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Mario Trimarchi


What are design icons? And can designers create for eternity?

Designers are refined balancers, who move along on the boundary between the time of the chronicle and the time of anthropology. Because designers give shape to things but time silently changes their meaning.

There are objects that age well or badly. Others that are immediately successful but become obsolete immediately. And then there are objects that are contemporary yet live an autonomous life, as if they were outside and beyond time and space, in a constant dialogue with those who look at them and use them. These are objects that, through this relationship with people, take on ever new meanings: and it is thanks to these meanings that they live forever.

Is it possible to consciously design an icon?

How can designers give life to this magic? How can they trigger that subtle, delicate, unpredictable, alchemical relationship between time and objects? Designing it consciously is very difficult (and almost impossible). But it is fundamental. Because if the things we design translate the present, their success is ephimeral. If they address the future they will be misunderstood. If they draw inspiration from the past, they would be easily accepted but with a bit of boredom. It is only when they correctly interpret the relationship with time, that they become icons. Hence worthy objects, relevant from a human and anthropological point of view, sustainable regardless of their manufacturing process: because no one will ever want to get rid of them.

An icon is normal, yet unpredictable

To describe ever lasting objects, or icons, in these terms, one could imagine them as sublime, special, almost ethereal presences. Yet real icons – those that win the challenge of time and meaning – are often “normal” objects. But they couple this normality with a certain degree of unpredictability. The task of designers is to grasp the subtle boundary between the security of familiarity and the unstable equilibrium of the unexpected.
It is not an easy one and there are no recipes to be able to complete it. Everyone, in this sense, looks inside and listens to his or her own voice.

Wind and shadows

Mine brings me – almost paradoxically – towards the provisional nature of objects, towards that sense of ineffable that I would like to transfer to my projects. Ineffable is the wind, some artistic suggestions, the clouds or the petals of flowers, what you see out the window and try to capture in a quick sketch. Ineffable is the also the mystery of shadows, that shape objects from the outside, making them pasty or clear and creating around them an areas of impassable respect. But this is just one of the many possible ways in which a designer can try to understand the miracle that brings people’s time to intersect with the time of objects, making them mysteriously desirable. In this research, design is more than a process that shapes things. It is a continuous questioning about the duration of life and death.

MARIO TRIMARCHI, a designer and artist from Sicily. Has worked for Olivetti with Michele De Lucchi, has won the Compasso d’Oro 2014 for an Alessi coffee maker, has designed fabrics for Ferragamo.


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