As a former engineer he has a deep understanding of the structural shape of any pieces of furniture and home accessories he designs. As a well-known International designer he has a profound knowledge of any aspects of the industry and, after more than twenty years of experience, he realized that beauty and elegance come from a sense of simplicity and lightness. Alberto Meda is one of the most talented, prolific and successful Italian designer who has been working for well established companies like Kartell, Alessi, Alfa Romeo, Alias, Philips, Olivetti and Vitra. He started his career in 1970 as a technical director of Kartell and after a few years he decided to pursue his passion and work as designer entrepreneur. His signature style is probably the ability to melt industrial material into ergonomic and refined frame that fulfill the need of any kind of environment. His portfolio includes various products like lighting, seating and tables that led him to win many awards like Compasso d’Oro, Red Dot, Design Plus and Designer of the year.
He kindly accepted to be interviewed, despite his many commitments and busy schedule.
D: How did the design industry change in the last 5- 10 years?
AM: The role of designer has changed. Now the designer is more involved, since the beginning, in the strategic process of products and services. His competence and his ability to give a shape to a concept, to display it and prototype it, is an asset and a skill that any companies need. Nowadays, a designer is part of a complete system which includes an array of expertise like research, distribution, production, the ability to find the right resources, to provide sustainable solutions and to satisfy clients expectations. Due to the economic crash and recession, the industry is more afraid of taking risks and exploring new ways of designing objects. For young people there are less job opportunities because companies prefer to be safe and hire well-known designers. The younger generation has difficulties to express itself and it is forced to walk on the path of entrepreneurship, seeking not only new products but also new production processes that include 3D printing or laser cutting techniques. The positive side of it, is that those original methods can lead to innovative and interesting aesthetics.
D: How is technology affecting the way of developing, building and producing a product?
AM: New technologies offer the possibility to integrate different systems and to reduce the number of structural elements involved in the products. This allows us to create objects and furniture that are simpler in their shape and more organic than in the past. Technology changes also the focus. The attention, today, is more on the relationship among the different parts of the product and between the object and the user.
D: In your long and successful career as designer, who have been your role models?
AM: I have always appreciated the work of Charles Eames and Jean Prouvé. What I like about them is their development of a project. The final object is always a result of constant trails and coherence in the creative process. This is true for both of them.
D: When you have to start a new project, what do you?
AM: I try to start from a concept rather than a shape. I don’t follow any structured rule or process. Usually, I begin from a thought, leaning on a physical object, a texture or a technique. The shape of it will be revealed along the way. Sometimes the concept comes from a suggestion around which the object grows. Then, through a sketch and the search of an elegant solution, I will come up with the shape of the product. Everything happens unconsciously.
D: Could you explain to us the concept behind the Frame collection, especially Armframe soft and Longframe soft that you designed for Alias?
AM: Frame, the collection of seating for indoor and outdoor environments, arises from the hypothesis to harmoniously integrate two different technologies, such as aluminum die casting and aluminum extrusion, and the intent of melting in the same piece the mesh fabric and the structural elements. This integration helped me to reduce the number of the constituents part of the chairs and achieve a light and solid structure.
D: Do you think that nowadays with all the information available online, a proper education is still important in the definition of the identity of a designer?
AM: Through curiosity and analysis of the world around us, we can learn a lot. The pleasure of discovering and understanding the intelligence contained in any objects is a strong incentive to learn. What you learn in this way it is difficult to forget. The knowledge is stored and, one day, it will be used or it will be reinterpreted in an unexpected way. I think it is not necessary for designers to have an experience on a specific field, but we must be able to relate and communicate with professionals who belong to various fields and use what we have learned from them when the project requires it.
D: Beside designers or architects, there are writers or artists who have inspired you or have had an influence on you and on your research as a designer?
AM: Fausto Melotti, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, Constantin Brancusi.
D: Are you currently working on a new project?
AM: Yes. I’m working on new ways to experience the city, exploring the possibility to design leisure areas for children and to solve the problem of temporary and permanent fences of construction sites.
D: What kind of positive mark do you want to leave in the design industry?
AM: I want products that last for a lifetime, not gadgets or unnecessary objects, meaningless, that you throw in the garbage. For the future, I hope that designers will think more about the opportunity to design sustainable products with ethical and aesthetic solutions, in tune with the needs of human experiences.
D: What is design for you?
AM: Design is not a linear process. It is a complex activity, almost chaotic, with a lot of back and forward, trials, failures. It is a fascinating and mysterious mechanism. The designer is like a fisherman who fishes in many different rivers, seeking for creative suggestions. I'm interested in the world of technology, because it represents the modern expression of a man’s imaginative capacity, his ingenuity, fueled by his scientific knowledge. However, there could be the risk that technological development will move forward without legitimacy, without worrying about the meaning of the choices we make. So we have to use technology as a tool to serve humanity. We should reject the industrial concept of the object made by technology that don't satisfy human needs.