Piero Lissoni: mistakes are crucial to progress


Living Divani, Sumo Panca di Piero Lissoni, ph. Tommaso Sartori

With an elegant and sometimes laconic approach, Piero Lissoni’s designs are based on rigour and simplicity. His deep, personal relationship with the companies he works with as art director lays the foundations for manufacturing successful products. A laborious process in which mistakes are crucial to evolution and ongoing improvement 

The role of the art director: what do companies expect?

The art director is a kind of glue, the public face of a very complex working group, even if it’s not a one-man show. Our skills turn us into antennae at the companies where we work, in what is a 360 degree role that takes into account virtues, qualities, productive and creative capacities. The art director’s job is to realign elements so that they are coherent, but that doesn’t mean making them boring: coherence leaves room for flashes of inspiration.

Your first role as an art director?

The first time I did this was for Boffi. I had just graduated. Taking a very big risk, they chose me, a total newbie. The key thing is that every company is unique, with its own history, culture, way of interpreting things... To paraphrase Tolstoy, each company has its own shortcomings, different from all others. As they work, the art director adapts to the soul of these creatures, bringing something of his own, an ability to mix consistency with flashes of brilliance, keeping the ship steady but at times being bold enough to head off on a tangent.


Piero Lissoni, ph. Veronica Gaido

What does the company expect?

They want close, very personal, non-postponeable dialogue. Art direction is like a virus: once it takes hold, it determines what happens. If the bacteria is dangerous, it’ll kill the carrier; if it’s beneficent, it’ll improve the creature, make it different. It’s a bit like installing software inside known hardware: they bounce off each other until the hardware is changed by the software’s presence... and vice versa.

Anecdotes about project experiences

An endless number of mistakes, all of which I remember! I’ve tried to fix a fair few, but then next time round made a whole bunch of new mistakes... never the same ones. You have to be creative; you learn a lot from mistakes. If you don’t learn, you keep on repeating them. Mistakes are a starting point for making new categories of mistakes! And they’re crucial. When I talk about them with my clients – amicably speaking, their victims – I tell them they’re crucial to being able to move forward, progress, evolve and improve. I’m so in love with my mistakes that I could hardly pick out one in particular... Whereas the stuff that’s good, that gets taken for granted...

I haven’t messed up many partnerships. It’s about letting my personal sensibilities be my guide. The few times I’ve pressed ahead without a positive feeling, it turned out to be a dead end. This happens when there’s no to-and-fro (feeling or feedback, if you prefer).


Porro, Materic di Piero Lissoni, photo courtesy

What challenges do you foresee in future?

Ah, challenges. Challenges are our daily bread, there’s no need to shift them into the future. Every minute is a challenge... Being an art director is a highly challenging job. It’s not just about being interviewed, photographed or attending some happening. The reality is that, regardless of whatever tomorrow’s challenge turns out to be, it’s an ongoing challenge.

We’ve taken advantage of this elastic stretch of time (the Covid emergency) to sit back and think, gain a sense of proportion about plans for 2022. This past year has been a “social shock absorber”, allowing us to restart, at a different pace. A useful interregnum for realizing it might be a good idea to approach things differently. 

What about the relationship with Living Divani and Porro?

The thing these two companies have in common is that they both ask me the same question: “Are you sure, Piero?” The second thing is to stop at nothing, not even obvious, highly risky eventualities. I fell into that trap when I was still inexperienced, but to do this job well, you need courageous interlocutors, and that’s what they’ve proven themselves to be. Recklessly courageous, sometimes...


BOFFI, Latina di Piero Lissoni, 1990, photo courtesy

Products you’re particularly fond of?

All of them, especially the ones that turned out to be duds! I like these “children of a lesser god” more than their siblings. I know they suffered bad luck: they may have had an excellent gestation, they were built, thought out, reasoned through…. In theory, born with the right DNA but they got nowhere. I am so fond of them, really. I look at them and say “but surely...” It’s as if they’re alive: born with extraordinary expectations, only to be held back in purgatory...

Where is the art director role headed?

We’re about to crash into a wall! The art director needs very strong interlocutors. You get nowhere if you don’t have strong counterparts. I don’t know if some companies are weaker now, but they seem to have started thinking the art director is some kind of shaman. We are simply antennae; we need a strong interlocutor. We went from interlocutors within a team to shamans, practically high priests. And I must say: I don’t like it one bit.

I may add, we need to work behind the scenes. Even if we are part of the company, we are not the company! This is critical.

We need silence…

Working as an art director is a choice. I become a kind of psychoanalyst to my clients, not because they’ve got a screw loose, but because I go deep into parts of a company’s psyche. I must like the companies to create this kind of relationship. More importantly, I have to like the people. Once inside, I find out about management issues, even family issues, what’s going on within that group of people. It’s a lopsided thing: they often know nothing about me but I know all about them! This craft functions through a high level of intimacy. The few times that failed to happen, it ended badly.


Living Divani, Sumo di Piero Lissoni, ph. Tommaso Sartori


Porro, Modern di Piero Lissoni, photo courtesy


Porro, Materic di Piero Lissoni, photo courtesy


Porro, Storage Dressing Room, di Piero Lissoni, photo courtesy


Porro, Storage Dressing Room, di Piero Lissoni, photo courtesy

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11 March 2022