Housewares Design Awards

2006 Best in Category: Food Preparation Electrics

Alessi USA, Inc.

Electronic Kitchen Scale

“We will never ask the public what it wants. We want to surprise the public.”

That declaration from Alessi VP Jan Vingerhoets sums up the design philosophy of Alessi USA Inc., a supplier of Italian-made housewares products known for their high design.

For creative reasons, Alessi, as policy, does not work with internal designers.

“We believe we are far more creative hiring external designers,” said Vingerhoets. “Our aim is to bring the best design there is around the world. You can’t do it with internal designers.

“If we work with external designs, we are free to choose who we think is the best for that project. We are not linked to a certain direction that is a reflection of an in-house design team.”

The company now has more than 3,000 SKUs in its repertoire and works with more than 200 outside designers, Vingerhoets said.

Stefano Giovannoni designed the kitchen scales, among other products, for Alessi.

Giovannoni has made a name for himself with whimsical colorful items made out of plastic.

“He is the most successful designer with plastic items,” said Vingerhoets. “They fly off the shelf.”

Among his successes in this area is a toothpick holder “that you wouldn’t recognize,” said Vingerhoets. It is shaped like a small rabbit in a hat. “You pull it by the ear and the toothpicks come up.”

As a reaction to his association with plastic, Giovannoni set out to do something very different. He began to work with stainless steel, designing pots and pots for Alessi. This line was “amazingly successful,” Vingerhoets said.

“He showed both sides. He was able to work with plastic whimsy, as well as more serious stainless steel products, like pots and pans.”

Word from on high came down that Giovannoni, his credentials as a topflight designer secured, was next to design stainless steel electrical appliances for Alessi. The collection would include the kitchen scale, a juicer and hand vac.

As usually, Giovannoni was given free reign in how he designed the products. This is the way it goes at Alessi. “Alessi is pretty extraordinary in the freedom we give our designers,” Vingerhoets said. “They have the freedom to express themselves.”

There are some borders, however. “We ask them to make the nicest looking, best functioning products around.”

The sleek stainless steel scale that eventually came out of Giovannoni’s studio is the archetypical Alessi product. “Nobody who looks at it thinks it is a scale,” Vingerhoets said.

“We have reached our aim if people see it and say, ‘It is really beautiful but what is it?’ With the scale, unless you press the button and see the LCD lighting, you don’t know what it is.”

Alessi calls this the “surprise effect,” and it strives to create it with each and every one of its products.

All this focus on design, however, does not mean function is forgotten. To the contrary, Vingerhoets noted that it is actually function that comes first at Alessi.

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