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Five Questions for Alberto Alessi

Posted by: Helen Walters on February 20, 2009

Storied Italian design company Alessi has been in business since 1921, with third generation family member Alberto Alessi now at the helm. Alberto will be in New York on March 3, and he’s coming in to see us to answer five of your questions. Want to know how he handled working with designers such as Philippe Starck, Michael Graves or Aldo Rossi? Interested in finding out about the process of a company whose products seem at home in kitchen cupboards and museum vitrines? Wonder how Alessi, which now employs about 500 people and exports goods to about 60 countries, has been affected by the downturn? Ask away!

Above from left: Philippe Starck’s “Juicy Salif”; Aldo Rossi’s “La Conica”; Michael Graves’ “Whistling Bird Kettle”

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Reader Comments

Ralf Beuker

February 20, 2009 04:34 PM

What would indeed interest me in the light of the upcoming Design Management Institute ( conference that takes place in Milan is:

According to Prof. Roberto Verganti who will also speak in Milan the 'success' of Italian Design is also/mostly due to the 'cluster effect' the design centered companies are benefiting from in Northern Italy. Is this cluster really (or still) that strong and in which way does Alessi consider his company as part of this 'performance cluster'?

... and thanks Helen for your great work! ;-)

Karen Klages

February 23, 2009 07:27 PM

My question for Mr. Alessi:

Given worldwide economic disaster, how DO design companies such as Alessi break through to a downtrodden consumer? How do you make your products relevant to people (and particularly Americans) who have tightened their belts?

Stephanie Ebeyer

February 23, 2009 11:39 PM

How do you maintain the original philosophy of a company committed to design, and has sustained a few economic downturns in history, during a time of such economic challenge?

Andrew Chan

February 24, 2009 11:06 AM

Do designers get a cut of sales? Are you committed to green (sustainable) design (and how)? And what are you doing to support young designers & emerging talent? With the rise of Scandinavian design talent in recent years, what's the next hotbed for design talent? Thank you.


February 24, 2009 11:21 AM

Of all the products you've produced, what's your fave and why? Also, what's your dream project?

Gretchen Steinmiller

February 24, 2009 11:33 AM

Given the economy, one might argue that the everyday American consumer has reverted back to the basics and become less materialistic. What is your plan for sustaining this current climate and keeping your product/design front of mind to the “new” consumer?

David Esrati

February 24, 2009 12:38 PM

Maybe it's me, maybe it's you- but, I seem to have not heard or seen as much from Alessi in a while.
Good design doesn't have to be expensive- I think Michael Graves proved that with Target.


February 24, 2009 02:01 PM

For a company that makes such beautiful and functional products, why is the online experience so poor?


February 24, 2009 03:53 PM

Since Alessi products are mainly for use with food and eating, and food preparation and serving is so intertwined with cultural habits, what are some ways that Alessi solves the problem of designing relevant objects for multiple cultures?


February 24, 2009 04:37 PM

i don't think Michael Graves proved anything other than Architects cant design consumer product that function on different levels. have you ever used any of that poorly thought out crap! The Toaster...twice as large as it needed to be and for what STYLE... masturbation.

Alessi..what is your present production expectation for next quarter? Do people who buy your product actually cook or are they props?


February 25, 2009 08:45 AM

When do you see modernism dying? is creating the perfect edge just too easy and predictable nowadays?


February 25, 2009 05:40 PM

With companies scrambling to become more "green", "sustainable", and "efficient" than the next--as is the trend these days to call out that they are tuned into consumer's needs, how will Alessi NOT become a trend-follower but still maintain relevance and its unique vision? Also: I adore the Orientales series of recent years that are inspired by (mostly) Chinese history/themes, but they weren't designed by a Chinese designer nor has there been a major Chinese product designer of the same caliber as Starck or Stefano in your lineup. Anyone that you're interested in who can bring a unique 'Chinese design language' like Graves or Castiglioni does for their respective cultures?

Andrew Chan

February 26, 2009 12:05 AM

Mr. Alessi, further to Dave's comment: as someone of Chinese descent, I found the Orientales line stereotypical and rather offensive. Rationale? Response?

P. Starck

February 26, 2009 12:24 AM

check this blog for lots of Alessi designs:


February 27, 2009 12:05 AM

Actually--with all due respect to Andrew--I find the Orientales a fresh, light-hearted reflection of a particular culture. The care that Alessi and Giovannoni took in the details reflect a deep level of respect for history and culture, not of stereotype. We can't deny that ethnic differences are part of what makes us unique; our efforts to 'equalize' everyone often go overboard and instead diminishes our understanding of others. For the record, I'm Chinese-American and have several items from the Qin family and orientales collection. A great article on this issue in ID magazine:

Helen Walters, Editor, Innovation & Design

March 4, 2009 04:25 PM

Thanks, all, for the questions and the fascinating discussion. Alberto Alessi has now left the building. You can see him take on some of these topics here:

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What comes next? The BusinessWeek Innovation and Design team of Michael Arndt and Helen Walters chronicle new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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