Design and the senses: a conversation

LAM

Claudio Feltrin: We have been working together with your studio, Lievore Altherr Molina, for ten years now—ten very successful years. Our relationship is as much about friendship as it is about work, and it evolved in a natural way over the years as Arper evolved.

Alberto Lievore: Yes, and this quality of being “natural” or “simple”—in the sense of being effortless, understandable and approachable—is also characteristic of the Arper products and the brand.

Claudio: When I think of our brand and our products, I think of an Italian piazza, or square, where people go to meet, to see and be seen. Imagine a beautiful square, vacant. Now imagine the same square, crowded with people and life. An empty square, no matter how well designed and constructed, is a completely different experience than a square buzzing with life—and an object is likewise brought to life by how people relate with it. Sense vivifies objects. An aesthetic alone—beauty alone—isn’t enough: beauty is created by how places and objects are used and experienced.

Alberto: As in human relationships, it’s all about space: being not too close, not too far, but in harmony. An object is not good or bad in itself—it depends on the context. A sophisticated object does not impose itself on the world: it interacts with it.

Claudio: Yes, and it is the sensual aspect of an object that entices you to fall in love with it. In that way our relationship to objects is, I think, less intellectual than atavistic.

Alberto: It’s true that the way we relate with objects is not entirely logical. And neither is the process of creation or buying! We talk about objects—but objects also talk about us. Objects are not innocent; they express an attitude. In designing objects, we recreate feelings and ideas that are important to us, hoping they find an echo in others, a shared sensibility. But of course we can’t just do what we like, detached from external conditions. Our creations must be suited to different places and different audiences. We have to find the right code. As designers, we must translate concept into form, and in the right measure. It’s a complex task.

Alberto: This metamorphosis of concepts into objects is a kind of synesthesia. How do you describe a perfume? A color? How do you describe and reconstitute the experience of a space, of art, of music? In a sense, design becomes a metaphor for life.

Claudio: Design is the culture of everyday things. In the past two years the global financial crisis has changed our perspective, but how do we react to these changes? Before that we experienced a decade in which only the new was considered good. Maybe now design is no longer about the new (as a value in itself), but the true.

Alberto Lievore is a partner in the Barcelona product design firm Lievore Altherr Molina.

Claudio Feltrin is CEO of Arper. He lives in Treviso, Italy.