Stefano Ollino and Tobia Repossi in an interview by Anthony Bernard on Money Magazine.

Stefano and Tobia, can you please introduce yourselves?

SO – I’m a product designer at Doro Design and the founder of my product design studio, True Flava, a UI/UX and brand design studio. I started my career 12 years ago, working in Italy and China, where I have projects in Xiamen, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.

TR – I am a designer and have been in furniture, electronic appliances and accessories design for over twenty-five years. I have worked for market-leading brands in China, Europe and America, and startups from China to Silicon Valley. My designs have been sold in Apple Stores and other renowned stores and selected for international awards. Today, I direct the Arkin Innovation Hub in Cyprus, which connects practical skills and academic research for the global demand for creativity and innovation.

Would you mind telling us more about your work and the awards won?

SO – I had the opportunity to go abroad, and after six months of internship in a Chinese multinational company, I started collaborating
with local brands that allowed me to explore the different fields of design: house furnishing, smart devices, kitchen, and accessories. But it was with tap and appliance design that I had the most significant rewards. I won my first international prize (Red Dot Design Award and IF Design Award) thanks to a touch screen tap design (see picture). I won other awards, but the first is never forgotten.

TR – I graduated from Politecnico di Milano at the end of the nineties in architecture because there was no design faculty in Italy. It was a common belief that product design was strictly connected with architecture because architects designed furniture and interiors.
I had the chance to work in many design fields such as communication, advertisement and visuals in general, an experience that nowadays I try to convey to my students.I founded Tobia Repossi & Partners, an international design studio with a portfolio of projects executed for major Chinese brands. In addition, we designed for European and American market-leading companies that have their production and R&D in Asia. In my role, I work very closely with stakeholders, customers and suppliers, offering a return on investment approach.
I have a natural talent for communication and broad experience in teaching, mentoring, and delivering public talks. These skills have benefitted from my experience as an academic at Politecnico di Milano Faculty of Design and IED (Istituto Europeo del Design). I also acted as a chief academic officer and advisor to the chief executive officer for developing international partnerships.
My works have been selected for the Compasso d’Oro Prize, Design Index, Mediastars, Modern Decoration Award, A’Design Award, and Red Dot Award and published in magazines and newspapers. »
In addition, I’ve been ranked 22nd in the world for Electronic Appliances by DAC, 40th designer in China by World Designer Rankings, and 106th in the world.

What projects are you currently working on?

SO – Teaching aside, the most exciting project my team and I are working on – together with Tobia – is a product in the IoT field (Internet
of Things), which will be presented at the Dubai World Expo at the end of October. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal more, but I hope I will be able in the next few months.

TR – I am working on designing electronic appliances for Silicon Valley and some Chinese hardware startups. I am also involved in designing and constructing a natural park and a science museum in Cyprus, which will be one of the biggest projects of this kind in Europe. In addition, I also teach at ARUCAD (Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design in Cyprus) and soon at the Italian College of Design and ACS College in Malta.

Probably there’s a bit of confusion about the term “design”. This word reminds many of house furnishing, while this world is much more varied.

SO – I agree. The concept of a designer as a craftsman is a bit old. Today, a designer must have a broader view: the “objects” are not limited to fulfilling their function in the space only, but more and more often, they are the physical and actual part of a broader ecosystem. The designer must take into account several intangible elements that form part of the user experience. He must take into account issues such as sustainability, the social impact that a product might have. The designer is turning into a complete professional who is very different from the romantic idea of the objects and furniture craftsman.
Don’t get me wrong, a designer will still design chairs and stuff, but today you can be considered a designer even without ever thinking of an object. Just think of interaction designers, systemic designers, or user interface designers: their work is only focused on the intangible ecosystem.

TR – The concept of ‘design’ has changed and expanded over recent years. It now embraces a far more comprehensive range of areas than the traditional ideas of physical objects. Design now embraces new fields such as information transfer, visual design, interaction design, motion design within a broader range of domains, such as marketing, architecture, industrial design, etc.
In my case, I try to focus on the design of industrial products as I feel that ideas creation, prototyping, and production are crucial for our society while also being personally satisfying.

We hear more and more of “design thinking” as a mindset and approach that can also be applied to business. Could you explain to us what it is and what it has in common with design?

SO – We could talk about design thinking forever. However, I will try to be as concise
as possible without getting lost in too many technicalities. Design Thinking is a creative process that aims to achieve a verifiable result quickly: it is mainly used to innovate products, services, and business models, but it can
be applied to any area that requires finding solutions to complex problems. Using a series of techniques that focus on understanding the problem, questioning assumptions, and testing hypotheses, it is possible to solve the problem by finding unexpected, innovative, or hidden ideas. And if they are not innovative ideas per se, we can reasonably assume that they are practical solutions as they have been tested.

TR – Encyclopaedias have been written about design methodologies: it feels as though designers build their personal methodology whenever they have free time. Design thinking is nothing new, and it’s just a way to put in order the production chain of ideas. The methodology of design built by Bruno Munari in the sixties has nothing different except the names of the actual concepts of Design Thinking.
But sometimes, giving a structure to a process, especially in creativity, is a way to be more productive and efficient. Companies are taking extensive advantage of this methodology, especially in their most creative departments. With the methodologies described by your very own Edward de Bono in the fifties, Design Thinking is an excellent tool to think outside the box and invent new services, products or interfaces.
I think the process has a specific deficiency at its core which is answering the question, “where do I find ideas?”. I’m a fan of a process called Synesthesia – often used in movies and psychology: this term refers to cross fielding or cross-pollination of ideas. So if I find myself designing a new game controller, I want to look at the entire market of controllers and some other fields where the interaction between hand and tool is robust, like utensils or kitchenware or something else.

Together with other lecturers, you will teach at ACS College in Malta for the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Product Design. Can you explain to us what it is and how the project was born?

SO – Thanks to ACS and above all to its President Dario Silvestri, I am given the opportunity to live an unprecedented academic career experience for me. The Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Product Design is only one of the courses issued by the Italian College of Design (ICoD), a 360° academic project in the world of design and of which I have the honor of being appointed Head of College. The project was born from the vision of Dario Silvestri and his ability to find market opportunities in apparently saturated areas.

TR – Teaching at the ACS College in Malta is an exciting and, at the same time, challenging opportunity. In a very connected and cloud- based field, as the design is today, you can find yourself designing products from everywhere and for everyone. As a result, places considered outside the design environment can today be central and develop new businesses. Because product design today
is one of the fastest-growing businesses, it represents a massive opportunity for Malta, and ACS College can become central to this »
process. Dario Silvestri intelligently caught this opportunity with his innovative vision, and it will be beneficial to the design and creative environment of the island.

When it comes to teaching design, what do you think are the most important teachings to convey to students today?

SO – I believe that today more than ever, students are looking for mentors, figures to be inspired by and to be able to say: “I want
to be like him”. If I look back to when I was
a student, the teachers who left the best impression were those who told me about their personal experiences, their path, the ones who overcame that barrier of “I teach, you learn” and are open to sharing their stories. How they achieved their successes and what they learned from their failures. In the design world, especially, the technical part is only the tip of the iceberg, as being a designer means being open to contamination, to the culture of aesthetics and innovation, to passion and the continuous search for the creation of something that doesn’t exist. This is what I think is most important: telling about experiences, conveying the culture of the project and stimulating students to learn by living real design experiences. This last point will be one of the main elements of innovation that we will bring to ICoD.

When will the first edition of the course start? Is there interest from the locals?

SO – The course will start at the beginning of 2022. We have noticed considerable interest from our target audience. One of the reasons is that we will be dealing with the most current and disruptive topics in design and communication.

Have you ever been to Malta before? Did you get to know the local design and creative scene?

SO – Yes, and I hope to be able to come more and more often to experience the island fully and to be able to grasp all its facets. I got
the impression that the mix of cultures and traditions and its significant technological and innovative improvements make it an exciting place with good potential.

TR – I have been there as a tourist, appreciating the island’s amenities, and I have colleagues living there. I look forward to seeing more about the design and creative atmosphere of the place and hopefully be a part of it.