Interview: Alberto Meda

Alberto Meda has created some of the contemporary icons of furniture and lighting, he is now focusing in making products that can make a difference on a social level. We have talked with him about his creative process and what it takes to design such valuable design pieces.
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Thalya

How's your creative process? 

I try to start from an idea and not from a shape, I mean, I start from a constructive idea, I don't have a fixed repertory of shapes
During the design process, I connect with a certain physical feature, a material or a technique, and step-by-step the final shape grows to be clear from that. Often a structural concept or a technical or technological solution will trigger the thought around which the object grows

By drawing and sketching trying to find an elegant solution, the idea turns into a shape that is, in a certain way, unplanned. I try to use contemporary techniques that give me the possibility to integrate functions and reduce the number of components, such as plastic or cast metal. My attempt to simplify is directly connected to the techniques that I use

First, I explore the generic technical possibilities, then I carefully select the material and technique that best corresponds to my goals. In this way is possible to obtain objects that look simple, unitary and "almost organic". This is because I am not focused on formal elements, but on relationships, the relationship between the parts of an object, and the relationship between the object and the person using it

The design process is not linear, the shape is not given "a priori" in a sort of ready-made language, instead the final shape derives from the cycle thinking/doing. That's why I conceive a design that takes shape gradually, in a progressive research process from the idea to the final product, made of proved thesis, refinements and tuning, second thoughts, negations, and new unexpected solutions.

Medamorph

first sketch for the Medamorph System manufactured by Vitra, 2007

What's the best tool you use?

The pencil 

Could you do what you do without a computer?  

I elaborate the initial sketches in the computer using a CAD 2D software. The computer is a fantastic tool, above all it keeps always clean the desktop, free from the overload of papers and sketches and this gives a certain freedom when managing the projects; however is important to stay in control of the situation and not let yourself overwhelm by the possibilities to vary the balance of shapes and weights in the object. 

Both the physical and the visual weight of a product are decisive in the final shape harmony, for this reason mock-ups and prototypes remain the only tool that can make a difference when designing, the only one that can make you decide for a solution over another. Give shape to a piece of polystyrene is the best way to corroborate the physicality of the product you are creating, the perception of a product goes way beyond the visual awareness of it, I think the physical interaction with the object is an irreplaceable need.
In my personal projectual iteration there's a constant verification of ideas with mock-ups, I believe drawings are only schemes, sometimes insufficient, of reality. 

In many cases I take digital pictures of the physical models and then manipulate them using Photoshop, with the benefit of starting from a physically proven base, which is not the case with 3D renderings.

Which is the hardest part in the process of creating a new object?  

The hard part is finding a grab, a suggestion, a point of view that triggers the idea that makes sense and that is capable of solving the problem in an original way, or to put it in other words, an idea that adds a tiny piece of knowledge to what already exists.

and the most fun?

The fun part is when you realize you have found it, the idea, and you remain astonished by the result obtained, like that, unexpected ... 

The most important skills a designer should have?  

Curiosity 

Who gave you the best lessons?  

Being a self-thought designer, the "lesson" was designing a lamp. Designing lamps has been for me the first exercise to understand what happens when you "give a shape" to an idea.

Jack

Jack, reading lamp for Luceplan, 1985

I learned that the non-materiality of light could become a paradigm, a "perspective" for design. 
When creating a lamp you are dealing with light, an immaterial element, therefore you are forced to create physical structures -the hardware of the lamp- as light as possible so that it won't disturb the non-materiality of light. 

Designing a lamp means working with lightness, in all the conceptions of the word: lightness intended as consistency, the structure is resistant but discrete, it eludes the logic of simple visibility, it doesn't yell at you but chooses to be non invasive instead; lightness in the physical sense, the reduction of the material employed engenders unexpected solutions; lightness in the visual sense, reducing the size of things and giving them a 'soft' appearance.

For instance, in the first chair I designed for Vitra the intention was to create a visually light object, light and simple in the sense that it should communicate a resolved complexity. The chair shows clearly how it works, there's no mysterious mechanisms hidden that make it move, and I think its beauty lays in its clear and immediate shape. 
I'm convinced that doing simple things is part of a biological need, a need for simplicity

In the case of Vitra, pursuing a visual lightness allowed me to explore different directions without being obsessed by the world of shapes, of pre-conceived shapes.

Medamorph

Medamorph

 

If you were not a designer, what would you be?

I don't think I would have had as much fun and satisfaction doing something different. 

What's next? 

I would like to kick-off the industrial pre-series of the Solar Bottle; we want to start the field tests, the real tests.


Milan, March 2009


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5 Comments

yeah ... I agree on the importance of mockups, dealing with the real thing is a much higher challenge. I mean you can see that some objects are just a shape grown out of a computer with no real connection with life.

design should be a hands-on process

Nice read, thanks

I don't normally comment on blogs, however I have to say that I rather enjoyed yours as it was indepth.

Thank you for such a fantastic blog. Where else could anyone get this kind of info written in such an incite full way? I have a project that I am presently working on, and I have been looking for such info.

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