Milan, Italy, 1977
Denis Guidone is a prominent Italian designer working in Milan and Tokyo.
He studied architecture at Milan Politecnico University and FAUP of Porto. Fascinated by the contrasts between the East and the West, he merges the aesthetics of these two extremes with unconventional and strict precision into an elegant, eye-catching appearance.
He has won international awards, including the IDA Design Award in Los Angeles. He was also given the Bruno Munari Prize by Gillo Dorfles in 2009 at the Triennale di Milano and was selected for the ADI index 2010.
In 2018 was elected by Triennale of Milan and by Ministry of Foreign Affairs as ambassador of Italian design in the world.
He has designed for FontanaArte, Roche Bobois, Nava Design, Bolia, MIngardo, Ichendorf, Serax, Projects Watches, Shuji Nakagawa, Shinji Terauchi, Hands on Design, Arita Risogama and other companies in Italy and abroad.
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Q&A: Part 1
Published June 10, 2020
Recorded Feb 16, 2020
When and how did your passion for design originate?
My path has been the other way round—from the city to the spoon. I started my training in urban planning, then moved to architecture, and finally became a product designer. My passion for design did originate from a passion for architecture and cinema. I have always thought that design has to do with the sensitivity of the look.
Is there any designer whose work or thought did particular influence your education in design?
Of course. I have been influenced by the rigour and minimalism of AG Fronzoni
and Myrna Cohen—with whom I started my path in design—, by the humour of Bruno Munari, the intuition of the Achille
, Livio, and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
, the poetry of Sori Yanagi, the lightness of Shiro Kuramata, and the thoughts of Gillo Dorfles.
What are the key features of your design?
In my projects I always try to share a thought or a feeling with the user, rather than an image or an emotion. I like the Japanese word ‘tatazumai’, which expresses the invisible essence emanating from an object and acting on the surrounding by creating an atmosphere, a feeling, or a thought in the mind of the viewer. I try to create some kind of relations between the object, the space, and the user.
Do you think you have a personal style that characterises all your work?
I hope so.
What kind of projects do you prefer to work on and why?
I love working with light. I am fascinated by the possibility of shaping the space with nothing. It’s a beautiful synthesis. In my last projects I am trying more and more to work with light and shadow.
How do you develop a new project?
I always start from a feeling, or an image, that moves me intimately. I think the project already exists in nature, I mean in the way people use objects in everyday life. You just need to discover it.
Is there a constant goal, or better a ultimate goal that you have as a designer?
I have always thought that design is subtraction but it could also be addition, if the ultimate goal is to achieve lightness.
Do you think the design should try to produce objects that last as long as possible? If so, how do you think is the design solution to such a problem?
Yes, I think that the main goal of a designer should be that of designing objects that last as long as possible. The most successful design objects are the anonymous ones, those objects we use every day without wondering who designed them. Typically these objects are simple, intuitive, easy to use, and not ‘too designed’. I think that an object should go beyond the sense of beauty or ugliness. It should naturally and silently fit into the domestic landscape. Right now I am doing a research on objects that are apparently unattractive. I think that often what we consider unattractive is only an expression of a beauty that we still can’t understand.
An inspiration for Kanji lamps designed by Guidone.
Do you think a designer should, above all, take into consideration the shape of the products, or also their mechanics and their marketing?
After the experience in the studio of AG Fronzoni
I had the fortune to work inside a company as an art director. In that way I get to know the company logic, the reasons why a product is not taken into consideration, and many of the factors that, sometime, a designer doesn’t take into consideration. To designers who have collaborated with my studio I have always said that it’s very important to do an experience within a company. I think that to consider only the shape is not enough.
You have designed a very large number of watches—thirteen—that make me very curious because, somehow, they are not watches in all respect. They mark time without marking it, or better, they mark it but their purpose doesn’t seem to communicate time, but to play with time. And maybe it’s not wrong to call them toys. Of course this doesn’t detract from the quality of the design—they are indeed rigorous and aesthetically rational, but they become irrational if we consider them as watches and if we think to the practical function of a watch. On the other hand, they are perfectly rational is we consider them as toys. So, do you think that your watches are watches or do you think they are toys?
It may seem strange but I have never worn a watch. Every time they ask me this question I answer that I hate designing watches. What I actually like to design is not watches, but time. I think it’s interesting to think about the notion of time in the contemporary society and the notion of design as an intellectual and emotional stimulus. We are surrounded by digital devices, which have taken on the function of telling us what time it is and where we are. My approach to the design of watches starts from this consideration and this is the reason why I have designed watches that make us forget that we live in a time marked by hours, minutes, and seconds. By playing with rationality and irrationality, randomness and design, the clock face becomes a metaphor for a post-chronological society, which I think is a typical condition of our time.
During the last editions of the Salone del Mobile—the Milan Furniture Fair—I have heard many entrepreneurs saying that design moved from functionality to expressiveness, from practical functionality to aesthetic fashion, and also towards narration and storytelling. What do you think about that? Can design renounces—or has already renounced—to practical functionality?
I think that in design there must be balance and harmony of all the factors that you have mentioned.
I am interested in your relationship with Japan, a country that fascinates me very much. When and how did your interest for Japanese craftsmanship and its aesthetic culture originate?
My interest for Japanese culture originates from a fascination for ‘Ma’, the void between the full, which is the basis of Eastern philosophy. I find the ‘Ma’ in traditional architecture, in the dialogue between light and shadow, in the city, in the words, in the No theatre, in the ‘cha no yu’ (the tea ceremony), and in all the Japanese arts starting with ikebana. I have always thought that beauty lies in the dialogue between cultures, in differences, regardless of whether we are in the East of in the West, whether we are talking about politics or design. While about the interest for Japanese craftsmanship, it comes from the word ‘Mingei’, or the manufacturing art of ordinary people. In the 1920s, Yanagi Soetsu discovered beauty in ordinary objects created by anonymous and unknown craftsmen. I think that craftsmanship and industrial design have never been so close as they are right now. That’s because, parallel to my design profession, I am doing research trips to Japan, and shortly to Taiwan and Korea, to try connecting the two disciplines by collaborating with craftsmen that I am meticulously selecting. I am also preparing an exhibition of all the research done in the East in recent years.
As a designer, what differences do you think there are between Japan and Italy? Does your conception of design is the same, or the design you produce in Japan is different from the design you conceive in Italy?
I think that my designs are always based on the same concepts, whether I am in Italy or in Japan.
What is your definition of design and what do you think is the purpose of this profession?
Beyond functionality, the purpose of design is to share a thought, a feeling, an ethical-asthetic sense to people.
Thank you very much.
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Q&A: Part 2
Published June 10, 2020
Recorded Apr 28, 2020
Where were you when the pandemic spread? And what is the situation in the place where you are right now?
The first time I heard the word COVID-19 I was traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for a short stay. Since two months I am in Arita, in the Saga Prefecture, south of Japan, between Nagasaki and Fukuoka. I am living in a traditional Japanese house overlooking the garden. It has always been my dream to live in a traditional Japanese house, observing all details, thicknesses, materials, and colours, trying to understand the constructional reasons, admiring light spreading among the Shoji, and observing how architecture retains and prolongs the view.
How has the organisation of your days changed, in particular the organisation of work?
Considering that I live in Japan for most of the years, remote work is an ordinary working condition. Regarding the emergency situation, in Japan not much has changed.
In these days, do you have more time at your disposal than before? How are you spending your time?
I always try to put myself in a condition to have time. This has always been a fundamental thing to me. We live in an era where events and activities are increasingly compressed. We do more and more things in less time. Consequently time is dilated. I find it somewhat absurd to hear people say that they don’t have time. Unfortunately, or fortunately—I never understood if it’s a merit or a defect—my design time coincides with my life time. There is no separation and this condition makes me to forget time itself.
Paper & Light by Denis Guidone and Tomoko Fuse. Milano Design Week, Ventura Centrale, 2018.
Are you succeeding in working as much as before, or has your productivity decreased? Do you think it is inevitable to enter into a perspective of reduced productivity compared to the past, or the way of working will only change?
As every year in this period there is the Salone del Mobile, the Milan Furniture Fair which, for us designers, represents a moment during which to present the designs developed a year or two years earlier. This year we are thinking about how to present the projects, although the Salone has been postponed until next year. I always thought that design needs longer times for the project to mature. Perhaps for design companies this should be the time to reduce productivity and return to making a design non longer dictated by the deadlines imposed by official presentation schedules, such as fairs and events which, by the way, are multiplying more and more every year. Over time we have witnessed more and more logics and timelines of design adhering to those of fashion. I firmly believe that this condition is not good for the design. I am of the idea of doing less and better.
Do you currently have any ongoing projects you are working on? Are they somehow connected to the emergency we are living?
One of the designs I have started here in Arita could fall into a type of product sensitive to hygiene problems and consequently to daily post-COVID situations. The theme is that of affordance. Affordance defines the physical quality of an object and suggests to the product users the appropriate actions to manipulate and use it.
Do you think that being in this emergency situation has an influence on your way of designing from a conceptual or methodological standpoint?
I consider this constraint as a new opportunity. I am trying to live these constraints as a stimulus.
After this experience, do you think that it will be necessary to change something in the organisation of your work? What do you think is the better way to face other situations like this one in the future?
I think that working from remote should have been an ordinary condition for the design profession since a long time.
A sketch by Guidone of Kanji lamps.
How it has changed the relationship with your collaborators and people with whom you did frequently meet? Do you think the Internet could substitute direct meetings with other people?
Space is physical. Relationships are physical. Virtual space can never replace physical space. It’s difficult to image a poetics of the virtual. (While I’m writing, the text of Bachelard, ‘The Poetics of Space’, comes to mind. As soon as I return to my books I will go back to it, as well as to the texts by Paul Virilio, ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’. They are both fundamental texts to be read again and again.)
I know that you were planning to visit artisan workshops based here and there across the Japanese peninsula. Should we enter the perspective of travel limited to a local, no longer global, territorial dimension?
For me, visiting laboratories and production sites has always been fundamental. Many of my projects are born by visiting the workplace. For the moment, I think limiting travel is the right thing to do, but we can never replace direct experience through the web.
Do you think that traditional culture—Japanese but not only Japanese—can be a useful source to look for solutions to rethink a better way to live in the future?
In these days there is a lot of talk about proxemics. Here in Japan I have lived for years in a culture that has a different proxemics than the Western one. Over time I have found this model of non-contact almost as a sort of union, as if distance generated a sort of tension that unites. And I find the simple gesture of taking off your shoes before entering the house very hygienic and correct, a behaviour that we find both here in Japan as well as in countries of northern Europe. But I think that for our Latin culture it would be impossible not to hug each other, shake hands, or greet each other with a kiss.
When I think of Tokyo, I think of an overpopulated city and I see in my mind the commuters packed into subway cars. Do you think that it will be necessary to rethink urban spaces and means of transport in order to face other emergencies like this one? Do you think that the design can be a useful tool to start again?
I think that design and architecture can have a key role in helping a restart.
What do you want to do when this emergency ends?
I was planning a research trip between Taiwan and South Korea. I wouldn’t want to give up on this trip. And of course, go back to Italy and stay with my family until he end of the summer season. Before returning here in Japan.
What do you miss most about your life before the Coronavirus?
Do you think that the spread of this virus can help change the world, not only in the immediate but in a future perspective? What do you think that will be the main change produced by this experience?
There is a lot of talk about returning to normal life, but perhaps it’s just normal life that has led us to this condition. We need more civic sense, more respect for the ecosystem. We can’t live healthy in a sick ecosystem. Let’s take back our daily lives and our own time. Let’s reevaluate ordinary gestures. Ordinary gestures are an integral part of our existence. Let’s slow down our vision. Finally, I recommend a useful reading in these quarantine days, but also post-quarantine: Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadow’.
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“The two flat bases become a simple device to adjust time for daylight saving. When tilted, the clock’s simple graphic allows the time to move forward or back one hour with a simple gesture.” The name itself of the product plays with the notion of daylight saving time, in Italy called the ‘legal hour’.
“The piece plays with our expectations of what a traditional timepiece should be. Instead of hands there are two moving dots circling around the third one in the middle. The bigger dot represents the hour while the smaller dot represents the minute; the central dot remains fixed.This way the dial remains untouched, giving the dots all the negative space they need.“
A wristwatch featuring an irregular form, suggesting the shape of a stone smoothed by the passing of time.
“Plissé is an home-office desk featuring a flat surface, that with a simple gesture is modified revealing a place for work or leisure. It takes inspiration from the traditional pleated Japanese fans, which were also used by oriental women to hide from prying eyes.”
“In Venetian Par tresso means askew and in fact this is how the murrina canes are elaborated. It is a new way to use the murrina a method that comes from an original approach and leads to surprising result.”
Cha No Yu
Tealight lantern (Ichendorf)
“The rounded shapes give harmony and a decisive elegant character, accentuated by the pleasant plays of light typical of optical borosilicate. The set is made by tea pot, tea diffuser, lantern and tea cup. Every piece is in blown glass.”
“Bonseki vase takes ispiration from the ancient Japanese art of creating miniature landscapes. At first view, it seems they are three vases but at second view you discover is a single welded shape and each others play a rule to allow at the piece to be standing in equilibre. The importance of Bonseki is the peaceful feeling and satisfaction you derive from creating a natural scene.”
“Based on the observation of light falling on an opened notebook, Haiku tends to blur from the inside to the outside of each page, reproducing the natural shadow effect that occurs when we look at the pages of a book.”
Table, pendant, and floor lamps (Fontana Arte)
“Kanji is a family of lighting elements that reinterprets traditional Oriental portable lanterns in a contemporary key. The collection draws inspiration from Chinese porcelain from the Ming dynasty. The hand-blown glass diffuser, in frosted white and translucent smoke, is adorned with a pleated surface decoration. A LED ring runs inside the structure to illuminate the diffuser.”
Mirrors (Roche Bobois)
The color nuances change continuously depending on the different points of view thanks to a very particular technological glass treatment—the glass coloration by metallic oxide obtained with a high temperature cooking.
“One simple cut and the glass bent by hand while it’s hot, creates an invitation, waiting for a flower to come.”
Fragrance diffuser and vase (Ichendorf)
“The asymmetric shape gives room to a new use. Flowers and fragrance sticks are apparently separated, becoming an invite for a flower composition: an ikebana.”
Pendant/Table lamp (Bolia)
“Kire is a family of lighting elements in mouth blown glass fully engraved. The intent is designing light subtracting the material revealing the true essence of the object: light and shadow.”
“Maiko is a family of lighting elements inspired by IKI, a Japanese aesthetic sense. The table lamp is made of mouth-blown glass.” Maiko is the Japanese expression for a woman who is learning to become a geisha, and the Maiko pendant resembles maiko’s traditional hairstyles.
The first upholstered chair manufactured by Mingardo. It is made of a black-finished iron tubes structure and three soft cushions upholstered with bespoke fabric in a warm rust colour.
Tray (Hands on Design)
“Pliage tray looks to the Japanese tradition of origami for inspiration. Crafted in Arita porcelain by Shinji Terauschi, the tray has been carefully shaped into uniform folds on both the bowl and base to form a piece that communicates an illusion of fragility in a stark contrast to its robustness.“
Vases and tealight holder (Bolia)
Miniature tealight holder and vases to showcase flowers.
Lamp (Creative Residency Arita)
“Adding to porcelain high content of glass the ORI lamp utilizes the beauty of white and the translucent quality of porcelain. Translucent porcelain enables the passage of light through the wall of the item. My intention was to reveal the ‘white transparency’ of porcelain to get a pleasant play of light and shadow that change during daytime.“
Tablewares (Creative Residency Arita)
“A series of tableware I named Decadrage, which refers to Affordance, a physical qualities of an object that hint at how best to manipulate and use it. The shapes of the functional table objects create an asymmetry which double as a way to hold and manipulate it to avoid problems like hygiene concerns and extreme temperatures.“
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