Design as an Approach to Life, an Interview with Gabriele Pezzini


Born in 1963, Gabriele Pezzini is one of the most prominent figures in the Italian design’s contemporary scene. His strong artistic background has always driven him into the field of experimentation. Interested in the relations between product and industry, he has dedicated himself to innovative research projects, focusing on the conception and organization of exhibitions that have allowed him to develop his analyses and theories on perception and cross-contamination of everyday objects. He works with Italian and international companies and has lectured at several universities. Among his most successful creations, the “Sunny Day Bench” for Union Corporation, the “Moving Stool” and “Wired Chair” for Maxdesign, the “Hélicoptére” for Hermès, the “Match Radio” for Areaplus, the “Clartè Lamp” for Oluce. He has recently published a limited-edition book entitled “Meteorite – Looking far, watching closely”, which contains a series of interesting reflections on “the process of a project”, starting from the evocative images of meteorites and sand as metaphors for the creative process. His works, along with the design classics realised by the great Italian designer Enzo Mari, were on display last January at the Galerie Alain Gutharc of Paris, for an exhibition entitled provocatively “Che fare” (“What to do”), which was conceived to stimulate a critical discussion on the situation of industrial design today.

What does it mean to work as a designer in the present-day Italy?

Working as a designer in Italy is not that easy. Of course, it depends on the quality of work one aims for. There are very few companies producing quality projects. Most of them produce quality products, which is not exactly the same.

Is there any difference, in the way of working or in the concept of design itself, between the new generation of Italian designers and the masters of the past, from Castiglioni to Scarpa, from Munari to Gio Ponti?

I think those designers, in comparison with the younger generations, had a rich intellectual background that supported their creative talent. However, what old and young designers have in common is certainly a genetic attitude toward the project, which makes Italian design so different from that of other countries.

To what extent is it possible to talk about creative freedom in the design industry today? I am referring, in particular, to the relationship with manufacturers and to the degree of autonomy that it entails.

Creativity, in a project, is defined by its constraints: an unrestrained creative freedom never produces good projects. The point is that the quality of a project depends on the joint effort and shared vision of designer and manufacturer, which is very rare today, because it is the market that rules every choice they make, and influences their attitude. Finding captains courageous, pursuing ideals, is very rare on both sides.

What difficulties and/or opportunities lie on the path of those who approach the design profession in Italy?

Honestly, I see many difficulties, and just one opportunity offered by such difficulties. I mean, the reason why Italy is such a creative country is that it has always been affected by political instability: nobody has been given any form of support, and therefore everybody has to do their best to work their way up to the ladder. We can see that clearly if we consider how design in Italy is not only represented by designers, but also, and more importantly, by manufacturers, magazines, and by the whole economic system that has established itself autonomously, as a private system made up of small and medium enterprises.

Do you think design can be a driving force for economic recovery in times of crisis?

It depends on what we mean when we talk about design. Design does not mean producing objects: it means understanding the reality of things. As Ettore Sottsass said, “design is a way to understand life”. For me it is exactly the same. In this sense, it can probably be a driving force. You know, in England, where design was born, design is regarded as a cultural process. Anyway, I think the real challenge for our economy is not in the industry of design, but in a certain political stability and cultural growth. If we look back at the history, we can see that this is how economies have developed in the past.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention: how has economic crisis affected the creative processes at the origin of a design product?

Unlike what is commonly believed abroad, I think Italians are great workers, and this crisis is only an incentive for us to work more. Apart from a few lucky ones, in Italy we have always been in a crisis. As for creativity, it is not an exclusive quality of designers: the human being, in general, is creative; otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to evolve. In Italy, due to structural and socio-economic deficiencies, we have developed this attitude even more.

What are the challenges facing the design of next generation?

The challenge for design is to be conceived as an educational process, not with the aim of becoming designers, but of turning into citizens with a stronger critical attitude, and a clearer vision of the state of things: citizens able to be masters of themselves, rather than slaves of mass media and barkers.

Laura Giacalone is the Associate Editor of the Italian Journal.