STORIES OF DESIGN

Alberto Meda

The right idea pops up along the way


Started off as an engineer – then technical director at Kartell from 1972 to 1979 following the development of new products – his first design, the “Jack” lamp (Luceplan, 1985), marked his transition from engineer to designer.

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Fundamental to his work is “contact with the scientific world because, to become a reality, an idea needs to rely on physicality and technicality (which is where science and technology come together) and the new materials make up a constantly evolving palette of physical possibilities.

Another of his pet projects, the “Frame” series (Alias, 1989) is an ongoing work in progress: “a structural concept that went on to generate a product family to which new typologies are still being added.

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The essential characteristic of a product “is that it makes sense, responds to needs or desires geared to improving human wellbeing. You set off along one path, and sometimes, as you go along, you realise that you need to change direction: the right idea pops up along the way, even if you have to perform some incredible swerves. This is the mysterious and fascinating thing about it.”

Subtraction and reduction, a principle many designers hold dear: “My attempt at simplification is built into the opportunities offered by the technologies I use: contemporary technologies that enable you to integrate functions and cut down on component parts (like plastic or casting metals). I try to create objects with a simple, unitary, ‘quasi-organic’ image.”

What about innovation? “An innovative product is never the work of a single person but of a collaboration, team work: so many brains are involved and each concentrates on their own role, their own area of competence.”

Designer and entrepreneur: an important combination. “Being in harmony with the entrepreneur is absolutely crucial, but it’s a delicate relationship because the designer is like a pollinator, transferring the external creativity to the creative minds inside the business. Businesses have the means, the specific sectoral experience, they know the legislation, the financial and market constraints: this makes them the most appropriate actors to assess the viability of an idea.”  

What about the new technologies? “The conceptual scale is changing because you can now work on the ‘invisible’ structure of materials, manipulate them and create new capabilities and materialities. Digital technology and additive 3D printing techniques mean that different materials can be processed without costly equipment that has to be used in large scale to make it worthwhile. Progressing from atoms to bits means we can personalise the designs, creating ‘made to measure’ designs, producing small series and self-production, which are better suited to a market that tends to reject standardisation. This greater freedom does not, however, mitigate the designer’s responsibility to think up simple, useful and beautiful objects.”