Why some designs fail – Italian professor believes he may have the answer

Gianluca Cinquepalmi, founder of design studio 1.618 – who is also a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong – talks about the building blocks of good design and his first book in the Timeless series

By Christopher DeWolf

What do you hope to achieve with your first book in the timeless series? “I had done designs that I thought were fantastic, the best thing in the world, and they crashed and burned in the market. And I’ve done things I was ashamed of and they were amazing succes­ses. I started asking myself, ‘How is that possible?’ I wanted to understand why my perception was distorted and if there was a pattern. Can I identify when I am doing a good job or a bad job?

“I developed these five principles of design that recur. There is character, the ability to be unique; desir­ability, the ability to attract someone; empathy, the ability to connect on an emotional level; trust, when that connection is meaningful; and consis­tency, so that the connection is accepted within the context of a brand or service.

“The value you provide as a designer is measured by the size of the problems you can solve. If you create a beautiful logo, of course there is an interesting craftsmanship behind that, but what you are trying to do is help some­one communicate. People say, ‘Why should I invest in design when I can go online and buy a logo for $5?’ But if you’re a cafe that buys a logo for $5, don’t be upset when a pharmacy across the street opens with exactly the same logo.”

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If you are in the business of making things, your ultimate goal is to create something that survives your natural life

What designs do you consider to be timeless? “If you are in the business of making things, your ultimate goal is to create something that survives your natural life. You have to create products and expe­riences that withstand the passing of time: Arco [the lamp] from Castiglioni, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Porsche 356 – and hopefully the Fiat 500 bag that we [1.618] produced in 2007.”

What does 1.618 stand for? “It is a number, a name and a mission. It is the so-called golden ratio, the ultimate expression of universal beauty in the Italian Renaissance, and also a perfect synthesis of our design philosophy, based on systems of harmony and proportion. We wanted to express our belonging to both Italian and Chinese cultures, so we chose a number that is universally recognised.”


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