Interview: How To Make It In The Design Industry with Paolo Zani

Interview: How To Make It In The Design Industry with Paolo Zani

Paolo Zani is an Italian designer, currently living and working in Milan. What we find absolutely fascinating about his works is the fact that they cover a wide variety of design fields, from lighting and furniture to kitchen ware and even mobile phone models. And as this was not enough, in 1992 he established ‘Warli’, a company which produces contemporary carpets. We decided to interview him and find out what is hiding beneath all that work. He accepted the challenge and here are the results:

  • Freshome: What determined your passion for design? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.
  • Paolo Zani: The way to go was not a sudden decision. Since I was little I always liked to make things, objects. I could spend hours alone playing with tools, plywood, etc. I was very curious on how things were made. The step towards starting designing them was quite coherent to such attraction, when I finally became more aware of the aesthetic concepts, technologies, cost issues, and so on.
  • Freshome: Can you remember your first design project? Describe it a bit, whether it is a gizmo you worked at as a little kid or something that was sold at a large scale.
  • Paolo Zani: My very first project was a small ladies headphones set for walkman, designed for a competition sponsored by the British company ‘Ross Electronics’. I won the 1st prize and the company decided to put it into production. I was 22 years old, so happy and excited by the prize, that I did not even care about the changes they did to my design without even consulting me. This was also my first mistake!
  • Freshome: What field of design are you most interested in? Do your works have anything to do with it ? (We are asking this because not many designers do what they actually want).
  • Paolo Zani: Frankly speaking, most of my products are exactly what I wanted to do. Very few times the client has pushed me towards something that did not fully satisfy me. If I have accepted it was mainly for cost issues, in order to reduce the final price. Basically I like most designing products for the home or office environment. This could be lights, table or kitchenware or home accessories. Not happy with this, quite a few years ago I started my own brand, ‘Warli’ for contemporary handmade carpets.
  • Freshome: What is your favourite book/magazine on design? How about your favourite site?
  • Paolo Zani: I buy quite a lot of design books, but not necessarily on existing products. Mainly they’re about things that lead to something else, to inspire other things. My favourite book on design are basically 2: an old edition of the ‘Radiant City’ from Le Corbusier which was gifted to me by an old friend. I still find it very contemporary and inspiring. The other book is ‘Designing Design’ from Kenya Hara for the clear views and visions about design..
  • Freshome: What inspires you?
  • Paolo Zani: Music. basically it is music. I like to listen to my favourite music or authors and try to translate the same clarity or ‘sounds’ to products.
  • Freshome: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a designer? And the most rewarding one?
  • Paolo Zani: Probably the most frustrating aspect is when you know that you’ve done a good project, with innovative and interesting issues, but the counterpart is probably the wrong one. In these cases it is basically a question of wavelenght and there’s not much one can do about it. Most of the times it is not a question of whether your projects are good or wrong, it is mostly a question of working with the right client. The most rewading one is whatever comes totally unexpected, like a prize, a publication, your product displayed in a shop that you really like, knowing that somebody will buy and will probably be happy with it.
  • Freshome: From your point of view, is design an art or a science?
  • Paolo Zani: None of the 2. Art is something very personal, a product is something whose development requires an idea, a designer, a manufacturer, different points of view. Science is another thing, to me it has got to do with something which is fully objective, recognizeable. Design is not like that, it does require a certain sharing of values, taste, aesthetics, but none of them is fully objective.
  • Freshome: Tell us something unusual that happened in your career.
  • Paolo Zani: This was probably the meeting with a man in India, Mr. Munir Ahmad who was the export manager of a cooperative society of carpets weavers. He took me around small villages on his scooter to see the production of carpets. I did not know anything about it and at the end of the day I was simply fascinated by that. A few weeks after I decided to start my own collection of contemporary handmade carpets ‘Warli’. I still think about that day which gave a new hint to my work. After some years I have met one more person, Ms. Sarita Sarna. She has joined us and through her I have known the work of more people, a wider perspective of what can be done with carpets, different weavings, materials and a great support for a further leap ahead.
  • Freshome: Let’s say you entered a contest. You have to come up with a design for the first house on the Moon built for extra-terrestrial living. How would your project look like?
  • Paolo Zani: Difficult to say, I never thought of something like that before. I would probably think on how to make it as comfortable as possible, considering that outdoor life will not be possible, at least if compared to the one we live on Earth. I would probably think of it like a big ‘winter garden’ where to grow plants and trees.
  • Freshome: If design were a product, what would it be and how would you design it?
  • Paolo Zani: A bicycle. I love bikes, they are a great combination of high and low technologies, aestetics, personality and they are personal objects. I never designed a bike before and I would love doing it. It doesn’t matter if it will be a city or a race bike.
  • Freshome: If you had no limits (money, resources), what would you create?
  • Paolo Zani: I would not know, creating without limitations is not so exciting. It is like a life full of money and nothing to do for the whole day.
  • Freshome: Share something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas.
  • Paolo Zani: That design is not only about doing extraordinary, fancy, design victim, expensive products. We are surrounded by ordinary, ugly products, manufactured in millions of copies, which deserve a better design and that would probably give us a better daily life.
  • Freshome: What advice do you have for young designers or architects reading this interview?
  • Paolo Zani: To be yourself at any cost.  Being a designer can be very frustrating or very satisfying. Since it is a very complicated job, i would recommend a young designer to do the best that he can according to his/her actual conditions. Be patient, create your chances. Even if you feel like a dwarf, you can always jump on a designer giant’s head and have a deeper perspective, and good luck.


  • Mikle August 9, 2010 at 20:19 PMLogin to Reply →

    cool , real, cool

  • A Mannan August 30, 2010 at 06:20 AMLogin to Reply →

    dear mr paolozani
    your definition of querry is as perfect as you are.
    a good lesson to young designer.
    i feel proud to share moment with you.