Alberto Alessi
CEO, Alessi

Alberto Alessi Considers Art in a Recession

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The designer positions his product line in a down market.

Alberto Alessi

Born in Arona, Italy in 1946, Alberto Alessi is managing director of Alessi Spa and head of marketing strategy, communication and design management.

As the eldest son of Carlo Alessi, he represents the third generation of the Alessi family, and officially joined the company in 1970, the day after he graduated from law school. One of his first projects was to overhaul the company's corporate identity, commissioning Franco Sargiani and Eija Helander to work on graphic design and packaging as well as the company offices at Crusinallo.

Alberto Alessi has written several books, including La Cintura di Orione (Longanesi, Milano 1986), Not in Production, Next to Production (Alessi Spa, Crusinallo 1988), and The Dream Factory (Electa, Milano 1998). During his career he has contributed articles for many international magazines and publications and been a visiting professor at several design colleges.

Alberto Alessi is a member of the Academic Board of the U.I.A.H., Helsinki and sits on the honorary committee of the Design Museum, London. He is a senior fellow of the Royal College of Art, London; honorary professor of the Hochschule der Bildenden Kunste, Saarbrucken; Doctor Honoris Causa of the U.I.A.H. of Helsinki; Doctor of Fine Arts at the Miami University of Oxford, Ohio; and, has an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Central England, Birmingham.

In 1998 he received the Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.


Question: Are recessions good for creativity?

Alessi:    There are 2 schools of thinking in that area.  One school says that okay, in design history that while periods of very, very tough economic or social situation… like if you take Finland, Northern Europe, in the ‘30s, when Finland started to be an independent country and it was the same period when it gave birth to the best of its design, the Alvar Aalto, just to quote one… to mention one name.  Or even if you think to Italy right after the war, when Italy was all destroyed and the phenomenon during the early ‘50s, this phenomenon of the Italian design factories started operating.  But on the other hand, there is the other school that says, the more we can afford to experiment, also looking to the market, the more… the wider and healthier is the market, the better it is for experiments… experimental activities.

Question: How does your business change during a recession?

Alessi:    We put more attention to the prices that is evident, self-evident.  But this is the only modification.  For the rest, since I do not believe design is a luxury but design is a new form of art and poetry, so people need art and poetry as well.  They will need design.  So I’m trying to continue to develop the best possible design.  I will, by sure, not decrease the effort to produce the best possible design.  That is sure. 

Question: Is there a dichotomy between design and marketability?

Alessi:    I don’t see contradiction between having a design with a lot of integrity and also being accepted by the market.  An American designer, Raymond Loewy, in the ‘30s, was saying… was practicing the strategy invented by him, that was called the MAYA Strategy.  Meaning most advanced yet acceptable by the people.  This is the factor… what makes a good design.  To be, together, able to… To be able to bring together the best possible quality in terms of expression in artistic terms, and that is a cultural matter.  And also, to be understood by final customers, and that is a commercial matter.  The science of design is that we try to put these 2 apparently opposite facts of matters together.