Roberto Lucci was born in Milan, Italy in 1942. His work as an industrial designer has brought him to develop products for some of the most prestigious design companies in the world, like Calligaris, Knoll, Knox Electronic, Snaidero, Peg Perego, and Versteel Ditto Sales. Many of his designs have won international design awards, have become part of the permanent collection of international museums like MoMA of New York, and have been in production for decades. His Skyline_Lab project for Snaidero, created in partnership with Paolo Orlandini, has been a staple in universal kitchen design.
To what extent should a design for today be anchored in the past? How much should it look to the future?
Lucci: I think design is innovation and has nothing to do with the past. When I look at design masterpieces and successful products (Thonet’s no. 14 chair of 1859; Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair of 1929; Loewy’s and Exner’s Studebacker Champion car of 1947; Saarinen’s Tulip chair and table of 1955, Ive’s iPhone of 2007), I see no links with the past.
The most outstanding designs derive either from new technologies or new social situations…or both.
What’s the role of design in a world that is still reeling from an economic crisis and is looking for new values to hang on to?
Lucci: Design is different from fine arts because, besides aesthetics, it deals with functional problems; manufacturing problems, sales problems and, most of all, users’ problems. Good design can surely help solve some of the problems that people have when the crisis "bites". There is no doubt that the current global crisis is posing challenges (and maybe has been, in part, caused by challenges) that we can overcome only by finding new ways of solving problems.
Nowadays, most products of design are being mass produced and are therefore within everyone’s reach (for the most part). Can we still talk about design as an expression of “status symbol” and uniqueness or is design taking on a new meaning?
Lucci: Today, I am looking at uniqueness and personalization from a new viewpoint. For many years, more than a century, we considered mass production or standardization the best way to approach the market. But every human being is unique, different from everybody else. Standardization is just an oversimplified way of looking at manufacturing.
I am working on an innovative design strategy which I call Design Maximization. It is about developing “families” of products from single design concepts rather than just (designing) single products, so that more people can find the product that fits their needs.
What can design, as a practice, teach everyone (not just professional designers) that we can apply to our everyday life, to our work, and to our vision and ideas for the future?
Lucci: Design blends art and engineering, which is to say that design is about solving problems in an elegant way. This attitude could very well work in our everyday life.
There is a lot of talk surrounding green design and, at its inception, it seemed to be more a fashionable thing to do than anything else. How do you personally see the future of green design taking shape? Which aspect or trend of green design are you most excited about?
Lucci: About 20 years ago, together with my former designmate Paolo Orlandini, I designed a chair for Knoll. That chair had to be 100% recyclable. It was challenging but also very rewarding. This design attitude is finally becoming more and more common and a few years from now green design will likely be the only way to design.
Can you tell us about one of the most interesting projects you’ve ever worked on? What did that project teach you?
Lucci: I have been designing chairs for over 40 years. Chairs are interesting products which require a fairly sophisticated design approach. The chair is the closest thing to our skin after clothing but it’s also a structure that has to support different weights and those weights are always shifting. Chair design is about technology, physics, ergonomics, trends, style and I think chair design is both exciting and involving.