The digital boom, the pandemic and #iorestoacasa, optimistic entrepreneurs, designers in crisis and a dearth of heroes, Daniele Lago discusses his vision of a rapidly changing world.
“D’you know what they say where I come from? You can only start swimming once the water comes up to your bottom: crises can produce great things: they unleash creative power.”
Putting to one side his usual enthusiasm, the data and end-of-year figures which – despite everything – were positive, Daniele Lago tends to talk in metaphors. Calling a spade a spade.
Formerly a professional volleyball player, the youngest of 10 children, born in 1972, a typical ‘youth’ – “one of the problems with Italy is that we ought to be young when we really are,” the CEO & Head of Design of LAGO SpA, has turned the family firm in Padua into an international business with more than 200 employees and turnover of over 40 million euros.
“Let me start by saying that design generates social transformation which also, but not only, includes the digital world. I fell in love with it – madly, he stresses – because it’s a discipline that gives you an all-round vision of the world, it is capable of giving sense and meaning to things and a reason for their existence.”
Great loves aside, digital has had a powerful impact on our lives, thanks to the pandemic. Rather like a romantic descending on Tinder.
When lockdown began, we invested in innovative digital services and solutions, such as digital consultancy and online configurators. There were over 3.5 million visits to our site, 40% more than in 2019, while contacts rose 85% in a year. As it happens, we were already geared up, we were ready to listen. It was a more accelerated response to an ongoing trend.
2020 was an annus horribilis, how did you cope?
After maintaining complete silence for ten days while we got to grips with what was going on, perhaps even a bit longer, we started taking soundings. Design taught me a lot about this, listening in particular, not just talking. These are times that call for great empathy, you have to immerse yourself in the situation and get a handle on what’s going on.
What about afterwards? How did you pick yourselves up?
We activated our retail network, 400-500 shops all over the world. We started from Italy, our core business, with our site acting as collector. Then we started to make digital calls. We put clients in touch with designers, given that we were all stuck inside the four walls of our home, hashtag #iorestoacasa. Then when we opened the shops again, the data rebounded, with over 80% of presences.
I know you’re an incurable optimist. But there must have been times when you were pessimistic too.
I do get despondent, and how, but I’ve got the power of the team, of purpose on my side. I don’t just work to make money, obviously that too, but in order to bolster Lago for the future – and I’m also a killer. But, if there’s one thing I’m proud of it’s the cohesive, strong team that we’ve put together over many years. It’s not just Daniele Lago and his company any more. I have a vision: the future is a train with several drivers, I’ve never been in thrall to the notion of the conquering hero.
It’s a poor world that needs heroes. They all come to a bad end, anyway.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us it’s that we need to organize collective powers and intelligence. What I think is missing in politics is precisely a lack of vision. Do you know what they say in Spain? To make a really good paella you need seven people arguing over it. In that situation, it’s crucial to understand the others.
The factory (of design) should be serving man, not man serving the factory, to paraphrase Adriano Olivetti. They call you an enlightened entrepreneur, you often use the word ‘culture.’ How difficult is it to deal with a country like Italy?
I don’t know if I’m an entrepreneur, I am someone who tries to get things done. I say this with humility, I am driven to try and understand the things I can change, but also the things I can’t. I’m driven to evolve in this sense, the real secret is to let go of the things we cannot change. Culture - and I say this as someone who didn’t even finish high school - joins up the dots and builds meanings, it makes you want to find out who you are and what job you were born to do. It is always closely bound up with being human. Then, as a country, it’s in our DNA, from the Renaissance onwards. Even though the contemporary has arrived and muddled everything.
It’s called capitalism, the concept of putting profit ahead of everything else.
Let’s say that the pandemic has brought pre-existing problems to the fore. I am convinced there’s still a lot of good around, and I would put the spotlight on the Salone del Mobile.
What should we expect?
We all need to believe in the Salone, because sometimes we need signs of courage, we can’t address the challenges by starting with what doesn’t work. Of course, it’s always easy to point the finger at the politicians, they are just the reflection of the electorate. We need to flood the ecosystem with confidence and optimism. This is where the train with several drivers comes in, and it’s endlessly powerful.
September’s not far off. What will Lago do?
We will be very focused on our vision of the future, on circularity, we will have lots of new products. Having skipped two editions, we have worked hard on generating new things, and on living and bedroom spaces, and we will approach the Salone rather in the manner of a renaissance. The Salone is inclusive, it’s an attraction at global level, we have to keep up this approach. We can’t just concentrate on our own backyards, we have become colossal innovators thanks not least to the parochialism that has stirred up a lot of competition. If we learn to pull together even more in Italy we will become even stronger global players.
So, what’s the strategy?
At this point in time we need to pull together, it’s vital that we realise that we are part of a design ecosystem, and that its most authoritative affirmation is the Salone (and the Frizalone). We need to make sure we keep the focus on this global event that speaks Italian in a cultural sense. We are going back to feeling with our fingertips, and we don’t need Einstein to tell us that a Zoom meeting is not like a real-life one. Visiting a physical stand is not the same as one that appears on a digital platform. We need the Salone so that we can go back to finding out what excites us the most.
In 1951 Elio Vittorini suggested the word ‘Gettoni’ to Einaudi as the title for a fiction series: “I am suggesting this title because of the many meanings of the word: a telephone token (and therefore a communication tool), a games counter, and also a bud.” Who would you pass the ‘gettone’ for this interview on to, to continue the conversation?
So many names come to mind. What if I continued the conversation that I initiated with Barbara Minetto of Magis?
[Text by Francesca Esposito for SPEAKER'S CORNER of Salone del Mobile. Milano]