What defines quality, when it comes to design? According to Giulio Iacchetti you can “do good” things only by loving life with authenticity, lightness and spontaneity; with an honesty that no marketing strategy will ever succeed in imitating.
(This interview was published in German by philosophy magazine Hoheluf. What we publish here is a revised and expanded version with Iacchetti himself)
What is quality for a designer today?
«For me it is a dynamic concept, a path. What satisfies us today, probably will not do it tomorrow. Because we are the ones who change and from the observation (therefore by comparison) of our work with that of other colleagues, changes perceptions of things in a sensitive way. It is a mechanism of emulation, of the will to overcome, to absorb and make the lesson of others their own. Dissatisfaction is a decisive element for a designer’s curriculum, a great incentive to progress, to raise the level of the challenge».
Do you think it’s the same for the public too? Personally, I have the impression that the concept of “quality” is much less clear to us than it was for our grandparents.
«The public comes products that are normally processed only from an aesthetic and, perhaps, functional point of view. On the quality of the elements that compose it, and the sophistication of the work it has undergone, people can say very little because objectively lacking the fundamentals, for example technical knowledge, in order to fully appreciate it or vice versa. I have a fantastic American blender that made a great impression on the kitchen floor: the third time we used it the gear that transmits the movement to the internal knives started when subjected to an effort slightly above the norm. It is a toothed wheel made of rubber, material evidently not suitable for that purpose. My father would never have bought it: I let myself be dazzled by the shape and color of the blender and here is the result».
Is it possible to teach to grasp the quality of an object (to a non-designer, I mean)? How you do it? (intrigues me for example how to explain this concept to children and teenagers)
«Before the objects, there are the materials that make them up. It would be wonderful to activate experiential paths of restoring meaning to things starting from the materials that contribute to compose them. I imagine workshops on wood and the understanding that every essence can express in an optimal way for certain functions: it would derive that forcing the nature of things creates only problems, waste of resources and unnecessary design daring. I am convinced that children would like to listen to “the voice of wood” that would teach how best to use it, its preciousness, the fact that for certain works it is ideal while for others it is totally inadequate and so on … »
Quality is synonymous with longevity?
«Surely a good total quality of the artifact produces important effects with regard to its longevity. But quality, as an antidote to the rapid decadence of objects, does not consider only the material aspects. Indeed, I would say that longevity is more afferent to an immaterial dimension: a lamp by the Castiglioni brothers for the Flos of the 60s is still sought after and perfectly contemporary, regardless of the state of conservation of the materials that compose it».
Why do some objects survive over time (not just in a material sense) and others do not?
«The objects that survive are those whose role goes beyond mere function. Like the first machine that our parents bought, the old one turned into a sedimentation of feelings of lived life, unique experiences, memories, often mythologized. The object has always been a fetish, through our material world with a dimension related to the spirit, to the indefinite, to magic. With every object that becomes part of our life, we establish a relationship that can be on the one hand of total indifference and limited only to a merely functional use, and on the other hand an affectionate relationship, of close proximity, I would say of friendship. With my work, I am interested in investigating why certain objects are able to arouse emotions and affection, while others are completely amorphous and cold so that people quickly forget to possess them ».
But for the objects that characterize our daily life – the equivalent of the then 500 – something different happens. If I lose the smart phone I do not despair for the object (cost aside) as for the contents. What impact is this change having on the design of objects?
«This is a very interesting observation. The lived sediment that an object managed to collect in the past years (we still evoke the old family 500) can no longer be gleaned from a cell phone of our contemporaneity. In other words we can not develop a “physical” affection for these technological objects because their persistence in our pockets and on our desks is limited in time. The most updated version easily supplants the previous one, the object has no meaning for us, the level of personalization does not touch the envelope, but only the contents follow us in the migration from one smartphone to another: we are the applications that we have chosen, our contacts, the photos we take, the videos we shoot. The container object is an anonymous standard which is attractive only in the magnificent moment of the launch and in the subsequent purchase, with the canonical queues outside the shop to get it first. To confirm all this I could mention by heart all the cars that I have owned, from the first I lived in the family up to the present, but of my mobile phones I remember only the first one, for all the others I have only a vague memory, no nostalgia, no I’m going to find them or look for them on ebay …»
Doesn’t a high quality product necessarily have to be useful?
«No. Indeed I would say that it is the real uselessness to demand a very high level of quality. Precisely because when a strictly functionalistic component is lacking, it is necessary to exalt the aesthetic aspects and many times fall, fragile, which can be enjoyed only for a very short period of time and which are the exclusive prerogative of certain peculiar productions. An example: if we consider a product (and for me it is) a mandala of Buddhist monks, or that very elaborate circular design made with colored sands, we will see that this artifact represents something that seems useless to most people, it is the expression of a great realization. To be enjoyed immediately because, once finished, it is destroyed by its makers. In Holland it is said “work as monks” to mean a useless job … is not this consonance of intent that drives the action of men who have devoted their lives to God adhering to so different religions born in such distant places? Perhaps the monks understood before many others the meaning and the value of the word “useless” ?! Moreover, also in the Gospel of Luke there is a sentence that has always struck me, where “uselessness” is evoked as an epiphany moment of a life dedicated to work: “So you too, when you have done all that you have been ordered, you say: We are useless servants. We did what we had to do». Lk 17 7.10 ».
But it can not be said, from a certain point of view, that a mandala is “useless”. If it is, we should also consider art as such …
«In his beautiful essay« The utility of the useless », Nuccio Ordine distinguishes between the meanings attributable to the word” useful “. For many it is synonymous only with what generates profit, but the author of the book proposes a further meaning, namely that it is useful “everything that helps us to become better”. From this point of view it is nice to see that being surrounded by good objects, that is well designed and well made, is a good way to add beauty to our lives. We all need that beauty is reflected in every aspect of daily life, and it is nice to see that even a corkscrew or a glass can be ambassadors, albeit small and humble, of beauty».
Jasper Morrison talks about this possibility for objects to improve the everyday in terms of “atmospheric impact” they have on space. Do you agree?
«I like the idea that it is not only architecture, with its large scale, that decides the temperature and the level of reception of a place, I share with Morrison the idea that the ideal climate of an interior can also be obtained through the contest of “good” objects and tools. “Everything, but the wall”, was the title of the first catalog dedicated to the work of Jasper Morrison, as if to say: “I designed everything to the exclusion (deliberately?) Of the architectures, a declaration of intent that overturns the classic EN Rogers who gave architects the ability to design “from the spoon to the city” ».
Is there a way of thinking and achieving quality and also this particular type of beauty that we talked about (which has an impact on space) that is all Italian?
«In Italy, in the world of production, it is said” done to perfection “referring to a qualitative excellence of the product. I think it refers above all to a respect of the construction technique, to a wise use of materials, in line with the function to which they are responsible. Everything is reconciled with an artisan tradition that is centuries old in Italy. Just think of the blown glass in Venice, the wood and furniture in Brianza, the marble in Tuscany. The true depositaries of quality are therefore the artisans (like the refined cabinetmaker Ghianda, recently deceased and internationally known) and the producers (companies like Molteni who put a maniacal care in the realization of each single piece). But the true peculiarity of Italian quality is the logic from which it is born. “From respect for work and for people, for customers and for the territory”, says Carlo Molteni, president of the group that bears his name. It is a phrase that I like to mention because it underlines how quality in Italy is intrinsically linked to humanistic values, to culture, to the sense of belonging to a community … »
Often you talk about objects with adjectives that others would use for people. Do you refer to a certain quality of life that they should bring?
«For the objects I designed for internoitaliano, a brand that I founded about three years ago, I do not hide a sincere affection. I called them “happy objects” because they were made by Italian artisans happy to participate in this collective project where their contribution is fundamental for the success of the project. They are reported as co-authors: it’s a way to recognize their fundamental contribution to the realization of the product. But not only: once again the human relationship that develops, the consonance of intentions between me and the artisans, respect for their professionalism and wisdom and the mutual ability to listen, are the fundamental to generate “happy objects”. We talk about products and design, apparently, but in reality all this is a pretext to talk about life and the authentic values that animate it, because what sense does it have to talk about the quality of handicraft and industrial products if all this does not reverberate in a positive way? and authentic, giving back a deep sense, to the time that is given to us to live?»