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The democracy of design

The Korea Herald is publishing an interview series on some of the world’s most creative minds who have been invited to Korea to share their design philosophies and vision during Herald Design Week 2013, Oct. 7-11. ― Ed.

World-renowned architect and industrial designer Stefano Giovannoni has designed some of the most successful products in the world. His clients have included Alessi, Magis, Siemens and 3M, to name a few.

Viewing the economy as the engine for cultural growth, Giovannoni has called for the new generation of companies to offer the best quality in terms of design, materials, functions, image and innovation.

Following is an excerpt from an email interview with Giovannoni.

Korea Herald: Can you take us through your thinking process when you brainstorm designs?

Stefano Giovannoni: Any project belongs to its historical period and I try to imagine the products I’m working on as an expression of it. Design has to represent present and future. I think any project has to be an effort in this direction.

KH: Among your many collaborative efforts, have you experienced conflict while working with companies that prioritize profits?

Giovannoni: Profit has to be a “must,” a goal for any company that wants to be on the market as well as for any good entrepreneur. I think a good marketing manager is somebody who has a vision which succeeds in combining culture and profit.

KH: You said that product design that satisfies the public’s desire is the yardstick for professionalism. If so, do you make any special efforts to grasp the desires of the masses?

Giovannoni: I would like to be recognized as the designer who tried to democratize the design context, opening it to a wider range of customers and especially to young generations.

When I started working with Alessi, my intention was to transform the company from an expensive “intellectual” design target to a new one based on emotional products able to communicate with young generations.

Regarding my approach, it could be defined “eclectic” in two different senses: With regards the types of products, I embraced the largest range, designing any kind of product, from ice cream (as art director of Nestle’s ice creams) to kitchenware, from bathroom to furniture, from electronics to automotive; and with regard to the possibility of considering different languages of expression according to different targets or contexts.

Our society will be more and more hybrid and multiethnic, our language more open to different approaches.

KH: In the IT sector, competition for slick design has become so fierce that some have said the sector is essentially a design competition. A case in point is the smartphone. What was the factor that you considered most important when you were designing ZTE Nubia Z5?

Giovannoni: Technology moves to de-materialize the physical aspect of the product, reducing its components to a minimum range and simplifying its image.

In the case of smartphones or tablets, products are more and more similar to each other reducing themselves to a display included in a simple case while the main difference lies in the user interface.

When the product becomes less physical and separated from its functionality, the impact of design is less important, because it has no influence on the functionality of the product.

Working for ZTE smartphone I succeeded in reducing the thickness of the product organizing the internal components in a different way and when it was launched it was the thinnest 5-inch smartphone on the market.

KH: We selected “Design’s Social Responsibility (DSR)” as our slogan as design evolves from the simple commercial fruits into a social responsibility. As a world-renowned industrial designer, what do you think true DSR is?

Giovannoni: Today a designer and an enterpreneur have at their disposal a wide range of eco-sustainable materials, which could be molded as plastic but based on natural materials. For example, you can mold a chair with material made with liquid wood, a new material composed of wooden powder and resin, or liquid cork composed of cork and resin, or liquid leather composed of leather powder and resin. Using these materials you can also plan the life of the product and when you decide to throw it away, there are some components which, upon contact with the bacteria in the ground, will decompose.

Usually these materials are more expensive than the traditional ones and more difficult to produce, so at the moment it’s difficult to think about a large application. There is a lot of communication and advertisement for companies creating furniture with these eco-sustainable materials, but for any plastic chair which goes to the market, there probably will be 1,000 PET bottles sold, which create a lot of pollution.

I recently designed a water machine for Sodastream, which can provide depurated water, sparkling water and soft drinks, avoiding the use of plastic bottles in your house. If governments support such products, forbidding the use of plastic bottles, this will be a real step forward to speak about eco-sustainability avoiding certain kinds of ideological approaches to this matter.

I have heard too many designers or managers speak about eco-sustainability just to create an issue for marketing communication, so I am a little bit suspicious of too-easy declarations which usually hide market interests. But we don’t have to confuse the role of the designer with the role of a politician or a public administrator.

By Cho Chung-un (
Korea Herald Youtube