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Swiss design carves out a niche for itself

Sergio Cavero

Langenthal's Design Center has for the past 20 years promoted Swiss design, seeking to raise awareness at home and abroad of the quality goods the country produces.

The new director of the Design Center is the 33-year-old architect Sergio Cavero.

Cavero was most recently one of the artistic directors of last year’s national exhibition, Expo .02. He was responsible for the “arteplage” in Yverdon-les-Bains.

Dale Bechtel spoke to Cavero about the Langenthal centre and its tasks.

swissinfo: How do you define design?

Sergio Cavero: “Design is a process. You put people and elements together to make a good product. So when you say good design, it means there was a good process involved. It means innovation at many different levels – the technical aspect, the functional side and the aesthetics. When you think of design, it doesn’t only have to look good, but it has to work. You have to be able to take it in your hand and immediately see how it works. It is something that has been produced in an intelligent way.”

swissinfo: What is the function of the Design Center?

S.C.: “The Design Center is an institution which was founded about 20 years ago – starting with the Designers’ Saturday and the intention was to promote Swiss design. There is a long tradition of design in Switzerland and we are a platform for exhibitions and for the transfer of know-how. We try to choose the best way to promote design in an intelligent way. The best platform is the Designers’ Saturday, which takes place every two years. Last year we had 12,000 visitors to the show and 9,000 were professionals – that means everyone who had something to say or think about design was there.”

swissinfo: How important is the Design Center for promoting Swiss design?

S.C.: “The Design Center offers products a platform which you can’t find anywhere else in Switzerland. It’s also not bound to any political institution or business association. That makes it unique, and has helped us gain attention abroad.”

swissinfo: In what way can you call the manufacturers in Langenthal innovative?

S.C.: “They are typical of Swiss enterprise. They are small- to medium-size companies but they have a presence in many different countries abroad. They have developed innovative strategies to be able to export their products from a small country like Switzerland.”

swissinfo: The Langenthal products are not labelled as “Swiss-made”. Is that an advantage or disadvantage?

S.C.: “I think it gives the companies a chance for continued success. Made in Switzerland stands for quality, but the times are changing and many “Swiss-made” products are no longer manufactured here. That’s not the case with Ruckstuhl or Création Baumann, but it is the case with other goods. Maybe we should be saying “Designed in Switzerland”, and this will be a label of quality.”

swissinfo: How has Langenthal been able to maintain its manufacturing sector?

S.C.: “All these companies work in niche markets, where they can be competitive. You’ll find that many Swiss companies function the same way. You can travel to canton Aargau or Appenzell and discover firms still manufacturing there, and they are often the leading producer in that particular market segment.”

swissinfo: Is it possible to speak of a “Langenthal look”?

S.C.: “I think it’s the approach that is different. The companies in Langenthal are like other Swiss manufacturers. They try to find solutions that in the end may not be as elegant as Italian design, for example, but are very simple and functional in a positive way.”

swissinfo: What kind of incentive does Langenthal and the Design Center provide young designers?

S.C.: “We try to build platforms and networks for young designers. So at the last Designers’ Saturday, for example, we displayed many works by young designers and we will do the same at the next event. There are good design schools in Switzerland, so we don’t need to teach them anything. What we can do is to put them in contact with the industry. They need that kind of platform.”

swissinfo – interview: Dale Bechtel

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