Tuesday, 2 September, 2014

Published January 11, 2014
Home & Garden
Designing dream products
To Giovanni Alessi Anghini, a scion of the famed Alessi family, the products we buy are a reflection of our personalities. By Tay Suan Chiang
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'We no longer need products for their function, but more for the ability to explore imagination. As a designer, I don't explore people's needs but rather their dreams.'
- Giovanni Alessi Anghini


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SO you already have a bottle opener, a salad bowl or two, and more than enough lamps for your home. Do you need more? Giovanni Alessi Anghini says yes, and this is not because he is a product designer.

"Products don't just solve needs. They are the main channel by which we communicate our personalities," says Mr Anghini, who hails from the famed Alessi family, best known for producing quirky designer kitchen and desktop accessories.

Unlike most designers who would go to design school from the start, Mr Anghini chose to study cultural sociology and anthropology, because "I had a strong interest in human behaviour".

But coming from a family which made its name on good design, it soon became clear that Mr Anghini would eventually become a designer. "I got bored after two years of studying sociology and anthropology in Florence. It was all theory and I was doing nothing concrete," he says.

He switched courses, choosing to study industrial design in Milan, but where he could "explore the concept that I studied in sociology and use it in product design".

He believes that products are linked to sociology and anthropology, and to people's behaviours. "We no longer need products for their function, but more for the ability to explore imagination," he says. "As a designer, I don't explore people's needs but rather their dreams."

As child, he liked taking things apart and putting them back together, and had always wanted to be an inventor. Asked if it was natural for him to become a designer, the Italian says no. In fact, among his 14 cousins, he is the only one interested in design. "My grandfather, Carlo, was the last designer in the family before me," says Mr Anghini. The company, founded in 1921 by Mr Anghini's great grandfather, Giovanni, is now headed by his father, Alessio, and his uncle Alberto.

Having a famous last name can be a bane at times. Mr Anghini recalls that in school "teachers were always saying everything I did was alright, even when I purposely submitted really bad work."

Realising that this was not the kind of education he wanted, he worked for free with well-known designer Stefano Giovannoni, who designs for Magis, Moooi and Lazazza, among other brands. "I wanted to learn about how things work in real life, how to be a proper designer," says Mr Anghini. Two years later, he left to start his own studio GAA Design Farm.

Alessi does not have in-house designers, instead it chooses to work with independent designers. They include Giovannoni, Philippe Starck and Micheal Graves.

Mr Anghini designs for Alessi as well. Among the products, include the Moom salad bowl, and Pop-Up bottle opener. The latter, which resembles a stainless steel egg, won the Good Design Award in 2008, and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Architecture and Design in Chicago.

He is especially proud of the range of LED lights done for Alessilux in collaboration with Foreverlamp. "I wanted to bring LED technology to the masses, but there was a problem," he says. "LED bulbs tend to be costlier than incandescent bulbs, but they can last longer. The question was how to convince people to pay more for something that is more energy saving in the long run."

The result is a series of lamps where the LED bulbs don't look like bulbs, but look like lamps. "There is no longer a need to cover up the bulbs now," he says.

Mr Anghini says that for him, it is not about designing the best looking product, but rather about enhancing the user's experience. He cites the example of his bottle design for Adiacqua's Bognanco mineral water which resembles a top heavy vase. "The design is an attempt to represent the intimate relationship with water," says Mr Anghini.

It took him four years to design Pop-Up, two years for the LED bulbs and six months for Bognanco. "I'm getting faster," he quips. His focus now is on creating technological products, because "technology has been and will still continue to change the way we live".

At 32, he says he is too young to decide what he wants to be best known for. "But probably the experience people have using my products matters most to me," he says.