catalogue open to various styles. We are looking for quality of narration and imaginary, and that’s independent from “style”— that’s our true richness.
 
We work with a network of around 300 architects and designers from all over the world. 
And they bring the biggest and better part of the excitement that they can squeeze out of the factory.
 
Alessi, as an example of the phenomenon of the Italian design factories, is seen a as kind of industrial design research workshop whose activity is an endless mediation between creativity, on one hand, and the marketplace on the other.
We offer our designers the industrial tools to express their creativity.
 
When speaking about the "Italian Design factories," I am referring to a historical group of companies which developed for the better part in the post-war years, with the exception of a few recent cases.
 
Undoubtedly, we are dealing with a limited number of companies, 20 or 30 at most (engaged in the furniture, lighting equipment and fittings industries; just to quote a few names: Cassina, B&B Italia, Zanotta, Cappellini, Kartell, Driade, Artemide, Flos, Luceplan, Danese...): For these companies design represents, essentially, the key-element of their activity.
 
For these companies, design is a Mission, an activity that has gradually broken away from its original meaning as a simple formal project for an object and has become a sort of "overall philosophy," a Weltanschauung, underlying all of these companies' operational steps.
 
These type of companies, though retaining their status as profit-making private enterprises, operate within a capitalistic system, devoting their efforts to the production and sale of goods and extremely carefully assessing the cost/benefit ratio, are nevertheless well aware of fitting and acting in a context of material culture, implying a daily confrontation with what we call the Applied Arts (today: design).

Principle No. 2
TAKE YOUR CUE FROM ARCHITECTURE
 
Design is the son of architecture.
There was a great architect and professor, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, who coined the saying: “from the spoon to the city.”
 
Well, you have to know that in Italy, design is a son of architecture: in our long history, almost without exception, all good designers were first architects — then maybe concentrating in product design.
 
Architects have a deeper understanding of culture in a broader sense, they receive a humanistic formation, one of the best schools to become a poet. And a poet has the tools to poetically create (Heidegger) a small object like a spoon and/or a big ensemble like a town.

Principle No. 3
REFLECT THE TIMES
 
In my interpretation, a design classic is a project or an object, which is representing, in a very good way, the true spirit of the period in which it has been created. 
 
Michael Graves was representing the spirit of the times.
Graves proved to have a good nose to smell the true spirit of the ‘80s, and he was lucky to get the right talent to express it in his fields — design and architecture — like a few other designers and architects.
 
What does “talent” mean in terms of design?
It means to have a mix of skills, like to be able to look and to express transcendency, but also to be understood by normal people.
 
“Beauty” is an overindulged word today; but for sure, beauty in the ‘50s was very different from beauty in the ‘90s.

Principle No. 4 
DON’T BE SO SERIOUS
 
Seriousness has little space in Italian design.
But do not ask me why. All designers I’ve worked with were very humorous; they were looking for some fun in their work and their life.
 
I think that when Starck said “Alessi is a merchant of happiness,” he was mainly meaning, instead, a merchant of fun.

Principle No. 5 
DESIGN IS MORE THAN FUNCTION
 
Take a bowl.  All the functional characteristics of the bowl are dead.  
Given that, we could stop if we were only looking for function.

However, we are creating every week, every month a new bowl.  
It means that maybe, I suspect, it’s more than just function.
 
Through the 'clinical' experience of our work at Alessi, we have become aware of the fact that people demand and buy our coffee-makers and our kettles for a number of reasons other than just making coffee or boiling water.
 
Which reasons? And what is the statute of objects?
 
The first surprising fact is that objects are endowed with other values besides the Functional one!
 
Without neglecting, of course, the Functional or Use Value, which is supposed to represent the reason for their existence as objects, it should be pointed out that in our society other values have become just as important as, or even more important than, the Functional value when it comes to explaining the existence of the objects surrounding us.
 
For instance: objects have become the main channel through which we convey our values, status and personality to others. (Let us just think of fashion).
 
The property and use of objects amounts essentially to an exchange of cultural and social meanings.  By choosing the objects they come across, people tend to charge them with a major social meaning; they use them as signs for communicating their values.
 
I am referring now to objects as signs, as signs of a given status or a definite style.
 
I am speaking, therefore, of their Status Value and of their Style Value (by way of example, a gold Rolex watch is a status symbol, which suggests economic wealth, whereas a style symbol may be exemplified by an Aldo Rossi tea pot, which reveals cultural sensitivity and familiarity with the architectural domain.) These concepts have been expounded in particular by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard.
 
But that’s not all: there is yet another value, which I'd call the Poetic Value.
 
For experience has taught me that people turn to objects also in order to fulfil a deep-seated, conceived desire for Art and Poetry.
 
A need for Art and Poetry that the classical media through which artistic expression has hitherto been conveyed (museums for Art, books for Poetry ...) are no longer capable of fulfilling in any suitable way. 
 
An overwhelming need for Art and Poetry which stems from society (and the market) and which industry, Mass Production Industry, has so far failed to grasp.

Principle No. 6 
DESIGN FOR WHAT YOU LOVE
 
It is true that we produce a lot of products related to the kitchen.
One of the reasons is that we love and enjoy cooking.

Copyright © 2016 Chicago Athenaeum and Metropolitan Arts Press Ltd.
METROPOLITAN ARTS PRESS
ME AND YOU development