If you shop at Target, you may have seen a distinctive teakettle designed by architect Michael Graves. Target’s version is a knock-off (by Graves himself) of his original 1985 design for Alessi, the northern Italian home-furnishings manufacturer. Alessi has sold more than 1.5 million of the original design at five times the price of the Target version. This outstanding teakettle (also known as model 9093) emerged from a process that Roberto Verganti calls “design-driven innovation.” In this article, Verganti describes how Alessi, the lighting manufacturers Flos and Artemide, the furniture maker Kartell, and a few firms in the Lombardy region take a distinctive approach to design and innovation.
He then goes on to describe how these manufacturers — centered around Milan — nurture a community of discourse that eventually gestates into new product designs over the course of several years, contrasted with user research-generated design ideas.
What’s new here is his view that one need not have any design training to participate in this process, the executives in Milan typically having been trained in law or engineering. A radical idea?