The most applauded exhibitions, the most enlightened entrepreneurs, the revolutionary technologies. The events, characters and discoveries that left their mark

The year is coming to an end and it's time to take stock. What will we remember about 2023? What are the events that have marked the world of design? What are the exhibitions, discoveries and characters that have made history? Let's remember the most significant moments, because, as the Athenian historian Thucydides said, we need to know the past to understand the present and orient the future.

The exhibitions that marked the year

One of the most applauded exhibitions of 2023 is Echoes: 50 years of iMaestri, curated by Patricia Urquiola and Federica Sala to celebrate the 50 yearsof the Cassina iMaestri collection. A breathtaking, powerful installation, staged during the FuoriSalone in the Palazzo Broggi bank vault, open to the public for the first time, with Cassina archive pieces displayed on safety deposit boxes. Fun fact: initially the curators wanted to set up the exhibition in the red metro of Milan - a masterpiece of design - changing the set every night, 'madness', says Federica Sala with hindsight.

Triennale Milano has thought of enriching 2023 with a busy calendar of events on the occasion of its centenary, with significant exhibitions such as Ettore Sottsass. The word. (we talked about it here) edited by Marco Sammicheli, director of the Design Museum;Angelo Mangiarotti. When structures take shape, edited by Fulvio Irace; andGabriele Basilico. My cities (read more here), the first exhibition dedicated (finally) to the great Italian photographer ten years after his death, open until 11 February 2024 between Palazzo Reale and Triennale Milano, curated by Giovanna Calvenzi, head of the Gabriele Basilico archive, supported by Matteo Balduzzi for the part of the exhibition that takes place in the Triennale, and by Filippo Maggia as regards the Palazzo Reale.

There are many, many exhibitions in 2023 that deserve a mention.

For reasons of space, we add only three more (forgive the others): the first,Alberto Meda. Tension and lightness (read the article),until 24 March 2024 at the Triennale Milano Design Museum, curated by Marco Sammicheli, a playful installation by Riccardo Blumer and playful which translates in a simple and engaging way - even for non-experts - the complexity, intelligence and genius of Meda's projects.

The second of which we talked about in this article, Italy: a new collective landscape, a survey of Italian design under 35 hosted by the Adi Design Museum in Milan, a a necessary act to give voice to young people strongly desired by Angela Rui, (who worked with Matilde Losi and Elisabetta Donati de Conti), of which we hope there will be a sequel.

Finally, a long-awaited return, that of the Droog collective with Droog30 - Design or non-design(we talked about it here), the collaborative exhibition held in Triennale Milano during the FuoriSalone, curated by Maria Cristina Didero and created by Richard Hutten to tell the story of the influence that the movement has had, and still has, on the public, especially on the new generations of designers.

Who left us

Many, too many, the masters who left us in 2023, creating an unbridgeable void.

We remember them, because they live in us, in our projects, in our texts, in the way we explore the world of design: Rodolfo Dordoni (read the memory of Rodolfo Dordoni), who with his grace, rationality, elegance, balance between creative passion and rigor, has left an indelible mark on the way of designing; Andrea Branzi (read the memory by Andrea Branzi), architect, thinker and artist, founder in 1966, with Massimo Morozzi, Paolo Deganello and Gilberto Corretti, of Archizoom Associati, one of the most influential phenomena of contemporary design thinking; Italo Lupi (read Italo Lupi's memory ), architect, graphic designer and art director three times Compasso d'Oro; Valerio Castelli, son of Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Giulio Castelli, art director of Kartell, Flou and Olivetti.

A memory also goes to the humanist architect Paolo Portoghesi (lread the memory of Paolo Portoghesi), who taught us to "think with architecture and not about architecture", and to conceive the city "as well as a set of buildings and of paths for those who want to penetrate his image and draw from it an experience of truth, like a group of men, a knot of past and present history: and therefore a text to be interpreted by relating the forms that are offered to ours with the civilization and the life that produced them." A lesson that we will always carry with us.

The shirt changes

2023 was a dynamic year for corporate 'trainings'. Among the most recent appointments, that of Demetrio Apolloni as new CEO of the B&B Italia Group (which includes B&B Italia, Maxalto and Azucena) starting from 21 December 2023. The manager, with thirty years of experience in high-end design, with in Vitra, Cassina, Knoll, and from 1993 to 2006 in B&B Italia, he took over from Gilberto Negrini, CEO of the B&B Italia Group for the last four years.

Again at Design Holding, and in particular at Flos, last September Fabio Calvi and Paolo Brambilla left the position of design curators, a change of pace which coincided with the appointment of Barbara Corti, global chief marketing officer since 2017, as well as being part of the company's Steering Committee since 2019 (the committee for defining brand and product strategies), as chief creative officer, a role that has never existed in Flos and strongly desired by CEO Roberta Silva.

2023 has given rise to a new effervescent season of creative directors, talented young people called to lead companies into the future, to rethink production processes and to give new life to brands, especially the most historic ones.

Among the new positions: Formafantasma as creative directors of the Rubelli Group; Francesco Meda and David Lopez Quincoces, hired as creative director by Ranieri, a company specialized in the processing of volcanic rock, and Zanellato/Bortotto design curators of Bolzan Letti.

Not a change of shirt, but a rebranding, that of Calligaris Group which in October 2023 became Orbital Design Collective, a choice - we read in the company note - dictated by the desire to reflect the group's strategy in the name, i.e. the idea of a collective of prestigious brands that have design as a common characteristic, managed entrepreneurially but with a high-performance support structure behind them.

Among the news that shook the world of design, the eviction of the Castiglioni Foundation from the historic address in Piazza Castello (), which was followed by a collection of signatures; but the situation is still at a standstill, Giovanna Castiglioni told us.

Read also: The eviction of the Foundation Castiglioni

Then, the surprise announcement, after just six months of work, of the end of the collaboration between the Mudac of Lausanne and its new director Beatrice Leanza, due to "differences of a strategic nature", the museum said.

How trade fairs have changed in 2023

At the traditional press conference of the Salone del Mobile, held on 15 February 2023 at the Franco Parenti theater in Milan, the president Maria Porro announced the new course of the event: a totally rethought and redesigned, starting from the Euroluce format, which is more usable and engaging.

A show that brings major exhibitions to the fair, with a dense and brilliant program curated by Beppe Finessi. An exhibition that invites and helps exhibiting companies to create stands with low environmental impact.

An edition, that of 2023, which anticipated the long-term change project of the Salone del Mobile in Milan, increasingly an event and less a fair, which in 2024 will welcome the public with the new layouts of EuroCucina and the International Bathroom Exhibition, completely revised by Lombardini22 (already authors of the remake of Euroluce), "with rationalized paths built on flows, equal accessibility to all exhibitors, the possibility of interfacing (during and after the fair) with the digital contents collected", the general director Marco Sabetta tells the story here.

The stands? Increasingly sustainable, where reuse is strongly encouraged.

Read also: How the Salone del Mobile 2024 will change

The macro trends that affected the house in 2023

The boom in outdoor furniture - a trend confirmed by new, important debuts in the sector, such as that of Poliform and Molteni&C; the bold use of colour, both in interiors and in product design, in a chromatic kaleidoscope that reflects the personality and taste of those who inhabit the spaces; the lighting, dosed and designed in a cinematic way, with accent light points only where they are needed to emphasize the focal moments of our days.

These are some of the macro trends that in 2023 have influenced the way of imagining, organizing and furnishing our homes, homes lived increasingly in a personal and flexible way, with spaces in becomings that expand and transform to follow and satisfy our needs and dreams.

The research and technologies that impact the sector

In 2023, companies pushed the accelerator in research to develop materials, solutions, processes capable of reducing the environmental impact.

Starting from trade fair installations, such as Good House by Lago, the multi-year reusable stand presented in 2022 and reused at the Salone del Mobile 2023, which reduces up to 87% of CO2 emissions. New processes are experimented and new paths are explored to save resources and rethink the entire life cycle of the product.

“The industry is changing”, says Paolo Ulian (read the interview with Paolo Ulian here), “ten years ago there was a disinterest, if not a clear and impenetrable opposition, to the possibility of change direction. The only accepted principle was that of growth. Now, however, it is possible to open up to dialogue and propose different industrial practices".

Among the proposals that outline sustainable alternatives there is Mathera by Diego Grandi for Saib Egger Group, among the candidates for the 2024 Compasso d'Oro, "a panel of regenerated material covered with a layer composed of wood powders, stones and quartz with an infinitesimal thickness", explains Grandi.

“The production process is clean, it does not contain formaldehyde, the aesthetic result is very convincing and the performance is very high; a surface that can be treated like stone to the touch and to the eye, but is infinitely lighter, cheaper and more versatile".

Read also: Diego Grandi: here's what it means scaling sustainability in mass production

Among the solutions that have, and will have, an echo in the design sector, there is Oto Chair by Alessandro Stabile and Martinelli Venezia for One To One, a seat that embodies a new business model, also included in the shortlist chosen by ADI for the 2024 Compasso d'Oro: "A choral project", say the designers, "born from the idea of us designers, matured without being distorted by the entrepreneur Alex Pegoraro and developed with an intense dialogue with engineers, mold makers, printers, packaging producers and logistics experts.

An assembly chair in injection-moulded recycled plastic, where all the pieces are molded at the same time, shipped in flat packaging made of recycled and recyclable cellulose pulp, sized to optimize transport on pallets so much so that to transport a number of chairs five times greater than the standard".

2023 is the year of artificial intelligence, perceived as a novelty - and at times a threat - but already widely used in architecture and design studios.

“Artificial intelligences like Midjourney or ChatGPT force us to reconsider our concept of creativity”, the expert Roberto Paura told us at the beginning of the year (read more here): “These AIs do nothing but automate and make routine processes more efficient, for which we should be grateful: the objective is precisely to leave more time for true creative thinking, which constitutes the essence of the human spirit.

If we know how to seize this opportunity, then we will benefit from it as human beings. Otherwise, we will all become neo-Luddites: yet no one today would dream of destroying a mechanical loom to spend ten hours a day spinning."

The most enlightened entrepreneurs of 2023

We conclude this journey backwards with the personalities who, with their enlightened leadership, have been able to guide companies by adapting them to a constantly evolving market, always keeping the rudder fixed on product quality and environmental and social sustainability.

Like Vittorio Alpi, president of Alpi recently nominated by Ernst&Young Entrepreneur of the year 2023 in the Sustainable Business Models category for its commitment to promoting sustainability.

Among the 100 managers and entrepreneurs who are changing the rules of the game with innovative, digital and sustainability-conscious leadership, according to Forbes Italia, in the design sector, Nicola Coropulis (CEO of Poltrona Frau), Fabrizio Cameli (founder of Talenti Outdoor Living), Nerio Alessandri founder and president of Technogym), Alberto Antolini (CEO of Antolini), Andrea Boragno (CEO of Alcantara), Dario Caspani (country manager Italy of Usm), Giulio Cocci (CEO of Elica), Federica Minozzi (CEO of Iris Ceramica Group) and Stefano Munaretto (CEO of Instabilelab).