Paola Antonelli 


Antonelli, who was a juror of this year’s Lexus Design Award competition, discusses the important of large corporations investing in design and why elegance matters:


I’ve been involved in dozens of awards since the beginning of my career. Some have been more thoughtful than others. What I love about the Lexus Design Awards is how serious they are—and involved. Let me just tell you about the process: Last November, we met in Tokyo with all the jurors and the mentors. Hakuhodo, the agency that helps Lexus put together the awards, had already selected the finalists down to a few hundred from 1,700 entries. They then presented them. The jurors distilled them down to—I wish I remembered the exact number—around 15 or 20, I think. The four mentors put dibs on their favorite three designers, and then negotiated. After that, Hakuhodo and Lexus went back to the designers to vet them and make sure each project was real, and to make sure the designers were available. Very often, when you have competitions, they tend to be either about a finished product or a concept. They don’t go from research to development.

I’m really touched by how advanced this year’s works [for the Lexus Design Awards] are. They’re not rudimentary students projects, and all the designers are very young—which is not an issue to me. I mean, I wish there were 75-year-olds entering, but for some reason, 75-year-olds don’t feel compelled. Or they’re shy about it. Maybe we should do a competition that sets the minimum applicant age at 75. Anyway, it’s really quite touching to see the investment and thoughtfulness given to developing these projects.

As far as I am concerned, it’s very clear that design is a fundamental part of a companies’ success. Especially when the company manufactures products, but also in general; design is a commitment to humanity. Design is one of the most complete foods one can eat. It has technology, marketing research, and functionality, but it also has a sense of responsibility toward the environment and humankind. Any company that wants to produce a commitment to the world, whether it’s in energy or watches, had better show a commitment to design. When it’s a company that manufactures products, design becomes more important, because it becomes part of the bottom line.

I always say that even though I consider design to be very serious, I believe that elegance in form is a basic human right. I believe that when you make a product and make it elegant, with an aesthetic intention, you’re just doing the right thing. When you make something that’s aesthetically inelegant and ugly, you’re in the wrong. Even just from a superficial formalist viewpoint, elegance is a sign of respect toward your buyer. Elegance is something that people are increasingly demanding. Even though you may want to fault Apple and other companies as long as you like, they have heightened the threshold of acceptance of products for people. They have had an amazingly good influence. Just in terms of expectations, I don’t that think things should look a particular way—even punk to me is a form of aesthetics I appreciate tremendously. I just want to see that the manufacturers and designers dedicated time and thought to how the object communicates to its form. Any company that markets itself—and that has an image campaign and wants to think about the future—should think about design.

There are several companies that have made design into really a flagship declaration. Interestingly, it happens more in the East than it does in the West. Lexus is an example, and let’s not forget about what Samsung is doing—it’s all about that. In general, not only amongst corporations but also politicians, the value of design is acknowledged more in the East than in the West. The West has to catch up. Of course, there are exceptions. There are bastions of design countries, like the Netherlands and in Scandinavia. England used to be—it cut all the funds right now, which is crazy—but the people there still like and feel design. In Italy, politicians are starting to catch up, but people have always loved design there. If you think of multinational corporations as pulverous nations, the powers that be are slowly but surely recognizing the amazing political and economical force that design is. They’re starting to invest in it, and rightly so.” —As told to Spencer Bailey



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