the list of references of the international designer alfredo häberli is a long one: asplund, cappellini, iittala, joop!, camper, volvo, moroso, luceplan, classicon, absolut vodka ... and in fact, says the multi-designer who is active worldwide as a visiting professor, he could already retire. but according to häberli, his job is too much fun to do so. a conversation about the desire for authenticity, honesty, and the claim for design to keep its validity long-term.
alfredo häberli, how did you become a designer?
i have to say i was not aware that designer was an actual profession. i knew there were architects, painters, artists, fashion designers ... but just designers? i believed that the people in an industry designed the products themselves, for example the engineers or the owners of a company. about my basic motivation to become a designer: i was missing the latin influence in europe – after all, i was born in argentina – and i finally found it in milan. i was in my early twenties, and i became overwhelmed with the world of design that emerged there at that time. i noticed that all the lamps that i liked back then came from one certain designer. this actually was the crucial experience that made me want to be a professional designer.
how can we envision your workflow, your creative process?
the design process always starts with a discussion. design generally is a long-winded discussion – compared to athletes, we rather are marathon runners than 100-meter sprinters. you have to be prepared for a long distance – from the first discussion to the presentation of the finished product, it takes about 2 years. to finish in a shorter period of time is almost not respectable anymore.
most of the time, it starts with a telephone conversation, when a company calls and concludes a contract. it is always great when the phone rings! you start to play verbal ping-pong with the client. you agree on a theme: economically, on the kind of collaboration etc. imagine a white piece of paper, and the ideas come together through a certain technique, a typology, or deep research on a new, still unfamiliar topic.
what is most important to you: the past, the present or the future?
i know the history of design pretty well, and i attach a lot of importance to the respect that i show towards it, because this knowledge of design history always gives me the motivation to go one step further. i don’t want to design a new chair in order to design a “new” chair. i want to create a chair that adds one more step to this history – a continuation, an improvement is important; to find a new theme, a new technology related to it ... maybe raise a subject that has been buried in oblivion. these things are the prerequisites for me in order to design a new chair or anything new.
what significance does design have for you in the future?
of course it has an essential significance, because i live on it. it brings food and drink into my home. i’m very proud of the fact that i could theoretically stop working today. my products are selling well, and as we receive royalties from every piece that is sold, we are in a very relaxed position. but i’m just having way too much fun to quit.
given the current development of more and more people moving into cities and living in metropolitan areas, but at the same time longing for nature and the pristine – how do you look at design in the course of this development?
i believe that through this very synthetic world we live in, with the internet, computers, new media etc., an extreme need for authenticity and honesty is created. at least this is how it feels for me – and i’m happy it does. i have always created my designs with this attitude. i don’t like a big show, also not for products. i believe that this is definitely a good development in the right direction.
do you deliberately design things for the future, or do you want to change the present with them?
no, i live today, and my claim towards design is that the products keep their validity for the long term. these products should exist for many years. this is why i’m not interested at all in these fashionable so-called trends. these things are only given attention today, and tomorrow it’s over. they are short-lived. it’s too bad about all the power and energy that we invest to create something. through my attitude towards design, a certain neutrality is given. it is through honesty and authenticity that these products and ideas “function” long-term. my attitude is affirmed by 15 successful years of doing my job.
which moments do you want to enjoy in the future?
the quiet moments with my wife and my children, after all the hurly-burly here.