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Alberto Alessi: "We do believe that beauty can save the world"

Designer Alberto Alessi opens up about his design principles, his latest project and the greatness of Italian product design.
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Written by Beth Carter, Contributing Editor on

Italian design company Alessi is known worldwide for bringing design into the home, literally. The innovative and clever takes on normal kitchen and other household objects have come to define the look of a contemporary home.

Rosie Millard of the Daily Telegraph was able to sit down opposite Alberto Alessi at the Alessi headquarters in Crusinallo Piedmont, amid all of the recognizable utensils, and ask the designer about how he handles business, ideas and what's up next for Alessi.

Alberto Alessi is the third Alessi to take over the company, founded in 1921 by his grandfather, Giovanni, who produced metal kitchen utensils. Alberto's father took over, and in 1945 designed the cups that many Italians drank their espresso from.

Alberto's turn was next, and he revolutionized the business, bringing on modern designers to add beauty and luxury to the company's standard housewares.

In the interview, Alessi gives some insight into his products: “We do not offer things which people fundamentally need but we deliver something which answers a wish, a dream,” he told Millard.

One of the most interesting parts of the interview, is a look into the Alessi prototyping formula. Every design is subject to his "fail-safe" mathematical model that focuses on the emotional and practical reactions of a customer.

Some fun facts about the formula:

  • The four parameters: function, emotion, status communication, and price. Each is scored, with a maximum score of five, based on what a costumer would give it.
  • No product has ever scored a perfect 20. The highest has been 18-- a score that Alessi knows will sell extremely well.
  • Michael Grave's kettle with a whistling bird on the spout scored a 16.5 on the Alessi scale and sold 100,000 units a year in the mid-Eighties, and around 50,000  a year today.
  • Even if Alessi likes them, low scorers are not put into production. “If you score three across each column, with a total of 12, it is not for Alessi,” he said.

Alessi revealed a not-so-secret: even though he allows other big names to operate under his umbrella, everything must be made just outside of Milan-- no ifs, ands or buts. "Creativity is in our DNA," he told Millard.

So what's next for Alessi? A product he called the (Un)Forbidden City, or a series of eight trays designed by prominent Chinese designers, that will be out this spring.

“We do believe that beauty can save the world,” he says. He believes that his butter dishes, tea caddies and loo brushes offer a democratic notion of a “social utopia”. “As industrialists,” he says, reminding me that he does not consider himself a designer, “we can give a meaningful contribution to the world.”

To read the whole interview, and for the author's tips on how to achieve the Alessi "look," click here.

Images: Sugar bowl: Cooks & Kitchens/Flickr, egg cup: Armin/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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