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We have interviewed one of the most influential and appreciated personages of the Italian design. We are speaking of professor Marco Bonetto, president of Bonetto Design and academic who can boast 30 years of teaching by numerous schools and universities, as well as genial mind behind the design of some iconic household appliances.

“Design is like a butterfly in our hands: if you squeeze it too much it dies, if you let it go, it flies away” is a historical phrase by the famous designer Marco Bonetto, president of Bonetto Design, established in 1958 thanks to his father Rodolfo Bonetto, one of the great masters of the Italian design. It is a history of immense successes and hundreds of products in countless sectors of the industrial manufacturing, always placing the shape innovation at the core of the innovation project, while conforming to end-users’ requirements. The products by Bonetto Design are on show in numerous museums and to see with our eyes the prototype of Rotor public telephone was a great emotion that the Z generation will never be able to understand in-depth.

Marco Bonetto, president of Bonetto Design

How has the design culture changed in the household appliance world?
Technology and electronics have made great strides and, at the same time, the household appliance has become also a piece of furniture. In kitchens, for instance, besides the refrigerator we increasingly find washing machines, with the consequent need of making also their design evolve towards a higher refinement.

What does it imply in design terms?
They are not so simple products to be designed, owing to technical, technological and manufacturing constraints that create a narrow cage inside which it is necessary to try expressing the best of creativity and of innovation.

We can imagine how much expertise due to your role as design manager for Candy.
I have been responsible for the freestanding and I must admit that the difficulties met with the design of a washing machine of this kind is even four-time higher than the one needed by the design of a car interior. Its implementation, from the design point of view, takes over one year. Owing to preconceptions that users have still today, too.

Rapid’o washing machine by Candy

Of what kind?
The vast majority of consumers still want the programming knob, which is becoming smarter and smarter thanks to the IoT introduction, and the porthole where they can see clothes turn. It is a market demand that is perceived as a constraint by us, designers. Concerning this, an emblematic example is the Moon washing machine by Giugiaro: it had a wonderful and awarded design but the market has not accepted the style change.

Therefore, is the market that binds design, or vice versa?
Design still limits a lot, provided that it is not too innovative and it does not remove the historical anchors remained, which however will gradually disappear.

What is the design future in the household appliance world?
I do not believe in too innovative concepts, but there will be more and more room for the artificial intelligence able to offer useful services, like for instance a refrigerator that informs us about the imminent expiry of a yogurt, for instance. There are already interesting concepts presented in the past, but not implemented, yet, owing to a cost matter. Talking about washing machines, instead, the issue is no longer choosing the right programme but designing electronics is based on the information given to choose the suitable programme.
The volumes of a refrigerator or a dishwasher can change and not depending on already existing volumes.

Is then a change in the man-household appliance interaction in course?
Today we are facing an abuse. We should consider the household appliance as a friend that simplifies life, that remembers something when we forget it and, especially, we must cast our spotlights on the thin wire existing between real functionality, meant as aid, and mere gadget.

Design has always been based on shape-function…
Exactly, a shape that does not destroy or change the functionality of an object. Along the years, the industrial design was required to evolve in the process know-how and in the brand recognizability. The Automotive sector has taught us, thanks to grilles, that the brand is recognizable even without seeing the logo. In the household appliance world, it is more difficult, but recognizability is a crucial element.

Can you make us an example?
We should conform to the DNA of the company for which we design and it is necessary to transfer the historical distinguishing features to the new product. An example is the Hoover washing machine that has a round, but “cut” porthole: an identity sign that has gone on for decades.

What course, instead, between prototype and industrialization?
I tell it with a memory. When Candy celebrated 70 years, the president Aldo Fumagalli decided implementing an innovative concept of a washing machine to be shown during the party at Villa Reale. Therefore, we created the white cube concept, a white cube with porthole, lit up drum interior, just 4 touch controls and all remaining functions controlled by vocal command. It was an extraordinary success, to the extent that the day after there was an enormous industrialization demand. However, we know that the mass production is not a joke. After great efforts by Candy, a niche product was manufactured, but a smart knob was present instead of touch controls.

Bianca washing machine by Candy

What specific technologies of other sectors can be transferred to the household appliance world?
This especially happens for materials, in the ambit of details. The tactile perception of the knob in the washing machine porthole, for instance: in comparison with the plastic one, the knob with typical coating and painting of the automotive industry conveys a sensation of higher product quality. However, everything is proportioned to investment costs and this cost delta is often not accepted by the market.

Is the cost always a key factor?
Often, but not always. A particular professional coffee machine, for instance, that they commissioned me, had a design that allowed the operation on both sides. Certainly, the price was higher but the market positively welcomed it because that function was winning in certain applications, annulling the cost gap.

Therefore, is the synergy with the technology supplier important for you?
Even more: it is fundamental. It is so strategic, and its flexibility degree is crucial for the designer who must meet dynamics poised between design and industrialization.

MARCO BONETTO
Born in Milan, in 1983 professor Marco Bonetto starts working with his father, Rodolfo Bonetto, as Manager Design Affairs. From 1991 to 2020 he is university professor at Milan Polytechnics, master director of Car Design by Polytechnic School of Design, master director of Car Design Domus Academy, professor by Brera Academy of Fine Arts, member of the executive committee of ADI (Industrial Design Association), member of the jury “Gold National Award of Excellence”, president of Bonetto Design srl, president of Targa Rodolfo Bonetto and member of MDO Montecarlo scientific committee.
Marco Bonetto has organized Design Center company as a real design centre able to satisfy the industry requirements and he owns the Bonetto Design brand that in its 51 years of activity has developed and manufactured over one thousand projects belonging to various industrial sectors, with product typologies of medium-high complexity.
BEING A DESIGNER ACCORDING TO MARCO BONETTO
«Anyone who does design is a carrier of a sensitivity that is different from any normal human being, has a particular eye that constantly observes and analyses what he sees but also what he feels, transforming it into ideas and projects. Design never leaves you, you are constantly inside a shell that will not let you go away, a sort of maternal womb that you never want to leave, design accompanies you throughout your like until you die. Design gives you joys and sorrows, smiles and tears but it is faithful to your mind, without ever abandoning you. It is very hard to strip yourself of what you have inside, of the sensitivity you have acquired and of that machine of ideas that every day pervades your mind naturally and automatically, you are not able to say “I stop” and whoever succeeds in it is not a true designer, you can anyway go and do another job but you will always need to express your design talent.
You were born a designer and you will die a designer without no way out, you can even get to plan your death and your funeral, as it happened in some cases, but your mind will design until your last breath giving you that priceless feeling of looking at the world as if you should never die, aware that yours was a gift given to few.
The true designer is the one who does not externalize his success, but keeps it within himself as a lifeblood that feeds his thinking, the true designer is the one who thinks he can change the world through his designs and his thinking, with the certainty he will produce happiness and well-being to the human being. The time concept does not exist for a designer, he sometimes designs too far ahead of times but certain that one day his project will be used even 30 years later.
Design is a skill, you cannot learn it at school, you had it inside you when you were born, school can only teach you with which tools you can exploit it. The eyes of the designer are the life of the world».