Yet now, thanks to designer Giulio Iacchetti and organic ice-cream makers Grom from Turin, another element will be added to the equation: biodegradability.

“It only makes sense to turn all disposable objects used in the catering and food industry into biodegradable items,” says the forty-three year old designer of the new Grom spoon.

“It’s silly, when you think about it, to build your reputation on the fact that you produce organic products and hence you respect the environment for the present and future generations, yet you force your customers to use plastic spoons that will be left in a generic rubbish bin (in the best of cases) in the middle of the city, and will never be recycled.”

He has a point. After all, if there is anyone who knows about biodegradability and creating disposable tools it is certainly Giulio Iacchetti.

In 2000, together with Matteo Ragni, he designed the Moscardino, a hybrid half fork and half spoon, manufactured by Pandora Design using MaterBi, a starch-based bio-plastic commonly used for organic rubbish collection bags.

With this simple, yet ingenious idea, Iacchetti won the prestigious Compasso d’Oro Award and became instantly world-famous as the first designer to use a bio-plastic for a consciously designed product.

The Grom spoon is not a remake of the Moscardino. “It seems like a simple thing to do, yet the project truly presented us with great challenges,” says Iacchetti.

“MaterBi is very influenced by heat changes and these reach extreme ranges in the case of ice-cream, which is very cold, obviously, yet consumed in hot times.” Furthermore, the spoon needed to be stiff enough to support the weight of the ice-cream and yet also maintain a certain degree of flexibility in order to avoid breaking.

“Ideally, we could have made it a lot thicker and there would have been no problem,” says Iacchetti. “Yet – contrary to what happens when you use plastic – with bio-plastics, cost is an issue and we needed to use as little material as possible.

"So I came up with a C and an H shaped arm for the spoon, which strengthens it yet also limits the amount of MaterBi required for the manufacturing. It was an engineering and a design challenge.”

It is refreshing to listen to Iacchetti talking about his projects. He is very ecologically motivated, yet miles from the stereotype of the ecowarrior. Last year, the Triennale in Milano celebrated his work with an exhibition, whose title said it all: Disobedient Objects.

“Through design,” says Iacchetti, “it is possible to feed doubts into people and doubts are part of the tension that guides my design process”. For this reason, he uses form not only to support function but also to communicate a meaning, and to make the user think.

In order to convey the message that water is precious, he designed an ice maker shaped as an ingot for Fratelli Guzzini, and named it H2O. To give more relevance to the southern hemisphere of the world, he created for Palomar an odd globe.

“It’s called Odnom (meaning world, mondo, spelt back to front) and it is issued from a mirrored perception of the earth,” he explains. “Traditionally, and against all logic, our planet is shown with the north overshadowing the south. By placing a mirror at the base of the sphere, I provided the areas that are hardly ever looked at with a certain visual equality.”

It can be perceived as a design stunt, yet Iacchetti’s intention is clear: “What one hopes is that an idea will dawn in people’s brains: that after all we are all the same, and co-exist on the same soil, wherever we are.”

Despite such statements, Giulio Iacchetti is no dreamer; he’s a visionary yet his feet are firmly set on the ground. “These objects will certainly not change the world,” he says. “Yet I feel that it is a designer’s duty to provide what he (or she) creates with an immaterial value that goes beyond their mere role as an object.”

In fact, his intelligence and credibility lie in his capacity to compromise. For instance, he has recently designed a floor brush for MartiniSpa, an Italian manufacturer of homecare products, for mass distribution. He did not use biodegradable polymers or wood, but a mixture of plastic and sawdust.

“In order to achieve the price that was needed to be competitive in the large distribution, plastic was a must. And since we had to use it forcefully, I decided to at least limit the impact by dramatically reducing the quantity. Through mixing sawdust, the result was excellent: a perceived wood feeling, and less than half the material used!”

Whatever the message, and however socially focused the meaning might be, Iacchetti’s projects have always responded to the primary focuses of good design: form, function and attention to manufacturing issues with regard to economical and ecological issues.

No wonder he is well liked by so many companies, from world-class design brands such as Foscarini through to large supermarket chains like Coop. “I am an industrial designer. Hence, what I do is conceived to be serially reproduced,” he states.

“I love looking at objects from everyday life and thinking of ways in which they could be redesigned with a new consciousness. Many things that surround us in our homes, offices and cities were conceived following a practical requirement. I see it as my job to enrich them with an added value,” such as better functionality, aesthetic or meaning. “Ideally, all three of them together,” he says.

Contrary to many other successful designers, Iacchetti is someone who is definitely not scared of competition. He has recently launched, together with the Design Library in Milano, a series of conferences in which three young designers under thirty-five have the possibility of showcasing their work.

This is perhaps the reason why he thrives in creative direction projects, like the one for Il Coccio, an Italian humidifier brand, launched a couple of months ago. For Il Coccio, Iacchetti created a team – including Alberto Meda, Marco Ferreri, Denis Santachiara, Patricia Urquiola, Fernando Brizio, Monica Forster and Alfredo Häberli – inviting them to design a more contemporary version of the humidifier.

An often unregarded object, “yet its role is so important in making the air in our homes more breathable and healthy,” says Iacchetti.

His Eureka project, developed for Coop supermarkets in 2005, was one of the first design experiments focused on joining together young creative minds (those of the team that Iacchetti creatively directed) and large distributors of household products.

“These are the people who truly can change things. Do you think bio-plastic would be as expensive as it is now if huge chains decided to go for it?” Many of the original concepts finally made it into production in 2008.

Pragmatic yet also inventive, ecologically motivated yet also economically conscious, Iacchetti’s work provides us with an example of how design can be simultaneously visionary and practical, radical and intellectual, yet also democratic. In other words, how it can truly change the world, albeit little by little, through small everyday actions and choices. 


 

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