Timeless objects, originated by mixing innovation and originality, remain in the collective memory. So how are design icon pieces conceived and, most of all, how do we recognise them? Italian furniture maker Zanotta asked two architects and a design writer their opinion…

Embracing 60 years of design history, the Zanotta brand includes more than 30 design icons, hosted in major art and design museums worldwide. Most of the pieces are still in production and tell us about life, ideas and the spirit of their time. They also trace a path, highlighting a long tradition of values between industrial design and manufacturing innovation in Italy.

Why is it that some household objects become symbols of our lives, icons surviving time and trends? Italian architect Stefano Casciani believes that without entrepreneurs who are willing to support new territories in design, it will become harder to find truly iconic pieces.

“Finding new iconic objects is not easy”, remarks architect Stefano Casciani. ” These “evergreen” objects have lived and still live a glorious time, thanks to the support in terms of investments, sales and communication given by their manufacturers. People who kept on believing and making Is there a recipe to make – design, manufacture, sell – an icon? I can imagine an ideal mixing of: cleverness of the object and its function, formal appeal, intrinsic usability, staying current, originality, and invention”.

So what turns an object into an icon? Laura Traldi, journalist and blogger, believes it’s the aptitude to create an emotional connection with the user. “This connection happens when an object (thanks to its shape, function and decoration) becomes the undisputed partner and spokesperson of an era,” she explains. “The Sacco or the Blow by Zanotta are not only armchairs, but manifestos of a new way of living our daily life”.

Patrizia Scarzella, architect and journalist, agrees. “There are no ‘best practices’ to turn an object into an icon… it’s probably a good conjunction of factors that with the aid of time help to generate that ‘something’ immediately perceptible, an ‘extra-ordinary’ image that some products have and others do not. Some designers have this expressive power, this magical touch, this ability to transform their creations into icons. Achille Castiglioni was one of them and the Mezzadro stool (designed by Achille and his brother, Pier Giacomo, in 1957) is with no doubt an icon, as well as the Juicy Salif fruit-squeezer designed by Philippe Starck“.

“It may also happen that a product becomes an icon because it is able to grasp, with its amazing expressive language and in the right moment, the hidden instances of the public”, remarks Patrizia. “The Sacco armchair, for example, is one of these cases. Or more recently, the Mac by Apple. The coincidence can facilitate the mass spreading of an iconic image. The Sacco, for example, received great visibility through TV thanks to a transmission with Paolo Villaggio in the late 1960s. However nowadays the mass of information and images can play an unfavourable role. What once used to be advantageous now becomes a boomerang. As Italo Calvino said in the late 80s: “If our brain is bombed with images, it is like a garbage dump where it is more and more difficult for an image to gain importance”. “So consequently, perhaps it is now harder for a product to become a long-lasting icon.”