Italian Brand Museum: Italian Design As a Work of Art
Beautiful, important, precious: the most prestigious corporate brands exhibited in a gallery.
Just as Vespa and the Cinquecento has motorised Italy to become fetish objects, in the rest of the world the little man of Bialetti has spread the culture of home made coffee in Italy and elsewhere. As Brillo Boxes shifted from the context of posters to art gallery, through the genius of communicative of Andy Warhol, the trademark of Lagostina cookware, designed by Osvaldo Cavandoli, also became a cartoon-character testimonial in gags that entertained and still continue to do so for later generations. Amoco, Bic, Lucky Strike, Campari, Marmite and many other trademarks and brands have not only become idols, followed by shopping obsessed people but have also been artistically reproduced and reinterpreted in a pop expressionist style by many artists who became famous for relocating in the field of contemporary visual arts historical brands as testimonials to Consumerism and mass lifestyles; to the point at which many products no longer need to show themselves in their own specificity and product sector because Mr. Brand is more than enough.
However in various vocational and training institutions which aim to build the profile of new graphic artists,(once defined in this way but now referred to as graphic, corporate or industrial designers), the history of brands and different socio-cultural influences are still studied and developed in directions not orientated towards commercial marketing.
In the middle, between behavioural science and real need, as a fundamental element of the entrepreneurial culture, the brand continues to be one of the most fascinating elements which is still the subject of the most sectorial social science studies and is also a launcher of new trends, despite the still persistent debate in which a brand in itself cannot be or should not be accepted as an element close to new form of artistic communication but only and exclusively as a strategic method to force the subliminal impulse purchase of one or more products.
However, despite the strange paradoxical jargon, graphic artists have always contributed not only to the evolution of a new species of shoppers but also to a new approach by ordinary people to new trends in artistic culture.
How is it, however, possible, in the New Society of Consumption in which almost everything is travelling at such a quick speed that it burns up or almost, to change the mentality that values only the ephemeral appearance and that disadvantages the historical and aesthetic memory that also confirms what is happening around our perceptions?
By the way, is it really true that a brand or trademark, according to common cliché-statements, can reveal a spirit connected only to a guarantee of commercial exclusivity resulting from class-conscious ostentations or belonginess to a certain target-groups?
In answer to this and in confirmation of the artistic and cultural value of one or more brands, the Italian Brand Museum tells us about representative objects, not only as ephemeral and occult desires, but as evidence that have greatly contributed to a cultural and behavioral progress in which signs, symbols and messages are recognized today throughout the world, to the point that the artists themselves are involved and are now permanently exhibited in major galleries and national contemporary art museums.
So, today, the brand has an on line Museum, completely dedicated to it, where everything is brilliantly catalogued, reviewed and exhibited. An amazing virtual project created by the professionalism and desires of four highly experienced technical graphic designers. Exclusively for Tablet 2.0, we have interviewed Raffaele Fontanella, Curator of the Italian Brand Museum.
1) Raffaele, thank you for your participation. Briefly, talking about a brand, what exactly is it? Is it a work of art or an ephemeral symbol aimed at selling as many products as possible?
R. F. Both; I mean, principally, the brand is the son of a project of a synthesis which aims to make distinctive a product, an event or a service. Also, all design projects must (or should) combine functionality with an aesthetic sense. If the brand has a great communicative charge it becomes universally famous, then it tends to lose its distinctive capabilities and becomes a work of art, beautiful to look at , no matter whether it is branding a shampoo or a bicycle!
2) How much have brands, from the beginning of their history, affected the behaviour and habits of ordinary people?
R.F. Certainly, the distinctive role of the brand is due to the development of marketing in the world of United States and Europe since the postwar period. Companies had to keep in step with the changing tastes of consumers and, especially their competition. Therefore the role of the graphic designer was important to "create value" and to make distinctive the identity of a company compared to others. This has affected the behavior and habits of consumers because the purchase phase was determined by the power of communication and the diffusion of the brand; My son (when he was 6 years old) preferred Agip stations when I used to fill up with petrol because he loved (unconsciously) its six-legged dog
3) From all these aesthetic elements you have made a museum. Why was there a need for a museum of the (Italian) brand, are there already too many museums? In short, if Andy Warhol and other artists have boosted the popularity of brands and logos in various art galleries, what do you expect from such an idea yourself as a manufacturer of signs, in some way related to new desires?
R.F. If I think only of the world's great brands, I find it hard not to remember many Italians ones. Italy is everywhere in the fields of creativity, design and taste. Usually I am asked whether Italian brands can compete internationally; I reply by saying a few simple names: Ferrari, Nutella, Armani, Benetton, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Campari, Costa Crociere, Barilla, Illy, Eni, Pirelli; are theseenough? Every time I work for a company on the realization of its entire visual identity, from the brand to the company literature, I am always strongly inspired by the great Italian designers who, over time, left an indelible mark on global graphic design, for example Vignelli, Griggs , Noorda. And just think about the case of Olivetti, which the world considers as one of the first examples of corporate identity. These values have driven Italian artisan and industrial production to excel in international business competition. Also the Italian product has a significant quality of realisation, attention to detail, imaginative design and form, so the brand should equal such excellence. The Italian Brand Museum collects the stories of the graphics of major Italian companies.
4) Today it seems that, without a logo or brand, contemporary society does not really recognize us for who we are or what we can express. Why does the brand or trademark itself, nowadays, exercise such a strong power?
R.F. Surely, in the capitalist economy, every entrepreneur wants to excel in order to achieve an increase in sales; to do so, requires a distinctive visual identity to make his product or service concrete and of higher "value". The absence of a brand (or competing with a poor image) will determine, in advance in the potential consumer a low profile reputation and will push him to prefer the product of the competition.
5) Real values and characteristics of each product / service or graphic design? Which really wins?
R.F. "In media stat virtus" said the Latins! A good item with a good visual appeal is the optimal winner; this mix increases its intrinsic value. For example: there are companies that have a good product but with a poor layout and companies, on the contrary, which have produced a lower middle product but a high perceived value because it is with conveyed with incessant communication. In the long term, consumers who are looking for quality will choose products with best intrinsic characteristics . Usually graphic design has exactly this dominant purpose, to increase the value of a company or its product; this will contribute to increased sales.
6) Why a Museum of the Italian brand ? Today in Italy there are many brands from abroad prevailing in the national market. Does your Museum want to be a protest to confirm the supremacy of Made in Italy?
R.F. "Made in Italy" was born in the Eighties as a process of protection and revalorisation of the product to combat the falsification of the artisan Italian production. Those who look for "Made in Italy" are searching for quality, the quality that only hand craftsmanship can give to the product. The four 'A's’ of Italian produce are universally known: “ Abbigliamento, Agroalimentare, Automobili e Arredamento” - Clothing, food, cars and furniture”; f ields in which Italy is not afraid of competition but excels. To buy a "Made in Italy" dress is a status; to eat a D.O.P Italian cheese means eating well, an healthy and quality product, just as driving a Ferrari is the dream of every person. Certainly it is necessary to monitor the market constantly for counterfeit produce (for example the Parmesan for Parmigiano Reggiano) because such practices distract the consumer from the true quality product. For these reasons, that is trying to improve the promotion of our beautiful "Made in Italy", me and my business partners have, since April 2014, materialised the idea to create the Italian Brand Museum (www.museodelmarchioitaliano.it), a virtual museum that aims to be a catalyzer, tracking the historical iconography of Italian industrial and graphic design, that contributes to its profundity and its promotion. The museum shows a wide visual documentation, based on detailed research and historical graphics, about the evolution, the change and the redesign of the main Italian brands; it also presents an in depth description of the visual history of "Made in Italy" , from which emerge the oscillations of taste, styles and trends.
7) What are the characteristics of a perfect brand? Which brand or brands is really worthy of being exhibited in your museum?
R.F. In the museum there are several galleries of trademarks; there are two main ones: a gallery with a documented graphic history of restyling through the ages and another gallery of newly designed brands of national significance and of brands waiting for the reconstruction of graphic history. Considering that a brand is designed to be accessible over time, it should be on top of fashion and trends that are, by definition, intended to last a limited time. Though trademarks (brands) are subjected to physiological restyling for several reasons, their transformation in the past was due to the change of artistic styles to which the company or the graphic designer conformed. The Italian brands of the last century were influenced by the Art Nouveau style, the Twentieth century and the Fascist styles, as in the Ansaldo brand of 1938. Then, when the realization of an advertising poster was given to a famous poster artist, he interpreted the same brand with his own style. Without graphic limitations a company could have some "original"trademarks, as with Campari. These originals could get lost and, in the reconstruction, the copyists could add or subtract, graphic elements as they liked, changing significantly historical brands, such as the Plasmon brand. Let’s not forget that the wooden cliché, at the dawn of modern typography, did not ensure the constant iteration of the brand because they were physically liable to alteration and to rounding off of the sharp edges because of the pressure and the specific material; so the graceful characters of the vintage trademarks have become typographic sticks with obvious dystonia.
8) A museum worthy of its name has always had future projects. Can you imagine an exhibition of the Italian brand in the UK? Possibly in another museum or art gallery, of course.
R.F. Our operation to collect the histories of brands is well known in Italy. Now, as a future project, we have to export abroad an exhibition of Italian brands to make foreigners aware of the graphic histories of the "Bel Paese"; and why not start with Britain? From the beginning of the profession of graphics, English graphics was (and still is) a fundamental point of reference; now we can show the British people how the graphics of our country is a perfect nemesis!
9) Perhaps the more obvious question: What is your favorite Italian brand?
R. F. All! Am I partisan? Maybe I am. It usually happens to people who love their land!