The (Ideal) archi-manager

Roberto Palomba has been the Chief Design Officer of Ideal Standard for four years now. IFDM met him at the booth of the multinational during Salone 2022, where with architectural precision and a managerial mentality, he traced back through the phases of this very positive experience

Ipalyss by Ideal Standard, design Robin Levien
Ipalyss by Ideal Standard, design Robin Levien

I know you’re not a fan of balance sheets, but could you sum up the results of four years as Chief Design Officer in Ideal Standard?
I am pleased with the results, and if I have to sum up my feelings, the phrase would be “Hurray… I did it!” The challenge that began in 2018 was to bring awareness back to the forefront regarding the company’s value in the world of design and architecture. I think I have succeeded, though of course not on my own. I feel like part of a mechanism – maybe the one that sets it into motion, but just one part, in any case. Ideal Standard has allowed me to ‘do things,’ and together with the company’s team we have managed to formulate an emotional identity, as well as boosting service and working on products.

Solos by Ideal Standard (Atelier Collections), design Roberto Palomba
Roberto Palomba, Photo © Carlo William Rossi, Fabio Mureddu

Have there been important changes?
Actually we have changed nothing, but we have regenerated Ideal Standard, raising its value through a cultural operation. A value that had to be – and luckily has been – spread across all of the company’s production: to conserve the premium collections, but also the more ‘affordable’ lines (I don’t like the term ‘economical,’ which suggests products of low quality), containing specific characteristics and making them inclusive.
The mission of Ideal Standard is in its name: we make industrial products that have a quality – a standard of quality – that is repeated in all the items. It is not about craftsmanship. Each collection is positioned in a particular segment of the market, but the quality is never lacking.

Since your arrival, there has been turnover in the position of CEO: has something changed?
Absolute continuity was ensured for the project, and nothing has been called back into discussion. In Italy was are accustomed to family businesses, but Ideal Standard is a managerial enterprise, the result of a chain formed by professionals expert in their fields and flexible enough to understand the areas covered by their colleagues.

You talk about this as if you were not a designer, but a project manager. Is that an appropriate definition?
I feel like a manager of the project and in spite of my well-known schizophrenia I am aware of the fact that the company produces thousands of pieces that then have to be sold. Today, fortunately for Ideal Standard business is booming, demand is very strong, and we are increasing production with specific measures. A designer who works with a machine like Ideal Standard cannot help but be aware of the fact that this is not about stitching and assembling 10 sofas when an order arrives. In this context, planning is needed, and I have to be a manager, not a poet – except when I’m holding a pencil, which in any case is no more than 10% of the time.

Together World has been a very courageous project, putting the products at the end, the name of the company at the end: an investment in communication – with what goal?
Together World is a cultural operation, not an advertisement. It’s a bit like what I was saying at the beginning. Today, a consumer good needs to create cultural contexts and take a position inside them: we address designers and all those who are interested in getting beyond the product. My work has been that of a cultural manager, in actions not words.

How has the chain of distribution and sales reacted to this message?
I’ll respond with a Latin proverb, “natura non facit saltus”: in four years we have done miracles in the area of products and in the acculturation of our commercial partners, who are more and more aware of the reality in which they operate.