For someone who churns out dozens of products, has industrial patents on items that sell in the millions, and received the Compasso d’Oro at the age of 34, Giulio Iacchetti (now 46) is curiously anti-design. “I am work- ing on a lot of things, yes, but what I’m really excited about at this moment is the issue of destruction.”
Such a statement doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Iacchetti – acclaimed as one of the most talented Italian designers around (highly appreciated by brands like Foscarini, Alessi, Moleskine, Globo, Casamania,…) is someone who simply cannot stop engaging in activities that are somewhat related to design but stem from the willingness to support a principle rather than anything else. Throughout the years, these have included the democratisation of design (he initiated a collection of low-priced, quality items for supermarket chain Coop), the rebirth of Italian values (he conceived a book with Corraini on Italianity, underlining the value of nearly-forgotten cultural archetypes), and an interest in universal symbols (he staged an exhibition on the role of the cross – needless to say, a topic that is not the easiest to tackle in Italy). And now, destruction.
I thought design was about creation …
«That is actually the opposite of what I do for a living. But I cannot help thinking that the hyper-productive mode we live in is inherently wrong. I am working with Italo Rota on a ‘fabbrica al contrario’ (a contrary factory), where things are properly dismantled, with the remains classified and prepared for re-use».
You mean a disassembly factory?
I am thinking in terms of a system rather than a sin-
gle experience, involving consortiums, activity groups
and the City Council. The ‘fabbriche al contrario’ (plu-
ral) could provide an actual opportunity for people
looking for work, wanting to get into handling objects
and understanding production and its issues. It would
also serve as a perfect learning opportunity for design
students. Enormous value can be created from the re-
use of the separated elements coming out of the disas-
sembly process (there is a company near Brescia that
extracts 80 kg of gold from old computers each year!).
°: Is this the necessary step after eco-design?
I am so bored with all these talks on eco-design.
Especially when I see people making useless things
like biodegradable furniture. And throwaway cutlery
that disintegrates, to be used by restaurants and sold
in supermarkets? That makes sense and has an impact.
But don’t get me started on bio-degradable wardrobes:
much better to make things properly so that they last
a lifetime. Designers think they can make a difference
but they cannot. Their discussions are always carried
out in their own tiny, self-referential worlds, and ‘de-
signed’ items are such a small percentage of what’s pro-
duced everyday that it is ridiculous to think they can
have an impact. On the other hand, I also laugh when
companies boast about how green their products are
because they can be disassembled. Who actually ever
dismantles an item before taking it to the dump?
°: But why should this be your task as a designer?
It isn’t. But I feel it’s mine as a person. On the other
hand, as a designer, I also feel that today ‘new’ is not
about conceiving another lamp or table but about re-
thinking a system based on continuous growth that is
collapsing. I know I am not going to change the world
but I believe in working together with likeminded peo-
ple to explore other routes.
°: For a full week you were a guest blogger
on the website of Italian financial newspaper, Sole
24 Ore. You wrote: “I react with slight disgust when
people in my business talk about ‘suppliers’. It’s as if
they were anonymous production entities that simply
reply to commissioned work. Yet the ones I deal with
on a daily basis are more often than not people who
are able to produce innovative thinking (as well as
products) for the good of the ever-more emblazoned
design companies.” Do I detect a hint of criticism?
In suppliers’ labs and workshops, the guidelines
provided by designers and companies are turned into
real solutions, often enhanced by the original thinking
of their very professional workforce. These are the places
where research is carried out, away from the limelight
and the glamour. This is where the value of products
‘made in Italy’ lies: in the quality of what suppliers are
able to produce. At the moment I am actually creating
a network of extremely skilled craftsmen who I have
worked with (most of them are suppliers for big compa
nies and brands), and together we are envisaging a new
production system. One in which I design the items then
we make them together (there is no greater pleasure than
this, believe me!). I would then deal with the communi
cations and promotion and the customers would go di
rectly to them for purchasing. The result: end prices are
halved for the user, earnings doubled for the craftsmen,
and there would be a considerably higher income for my
studio as well. This is what I mean when I say that I want
to challenge the system: it’s not easy for these people to
make a living now, and their skills are precious. This is
one way of trying to preserve them.
°: But in this way, you basically cut out dis-
tribution and branded companies. Some of the ones
you actually work for. You reckon it would go down
well with them?
You seem to forget that we are talking peanuts. A
tiny number of items, a small group of suppliers, one
designer. It would be so great to think: this is a new ap
proach; this is going to change the capitalistic system.
No way! It’s a little experiment that co-exists with cur
rent realities, like the Marc Newson bookshelf that costs
hundreds of thousands, like IKEA democratic design,
like the millions of totally un-designed things that sur
round us in daily life. Obviously, what I will be making
with them is totally different from industrial production;
otherwise what would be the point? I have, for instance,
designed a wooden stool with a base comprising of two
sections that criss-cross one another. It’s sort of mysteri
ous and light in appearance, but very sturdy. You would
never make something like that in a factory: you would
avoid the crossing and create a click system for the vari
ous parts. Honestly, I see no issue there.
°: Looking at your work, there seems not to
be a common language, no search for a style. Rather,
shapes and ideas that stem from the requirements
dictated by function, mixed with a studied easiness
of form. Does it make sense, in your opinion, to talk
about style in design?
I think it makes sense to search for beauty, but
more often than not we are confronted with a degener
ation of aesthetics, a decadent approach that draws in-
spiration from a style that works and merely copies its
outcome, without actually going through the thinking
path that made it possible in the first place. The Bour
oullec Brothers’ work, for instance, could be defined in
terms of shapes, colour palettes, finishes. But there is
an amazing amount of conceptual effort beyond these
visual aspects that is completely lost if you just refer
ence it from an aesthetic perspective. And when it’s a
designer doing it, who cares? The trouble starts when
companies get into this game. It’s not the design-driven
brands that do this, of course (the ones that sell very
little at the end of the day and have no impact). Rather,
it’s the mass suppliers of contract places: restaurants,
bars, hotels. They pick up the catalogue of a successful
company, figure out what sells the most, change the
shape a little, and then flood the market with cheaper
versions, drawing on the appeal that designer furniture
has today. This is not only dishonest but also a cultural
and ecological issue: millions of items are styled as ob-
jects of desire, to sell well and enlarge the wallets of
whoever makes them, without a single thought given
to quality and durability.
°: Would it not be an interesting challenge for
a designer to actually approach this type of company
and to try to change things?
I have been trying to do that for years! But the cul-
ture is missing. Popular culture in Italy, whether we
like it or not, comes from television. And for decades,
TV has been churning out information about fashion
and gastronomy, while design has never been an issue.
People in Italy know how to dress, how to cook. But
very few actually have a glimpse of design culture. We
are considered a design country, but thanks only to
the brands (and their suppliers!) that still stubbornly
work on quality. In other countries, design is more
diffused throughout the population. In Scandinavia,
for instance, people simply do not want cheap, badly
made stuff. Here we find it everywhere: in our urban
furniture, in our public communications, in the places
we hang out when we want to have a good time. It
suits everyone: the companies make the money, while
the administrators and private entities that purchase
these things spend less. You are right, it would be a
challenge. But whenever I have tried, the entrepreneur
would say: why should I? I would give him an answer
that would require a lot more culture than he has at
present, in order to be properly digested.
°: You don’t sound very hopeful…
Maybe I am just realistic. Being aware that you can-
not change the world does not mean that you want to
stop trying. In your own little ways… #