Alessi on Alessi

Nuggets of wisdom from the managing director of the multi-generation Italian design firm

In a time when the thought of AIG doling out millions (yet again) in bonuses makes you want to tear your hair out, it is understandably difficult to understand big business. Have those at the helm of large companies lost their mind? And what about design-oriented companies—how will they fare? Enter Alberto Alessi—a beacon of hope with a mind for both business and design.

Alberto, a third generation Alessi, recently joined New York Times’ style magazine design editor, Pilar Viladas, for a conversation on all things design. At once philosophical and pragmatic, it is no wonder Alessi continues to be an enduring force. “Design conjures up images to make people happier,” he asserts. “It really is the new form of art and poetry for our times.” Indeed. Some additional thoughts and highlights from the self-described “artistic mediator” after the jump.

Alessi’s informal chat with Viladas

Alessi on the family business: I had a degree in law before I started in the family business. My father wanted me to study economics but I was only interested in architecture. Working for the business was a compromise between my father and me. But when I first started in Alessi it was a bit boring. I felt I needed to characterize the production with some aesthetic characteristics.

Alessi on fiascos: I like to dance on the borderline between what is possible and impossible. If you’re too far from the borderline on one side, all of the work ends up the same. And on the other side—fiasco. My initial ‘unlimited series of productions’ was a fiasco. But I’m very proud of my fiascos. They’re the only way I can see where the borderline is – or was. It’s how we lead in design excellence. You have to have intuition, sensibility, and a wish for more risk. This theory is good for the company and consumer culture.

Alessi on ‘form versus function’: I’m a little tired of the form versus function debate. But, I think the gap between form and function is where design comes in and works. The four values of good design are: style, poetry, function, and status.

Alessi on Alessi: Alessi is a research lab, not just a factory. Our job is to put talent together to create something new for a certain type of customer. We’re not just about using one style, but about giving artists and customers the possibility to express different styles. There are modest designs and I’m proud of that. I choose our designers—they are the best people around. I learn a lot from each of them.

Alessi on what’s next: I think fashion has the most interesting case of using the other values of good design. I’ve always seen product and fashion design as parallel and recently I’m seeing some convergence. I find it interesting and exciting and I’d like to speed up this convergence.

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