Post industrial

What is the role of the designer in the crucial phase of passage to the digital age? Through some of his new products, Marc Sadler narrates the evolution of research that makes technology a means of identifying new opportunities: for products and business


by Maddalena Padovani


After the feast of images and proposals during Design Week in April, it is almost therapeutic to talk with Marc Sadler. It makes it possible to get back to the concrete dimension of doing, in the discussion of design and innovation.

Marc Sadler ‘is’ design, at least design seen in its most classical sense as a discipline that brings together, in the industrial process (but also elsewhere) all the factors required to give the final product quality contents: technique, performance, aesthetics, market. This is demonstrated by a career that began in the early 1970s with the invention of the first ski boots made of entirely recyclable thermoplastic material, and has then continued in various industrial sectors, leading to four Compasso d’Oro awards.

This year Sadler has presented a variegated series of new products that reflect his ability to experiment with materials, to contaminate technologies, to trigger knowledge and innovations belonging to different spheres in production processes, revealing unexpected possibilities. “I am always on the lookout for new opportunities,” he says. “This is why I prefer to work with young, not yet established companies, where I can test new paths, daring to get away from preset schemes.”

Unlike the works of the most famous contemporary designers, his projects do not all have a recognizable trademark style. Their distinctive feature is innovation, never pursued through grandstanding, and not always easy to track down; it often happens upstream from the product, in a logic developed to change the vision and positioning of a company, rather than to guarantee the commercial success of an individual model.

To try to identify a distinctive criterion in the various projects of Marc Sadler, we might therefore select that of the material with which they are made. Like the metal, or more precisely aluminium, which is the common denominator of the furnishings designed for Da A, the Byobu radiator produced by Antrax IT, the Bank luggage line for FPM Fabbrica Pelletterie Milano, but also the Raqam lighting system created for Masiero Group.

As Sadler explains, each project represents a challenge in its own right. “With Da A, for example, we wanted to create something that would reflect the remarkable industrial know-how of the company from which this young, sophisticated brand is derived (Alcar of Lecce, active in the field of heavy machinery), while at the same time representing something different from the offerings presently found on the market.

The most emblematic product from this viewpoint is the Rock chair: an object that gets noticed, with just three legs and a seat riveted to the frame, suggesting the Eiffel Tower or the fuselage of an old airplane. A sort of Prouvé-like sculpture, whose ‘post-industrial’ image comes from complex construction and the combination of many metalworking techniques.

The goal was to find a technical solution that would make the production of the chair feasible and sustainable.” Often behind the conceptual simplicity of a product there are advanced technologies and sophisticated digital programs. This is the case of the Box, also designed for Da A: a sheet-metal cube in pre-cut aluminium, with a thickness of 4 mm, which the user can bend, assemble and shape freely, in single or multiple solutions; a product with an young concept, but marked by content of great quality.

The same sheet metal, but previously bent, is used for the Flat shelving, paced by a rectangular module that creates compositional solutions, in a game of full and empty zones, for an evocative graphic effect. Recyclable aluminium is also used for the Bank luggage collection designed for FPM Fabbrica Pelletterie Milano. Again, this is a product that draws on the past, and an idea of understatement in travel; the extruded structure, however, is absolutely innovative (like that of transport crates) and brings a double distinction: it is incredibly sturdy and can be made at sustainable costs entirely in Italy.

Metal is also a material of invention in two other innovative projects by Marc Sadler. In the Byobu radiator for Antrax IT it gives rise to two slender parts with a squared form, almost like two gigantic knife blades that rotate around a central pivot, taking on different forms and revealing new functions, such as a hook for hanging towels and bathrobes.

Unlike most of the new radiators, the product does not stand out for its design – which in fact states its nature as an extruded industrial object, also thanks to the magical absence of adjustment valves – but for the interaction it generates with the user.

Finally, in the Raqam lighting system created for Masiero Group, metal becomes the structure of a concept focused on maximum personalization: thanks to a set of 7 parts, the system can become a Venetian chandelier, but also a composition on the wall or ceiling or in the air, to extend with unlimited linear modular repetitions.