ABOUT

"Alessi, one of the most important "Factories of Italian Design", is based in Crusinallo, close to Omegna , on Lake Orta. Founded in the 20s, in a region historically devoted to the household goods production, since the 50s Alessi specializes itself in stainless steel manufacturing. Alessi headquarters bears the mark of the Atelier Mendini, that designed in the mid 90s the recent extensions to the plant. Nowadays the company employs about 500 people, who are directly involved in project development, production, sales and distribution. Alessi is exporting the 65% of its turnover to over 60 countries and count over 5000 points of sale. Today the company owns 14 Alessi stores (Showroom and Flagship) located in the most strategic areas in the world and 175 Shop in shop."
— excerpt from www.alessi.com

IDEAS

Presentation

  • Introduction in the showroom and history of Alessi
  • Factory tour and manufacturing process
  • Museum tour and details about creative process
  • Interview in the showroom

Main Points

  • Factory Tour:
    • Alessiís process of craftsmanship
    • Use outside designers because they live in contact with people and society
    • Alessi must be flexible because each designer has their own process
    • The factory resembles more of a large workshop, where products are produced in small quantities
    • Evaluation of design and production: investment cost influences retail price (number of moulds and length of process increases price of product); because the moulds are expensive, the stakeholders in the product: (the designers, the investors, and the technicians) must be sure that the design will be successful in order to proceed with production.
    • The cold-pressing technology: The type of technology they use is cold-pressing metal, having a top and bottom piece that presses the stainless steel to conform to a shape. Before such technology, the products were created by hand. Even now, a lot of the steps are created by hand, such as the hand polishing of each finished piece. Each piece is inspected for quality before continuing on each stage and the moulds are inspected for any wearing down.
    • Design management: The workshop in Omegna creates only the stainless steel productions, anything else (wood, aluminum, plastics and ceramics) is created by outside suppliers. Alessi is always responsible for their design management for the projects. The suppliers only make the pieces, and the engineers are always responsible for the development for all the items that are made.
  • Museum Tour:
    • Alessi pays great attention to detail.  One example supporting this would be in the museum when Gloria is showing us prototypes of utensils. A spoon must have good balance and should feel right when it is put into a mouth. Questions asked would be is it too deep, is it too heavy?
    • By looking at the Neapolitan Coffee Maker, we learned the painstaking process it took for this form to be in its final form today. It was created by Ricardo Dalisi and took seven years of design process to get to the final form. Sometimes the project is a never-ending story, a type of discourse.
    • Gloria mentions the idea of La Boreme (sp?), a phrase in Latin, which means a process where you start with a large form but it’s processed over and over to get to the final form. The metaphor was when you use a file for your finger, you start working in the middle, but with the idea of La Boreme, you start very slowly to create a shape. So in design processing, you start with an idea, but then you have to go ahead and follow the idea and development that sometimes takes a long time, especially in the Alessi workshop, where every detail is checked for quality so that it arrives to a perfect project.
    • Gloria says that design is a type of metaphysical work, that when you start with an idea you translate the idea, the concept into a shape, which is the most difficult step. You always have to start from the concept and not jump ahead to the final solution; the concept should always be the strongest element behind the form.
    • Alessi pioneered the concept of the name of a designer being attached to an object
    • There was further discussion in the museum regarding the new age of architects creating design, which was a radical idea. Architects who produced exceptional shapes that completely changed the icons of household design goods designed the Tea and Coffee Service. Architecture was influencing design.
  • Interview in the showroom
    • Project Termination: There is a type of interdisciplinary work involving the design, especially when stopping the production of a design. When a project is stopped, there are many parties who have to agree to the termination: the technical side should be satisfied by the performance of the object because it is important that the object should work, the commercial side should be satisfied by the retained price of the object, and the designer should be sure that his idea has been laid exactly according to plan.
    • Alessi has a “borderline” policy when creating innovative products. It is an invisible line that separates the objects that people would like to have and the objects that people don’t have but would like to have. Staying close to that borderline allows Alessi to really innovate because of the risks. The risk is sometimes going too far over the line and the market does not accept the product, but to be able to recognize that step means that you are able to refine the product so that the next creation will be the right one for the users. Also it means that the product is something that has never been introduced to the market before, therefore it is innovative.
    • There are four elements when evaluating the project: functionality, price, communication, and beauty. It is difficult to achieve high scores for functionality and price because you can’t innovate function and the price is relatively expensive because of the process. Thus, concentration centres on communication and beauty that when combined, are like creating the poetry of an object. Communication can create an icon -- a type of status symbol -- and beauty can touch the user in a deep and meaningful way. Sometimes in a product, the aesthetic and communication takes over functionality, and succeed as an innovative project, such as Phillipe’s Starck’s Lemon Squeezer. It does not work very well, but as a piece of beauty and communication design, it is an icon.
    • The interview ends with Gloria discussing the future projects that Alessi wishes to accomplish, such as an Alessi car, and how the company is working with other industries to create more innovative products.

HERE IS WHAT WE LEARNED

By exploring the actual workings of the Alessi factory, we learned a great deal about the actual process of creating an Alessi piece, from the initial design to the final production process. The outside designers allow Alessi to remain connected to culture and society outside of the Alessi walls, and also force Alessi to be flexible to each designer's distinct process. The actual process of creating an Alessi stainless steel piece is expensive, as a mould can only be used a certain amount of times and each final piece is hand polished. Therefore, there is an upfront investment in design because of the high cost of production. A formula is also used to evaluate the risk as to whether a product is worth pursuing. The tour of the museum illustrated how deeply embedded quality is within every step of the process, where several prototypes would be created and evaluated. Thus, the combination of concentration on the initial designs, and then of the quality of production, allows Alessi to repeatedly create valuable and meaningful pieces.

KEY QUOTES

Outside Designers [clip 1]

That behaviour and that approach was successful and is the same approach that we have also nowadays. We are convinced in fact when you start working for a company and you start knowing a lot of the company, you're approach to things becomes a normal effect; a little bit restricted because you know too much of the limits of the problem. So, that's why we would prefer working with outside people because they represent the real innovative resource for us. Because they also are in contact of people. They know of what people like, what people need, how society is changing being involved in normal life. So they know better than what we could do, what people would really like to have. So they come here, for example, with spontaneous ideas, with spontaneous project and they show us their ideas and we make an evaluation and selection and start working with them.

Design Management [clip 1]

We are always responsible for design management of the projects; the suppliers just make the pieces, but our engineers always are responsible for the development and also the engineering of all the items that we make, both the items made inside, but also the items made outside.

Factory as big workshop [clip 1]

This company is more similar to a big workshop instead of a real mass production company. We have, in fact, a very big and rich catalogue. We have more than 2000 different codes, so different products. But we produce for each one just a small quantity of production. For some pieces we could even produce a few hundred pieces a year. So it means that to afford this kind of production and also to afford this small quantity, we cannot invest too much into the moulds. But a lot of those items should be made in different steps by hand. That’s why Alessi is more close to a big workshop that is using also mass production technology, instead of being a conventional mass production company. More craft orientated.

Metaphysical Work [clip 1]

It’s like when it’s a kind of metaphysical work. You start with an idea you try to translate the idea, the concept, into a shape. That’s the difficult thing. But you always have to start from the concept, not just from a formal solution. The concept should be always the strongest element behind the form.

The Borderline [clip 1]

Sometimes the risk is that you go too far and you go over the important invisible line, but when you recognize that, when you enter the production, and you present the innovative pieces into the market, the market don’t react as you expect. So in that moment you know that you are over the borderline of what the market accepts, but in that moment you are able to see the borderline because you see where the mistake is, you understand what happen in that project and you know you will not make any business with it. But if you correct the mistake you will introduce the new, corrected innovation into the correct direction, and in that sense you make the correct step and it means strategically, you are creating something really new because no one is there like you. It is an exceptional new idea that people will like to have, so it means that you will sell that idea, that is the kind of crazy or brave policy we have, but it is our strategy.

Designing with poetry in mind [clip 1]

The factors related to creating innovation designs relate to the communication and semiotic aspects of the object, so that’s where we focus our work (the other two aspects are price and functionality). […] It’s difficult to combine together function and beauty. It’s very difficult, or poetry and function are very, very difficult.