Paolo is the youngest son of Sergio Pininfarina, head of the homonymous company known worldwide for the design of Ferrari and Maserati cars. Paolo is Chairman and CEO of Pininfarina Extra, a company specialized in industrial, furnishing, architectural and nautical design.
Among his projects are the Keating Hotel in San Diego, the Olympic Torch for the Turin 2006 Winter Games and designs of consumer products for Gancia, Ray-Ban and Mizuno. His six kitchen designs for Snaidero have revolutionized the way the kitchen space is conceived and utilized.
Can you give your own definition of “Made in Italy” design? What are its core features? How is it different from American design?
Pininfarina: “Made in Italy” design is characterized by a subtle alchemy of tradition and innovation. Italian design is harmonious and classic and that’s why our design products are famous and appreciated all around the world; they have no geographical boundaries.
Defining American design is more difficult, maybe in part because of the cosmopolitan nature of American society, which is obviously reflected in its design culture. I think solidity – as in being “sound” – is probably its biggest unifying trait.
What role does design have in making our society more creative, in driving it forward?
Pininfarina: Even just from a purely aesthetic standpoint, design has an ethical role. A design that’s well-balanced, functional, and essential is both pleasant to the eye and easy to use, and as such, it contributes to improving the quality of life.
Beyond the aesthetics, the true ethical challenge that present and future design faces is
sustainability: all designers are being called to put their creativity to use to develop projects and solutions that respect the environment and make life in our global world more sustainable.
Which design elements have the strongest emotional pull? Innovative forms? Dramatic colors? The link to the past? Or is it the way in which we interact with an object of design that determines its emotional potential?
Pininfarina: I think that forms have a deeper influence on emotions, whereas the impact of color, while important, is more transient and superficial.
Any reference to the past (like in retro-design) triggers nostalgic emotions, tied to memories of long-lost things, and therefore inevitably less positive than the feelings that
can be generated by a forward-thinking design.
On another note, Apple really brought the spotlight on user interface and the need for its simplicity but at the same time, they have showed us how it contributes to creating an emotional design through its ease of use and its revolutionary effect on our lifestyle.
To have an impact on our lives, design must be accessible to everyone. How important is marketing in making design “mainstream”? Does it play a fundamental role or does it all depend exclusively on the design?
Pininfarina: I think design must certainly aspire to be accessible and that should be the ultimate goal; however, that’s not necessarily the first step in the process. Most innovations first come into being as luxury products, designed for just a few customers. The good thing is that markets tend to have a fertile top-down dynamic that allows innovative design to eventually make its way into the mainstream. Mobile phones are a good example of this: when they first came out in the ‘90s, they were a luxury affordable only by some. Look how far they’ve come.
What are your sources of inspiration in Italian art and architecture? How have they influenced you?
Pininfarina: The whole artistic environment that oozes out of most of what surrounds us here in Italy, as a reference to our past, is a powerful source of inspiration for me. From the architectural variety of our cities, which reflects their different historical paths, to our arts and crafts tradition that was developed along the centuries, through a continuous process of invention and innovation in the fields of painting, sculpture, wood carving, metal and leather workmanship, and so on.
I think the influence of the area where you work can take many shapes: for example, Pininfarina Extra is located in Turin, a city with a very structured urban architecture. I
believe that that’s influenced our approach to our projects, which is methodical and rigorous.
What is one of the most unexpected things that have inspired your designs?
Pininfarina: In terms of kitchen design, I could certainly say that the OLA and OLA20 models I designed for Snaidero were inspired by natural forms…but it’s a rather obvious comparison.
I think the most unusual idea came to me from my drum set (I love playing drums), which became the inspiration for the circular, everything-within-reach layout of Snaidero’s