Patrick Norguet: designing, writing, cooking

A conversation with Patrick Norguet about what it means to work as a designer today. Scenarios of the very near future, the hegemony of decoration, and original definitions of design

Patrick Norguet
Patrick Norguet

What is design today?
It is a difficult term. It may be about to disappear. A misunderstood job, more and more. Today people focus mainly on decoration. For years design meant talking about the product, the object, its quality. Today we hear talk about style. We designers concentrate on details, but that is not enough. Of course quality is needed in an object. But we also have to think about the image that surrounds it. It is an evolution of our craft. But not the only one: a good designer today has to develop a global project, also involving distribution, image, price, the quality of materials, their recycling, the positioning of the object in the brand’s ecosystem. It is a complex task, and often it is not understood. Which is why people focus on style. It’s a shortcut.

“Jeff” by Pedrali

Speaking of ecosystems: one the timeliest topics right now is the environment. How can this aspect be managed?
It cannot be a revolution – we should instead talk about evolution. Of the entire industrial system, but also of crafts. The real revolution would be to stop producing. But it would be a disaster. I prefer to talk about good common sense. Today, for example, when we produce upholstered furniture, we face the issue of how the product will reach the end of its life span – previously we did not think about that. It is complicated, for instance, to separate foam from metal. So thinking about an object implies the design of how the materials will be separated in the future. We have to take our time, granting ourselves the time to use our intelligence.

“Nana” chair by Natuzzi – study design for the shell
“Nana” chair by Natuzzi

When you say that the word “design” might disappear, do you also mean the profession?
Artificial intelligence is no joke, it is a very timely concern. Though people are still not talking about it very much. Tomorrow, companies that want to do business in a rapid way will utilize these tools: it will suffice to specify a few parameters, and in an instant you will have a collection, ready to go. While for me, the basis of our work – like writing for you – is to cultivate culture. To educate the public. It is necessary. The lack of culture is one of the problems of our time

Lounge chair “Sova” by Zanat

So culture is the solution?
Today the market is polarized, the public chooses either large globalized low-cost brands or luxury. People do not consider everything that lies in between. In all sectors. But knowing the difference between a product made in Italy and one made in China (because there are forms of expertise connected with the territory) can help people to understand price differences. For this reason, in my view we have to work on quality and explain it to people. We need to re-establish a set of values. But at this point the discussion becomes political and we run the risk of going off theme… Yesterday I got an email from an enormous Chinese company, with 350 showrooms across the whole country. They asked me to design some pieces: no royalties, just a one-time payment. In this way, we become the Chinese of the Chinese. A bit of sense has to be restored to everything, to protect expertise (and save jobs), to preserve a culture and make it grow. In all sectors: writing, for example, food, everything.

“Ace Collection” by Ethimo
“Ace Collection” by Ethimo

It is interesting to juxtapose design and food…
I like to compare design to other jobs, like writing or cooking. They are activities in which you put existing elements together to create something new. My job too is to assemble, like a chef who combines flavors to create one that didn’t exist before. That’s my work.

All images courtesy Patrick Norguet