Alberto Alessi: What defines Italian design?

The man who brought us the Anna G corkscrew confronts the impact of globalisation on Italian design.
Posted 21 Nov 14 By Design Indaba Duration: 00:03:41 Product Design Interviews / Video Interviews Comments

Grandson to the founder of the now-famous Italian design factory, Alberto Alessi joined the company in 1970. In the more than four decades he has been in the business of producing designer home and kitchenware he has seen a radical shift in the industry. 

Reflecting on the change in an interview with Design Indaba in London, he observes that until the 1970s Italian design implied, without exception, that it was designed by an Italian and produced in the country. This shifted dramatically in the 1980s as Italian design companies increasingly collaborated with designers from across the globe, a trend that is continuing today. Noting that production is also going global, Alessi asks what defines Italian design if it is not designed or made by Italians?

He regards Alessi as an industrial research laboratory that explores the possibilities of products in the field of design. The product development process takes up to two years from when the company first receives the design proposal from a designer to when the product is presented to market. In between, it goes through a rigorous development process. 

Aside from market research and commercial prowess, Alessi also values his intuition and believes "in giving birth to things only if I believe they are right not just because it will sell". 

It is this quality of balancing passion, knowledge and skills that he believes defines Italian design and will ensure the survival of the Italian design factory: "It is the skilful mediation between creativity and the market which is a matter of the head [and] maybe heart – but not necessarily of manufacturing," he says. "So Italian design factories might survive even when they are not producing designs by Italians or even when designs are not produced in Italy."

Sticking to the company's roots however, Alessi made a conscious decision to stay in Italy and to keep the most important part of its production – products made through the cold forming of metals – in the country.

More on Product Design