Loredana Di Lucchio
[Factory] [diid 01|02]
Magis began in 1976 as a company without a factory whose intention was to produce interior furnishings. Throughout its 23 years of activity Magis has been developing products that seem to have resisted fashion trends. Examples include the X-Line chair in steel bar and laminate designed by Nils Haugesen and put into production in 1979, or the Step step-ladder in steel tubing with ABS rungs designed by Andreies & Hiroko Van Onck and introduced at the 1985 Milan Furniture Show. A wide variety of designers have collaborated with Magis, ranging from Stefano Giovannoni and Marc Newman, with their philosophy of the object as a playful element operating through emotional recall, to Enzo Mari and Marc Berthier whose compositional rigor had led to a refined reinterpretation of archetypes. Their collaboration has been profitable to the point that several products have been included in the permanent collections of museums such as New York’s MOMA, London’s Design Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. At present the Magis catalogue offers over fifty products which are practically a complete summary of the company’s history.
The common denominator seems to be the desire to reinterpret, in elements of daily use, that role of a presence which, for its consistency and form, is active in our perception of the environment. In the Magis company profile they declare an already defined programme that not only will continue to move in the direction of mass-produced technologies, global market and new ideas, but will go on to touch production areas other than that of furnishings.
Within the logic of so-called “playful design” it appears clear that the desire is to evoke in objects by now fully analysed in terms of their functional possibilities, also, and especially, some emotional content, restoring to them that capacity, as “animated” elements, to have an active rapport with the user. Magis’s choice, as a company which exemplifies this philosophy in the field of industrial design, is born out not only in analysis of its recent production but by the observation that even in the past the designs developed had such aims. Moreover, its image as a “young company” is an attractive feature within a critique of where the design industry is going and what the most profitable relations might be between this and the education sector.
The first project examined was the Toto cart by designers Berti & Bressan: a cube in plastic mixed with other materials which is cut in half horizontally and whose height can be regulated by means of two telescopic cubes placed inside. How did Magis begin its quest and how did it find concrete expression precisely in this first object? In short, what steps led to realising the project and what results did it have?
The company began in 1976 and I am the only one of the original founding partners left. In the early 1970s I was commercial director of an important company in this sector with around 300 employees, which invested large sums in the production process but nothing in the development of innovative products. This company’s technology was largely based on the complete manufacturing cycle of steel rods – from raw material to finishing – and was divided into two divisions: one for partly finished material for industrial use, with clients like Zanussi, Siemens, Thompson, and one for finished stock. I dealt with the commercial sector for the latter division whose task was to copy products already on the market, and offer competitive price – my task, clearly, was to resolve cost problems. In light of this, I impressed upon the owners our need to work on an original brand and produce pieces of our own design. It was thus given the task of developing a project. It was then, in taking up the challenge, that I ran into design.
I did not know much about it at the time but, just by chance, I was in a bookshop one day and noticed the cover of a book on design showing a chair made in steel rod. What struck me were certainly not the aesthetics of the object but the material in which it was made – only later did I discover that it had been designed by Harry Bertoia for Knoll.
I bought that book, read up on the subject and even decided to buy two of those chairs, paying a considerable sum for the time. I brought one over to the company’s technical office and asked them to estimate what it would cost if we were to make it. Two days later I had my answer : L.2,000 (approx.$1.00US at today’s exchange rate). I had no doubt that this was the road to take, but at that point I needed a designer. Around that same time I was in contact with an executive at Olivetti, that great Cathedral of industrial design, who gave me the name of a young designer out of Mercedes who was working with Zanuso – Richard Sapper. I called him, had him come down to my company, which at the time boasted some highly developed technology, explained the situation to him and together we went over to the contract – office furniture – division. Once the strategies were defined I presented the project to the company owners but only received half a positive response: yes to the idea of producing office furniture, no to the idea of collaborating with a designer – in fact, everything was to be placed the hands of a young draftsman, fresh out of school and a relative of the boss. Without thinking twice I left the job and began to hatch the idea of setting up a company to go against the “me too” system and move in directions where innovation, experimentation and design were the only working strategies – this is how Magis was born. We went to work immediately on interior furnishings, an ambitious project for a new-born, capitalpoor company, and Toto, our first product, was deeply felt.
Of course, at first its reception was a bit cold but I attribute this to that fact that it was speaking a somewhat advanced language for the market of the time. Indeed, despite its 23 years of age, Magis has had the great idea of putting it back into production with some details refined thanks to current technologies. Maybe the reason for the freshness of Magis products lies in the fact that we have never based ourselves on market considerations – we come up with our products by brainstorming. Magis has always cultivated, and today more than ever, two product lines, one in interior furnishings and one is accessories. It has done, and is doing this by choosing objects that design has traditionally left out: take the Step stepladder, for example, or the Hamlet ironing board, the Garçon shopping cart, the Magò broom, the doormat and doorstop – a lot of attention is placed on their functional aspects and, instead of being gadgets they are useful objects that grow on you. They were designed then with no precise target in mind but with features analogous, if you like, to “unisex” ones which have their own character and dignity.
What prerequisites did the designs have – how much intuition and how much planning went into the creation, development and production phases?
How much influence in all this did the figure of the Magis artistic director have?
or Magis the first phase in the creation of a product is that of searching for an idea. For us doing projects without ideas means no more than banal exercises in style, not design. There are, however, no paradigms in the search for this idea, and over time we have honed our personal way of working – there are no recipes. We surely do not consult marketing agencies; it is more like writing a book or, better, like shooting a film. After the idea, the work of planning its phases of realisation begins, how it will be done and using what technologies. This is how it happens at Magis: first the idea, then who will develop it, who will transform it into a project, and that is where the designer comes in. Later, in the last moments of its elaboration, as the design gains strength, it is smoothed out formally, and this cutting and refining is what produces the aesthetic and linguistic edge it needs. All this goes on inside Magis itself where, since the figure of artistic director does not exist, the process resembles more a kind of dialogue, where different languages and dialects which can also conceal a series of contradictions but which, in being so, give character and vitality to production. Our desire is, surely, to avoid generating any form of “cannibalism” between one product and another
How does Magis came into contact with its various designers, and what criteria govern the development of the collaborative relationship?
How much of the fruit of this collaboration is left up to the personal interpretation of the designer and how much is previously established by the company?
We work with two substantial groups of designers: those whom we call strategic and those whom we call occasional. This distinction is not based on merit but on the continuity of relations that they have with the company. With the first we work on medium- and long-term projects, and the second collaborate on an irregular basis and on a single product. This is as a result of their own commitments or because, it being our first contact with them, we decide to work on only one idea together. Magis is working with a really quite amazing group of designers. If I were to make a very personalised ranking I would place Jasper Morrison at the top; of course, there are those like Richard Sapper, by now considered a master, or Enzo Mari with whom we are working on a very interesting study of minimalism; Stefano Giovannoni is always attentive to market indicators and, in my opinion, succeeds at Magis in achieving an expressive quality superior to that which he has reached with other firms; and then there are Marc Newson and Bjorn Dahlstrom. It is precisely thanks to these collaborations that the company has built its own recognisable image on the market. But we are not interested in names; what counts in a designer is the quality of what he offers – a highsounding name may stimulate the first sales, but if the product does not have intrinsic quality it will not last on the market.
Few year ago we were cultivating a very important collaboration with, to our knowledge, one of the myths of the Modern Movement, Charlotte Perriand.
She was asked to design a new object in the context both of the innovative technologies that Magis uses, as well as of market philosophy – international mass distribution and low-cost. The results were very interesting and solid and today, after her death, we wish to follow up on all of it, out of respect for Charlotte and her great merit, by telling the story of this unforgettable collaboration. One recent example of a great collaboration: I met Bjorn Dahlstrom through one of the products he had designed for another company. I liked it so much that I asked him to collaborate with us, and now we are going ahead on several designs. At Magis there is surely a “crazy” thread running through everything allowing us to produce new and risky objects – take, for example, Bjorn Dahlstrom’s Joestick, a walking stick that allows the user to adjust the grip to his walking pace.
It has been said that Magis is identified as “production without factory”: within this company profile how did the highly characterising choice of some materials over others come about, one which leads almost to considering yours as a “monomaterial” production?
How much does the production process impact on design aspects, and how much experimentation does Magis carry out?
Magis can be considered a system whose point of departure is the idea; this system involves internal potential, international designers and extremely good fabricators.
As I have already said, Magis has chosen to locate itself as a new company in this industrial services area. We have chosen not to manufacture in order not to limit ourselves in the potential that can be expressed even through the choice of material and technology. We have established a close relationship with the best fabricators and the most skilled experts working in this area. The moulds are our property but are fabricated and used by our production partners who invest a large part of their potential precisely in their production for Magis.
The technologies we are currently employing are air-molding, gas injection, and coin-injection (not to be confused with over-injection, which consists of the simultaneous injection of two different materials). These technologies use plastic derivatives, but we are also interested in other materials and are willing to set up new technologies that allow us to best exploit the potential of the material both in terms of expression and productivity. One of our future projects is, in fact, to use even sheet metal in an innovative way. Another example of mistaken industrialisation is that of the Toledo chair by my friend Jorge Bensoi, who confessed to me that, although he has earned a lot in terms of image, he has had made very little in terms of royalties because of the high selling price. So, it happens often that excellent products fail because of a wrong market price, and it is this incongruity that we are focusing on since, as far as we can tell, behind it is a company with no intention of investing in design and its engineering. At Magis producing an object means that, while the designer is developing the idea, we have to be working on an industrial process that guarantees it an appropriate price/quality ratio. One further aim is to always use sophisticated technologies as instruments to defend ourselves against imitation in this hyper-competitive, global market. Let’s not forget that in Italy production costs – labour, materials, services – and if the product does not have high added value global exportation is precluded: Magis products are currently present in more than seventy markets around the world.
Magis’ strategy seems always to be seen in the realisation of a style of its own, attentive both to the needs of industrial production and to those of the user: what in detail are the predetermined aims? How might you summarise the Magis company philosophy?
A company is evaluated in terms not as much of its history as of the purposes for which it was established. Our policy will be directed towards reaching a higher level of quality. Our objective, before putting a product on the market, will be to assess what the real innovation that we are introducing with our product is, and what real validity this innovation will have later on. For us the right price will be a great innovation: to produce objects that are well-designed, have a real function and a realistic price means investing in the possibility of the user coming into contact with us, without having to give up other necessities. It means allowing for the satisfaction of the need to possess welldesigned objects just like that of going to the cinema or the theatre or of reading a
book. Maintaining our core-business in accessories and interior furnishings, Magis intends to develop two new families of products: one which we are calling “Fuori Tema” and the other “MagisCopia”.
Let’s talk first about “Fuori Tema”: we mean to get distracted, and for us being distracted means having other interests far removed from design. “MagisUomo” is already underway: a collection of five articles for men to wear and use, including a garment, in one colour only, adaptable to various occasions as a function of other garments worn; shoes, which we are developing along with the Clark company; a fountain pen, a watch and a bag. The whole thing was born of one strong conviction: Magis hates fashion! We do not appreciate personalities such as Philip Starck, even though we do grant him an important place in the events of contemporary industrial design, just as we consider failed the attempts of various fashion designers to try their hand in our field.
Our idea is to have our industrial designers perform now in the field of fashion. And the challenge will be that the marketplace for this collection will be life-style shops. I remember that, when we presented the Step at the 1985 Milan Show, we went home accused of having displayed out product incorrectly, that it was more suitable to the shop circuit and, in light of the facts, this conviction was rewarding for us. Now we believe in the potential of “MagisUomo”. In the case of “MagisCopia” we are talking about redoing other people’s designs : other company’s have this as their normal policy without, however, declaring it. Magis is declaring it and is making it a project because there is a great idea behind it all. We have taken seven chair designs that have become classics in the history of design – for example, Richard Sapper is working on Thonet’s model 5, Werner Aisslinger has worked on the Cesca by Marcel Breuer, Jacobsen’s 3107 , which Bjorn Dahlstrom is working on – and we rework them following a logical production path. Our point of departure is the consideration that this object was designed with mass production and diffusion in mind object, exploiting the technology of the age to its fullest. Today that chair is still in Knoll’s production line, made in the same way it was eighty years ago, with cane seat and steel-tube frame finished off with protector caps, and sells for a very high price: it is no longer a chair for the masses. Hence we can state that Knoll does not represent the spirit of the original design, just as those companies
who imitate it in low-grade materials and sell it at a lower price do not either.
Instead Magis likes this design and intends to work on it, not by redesigning it – that would only mean blaspheming a masterpiece – but by translating through the up-to-date technical and technological vocabulary of the Italian and European production system. The fruit of this translation will be a new object of highly-resistant minimal diameter tubular construction, with airmolded seat and back; just as it was back then, it will be a technologically advanced object. And if it is successful, as we believe it will be, and goes into production, Magis will pay the royalties due Marcel Breuer in donations to research institutions and charity organisations
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
1 January 2002
diid disegno industriale | industrial design Book Series analyzes the evolution and the results of research and both theoretical and planning experimentation in the field of design. Each issue developes a theme that is representative of the debate which crosses the phenomenology of the product system in a technical and cultural extension. Researchers, scholars and professionals of the national and international scene are called to compose a multi-voice tale, with different points of view. They compose the diid Study Center. The selection of articles provides for review and evaluation by a Committee of Referee (double blind peer-review). Proposed contributions should be original and relevant in relation to the themes traced.