Why Good Design Needs More Innovation: Q&A with Silvio Angori

Pininfarina CEO Silvio Angori tells In The Future that for design companies to successfully move towards the future, aesthetics need to work in tandem with functionality.


Conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Pininfarina is a company with staying power. The Italian design firm was established in 1930, and throughout almost a century has designed cars, coaches and even skyscrapers. It has arguably been made most famous by its designs for Ferrari. The Turin-based company has stayed on top of the game with its innovative designs, often paving the way towards the future with its unique concepts. Pininfarina is now working a full electric racecar called the H2 Speed, which if successful, could lead to big changes for everyday automobiles.

Silvio AngoriSilvio Angori, the CEO of Pininfarina, spoke to In The Future about how the company became so good at getting ahead of the curve. According to Angori, the company’s designs are useless without functionality—and so it has become crucial for the company to foster an environment for innovation that moves its products forward. And whether it is a new plan for a car, train or building, Angori says that so long as the company sticks to its core brand, the principles of design translate seamlessly.

ITF (In The Future): Pininfarina is known for leading innovation through design. What are the companies guiding principles?

Silvio: This allows me to get into the DNA of our brand. A brand is the thing you are best at doing, consistently over time. We’ve been doing design for 88 years, according to three principles: purity, elegance and innovation. This is what we believe defines our brand in essence. And this came about over time with every creation the company has conceived over the past 88 years. In the end, we have defined the brand as just doing over and over again what we’re best at—that’s it.

ITF: Over nearly a century, things have surely changed—how has that change translated into your designs?

Silvio: A design house and a designer have to foresee the future. We have to use technology for some specific functions that in a way that will satisfy and please the aesthetic side of each and every individual. Now, certainly, taste changes over time. In 88 years of history we’ve evolved our design language. In some of those ways we’ve anticipated the future.

ITF: That can’t be easy—how does a company predict what’s coming ahead?

Silvio: Every company needs to think ahead of its time, and what they are conceiving should be leading them into the future. The recipe to staying ahead of the game is to foster an environment for innovation within the company. In a design company like we are, innovation is always seen in combination with aesthetics, and vice versa. We are not a company that would produce a piece of art without functionality. We would only produce a piece of art with functionality. And this is the best way to describe what Pininfarina does.

ITF: What’s the best example of a Pininfarina product that shows how you got ahead of the game?

Silvio: In 2007, we conceived and presented a concept car called Sintesi. Why that car was so revolutionary and why that car anticipated the future to come was because, first, it was an electric car with the engines on the wheel. It used small batteries, since the electricity was created by hydrogen fuel cells. That would lead to a different use of the interior space, with a much larger passenger compartment. That was then, from a technological standpoint, a futuristic car—where design was leading both the concept and definition of the future of car interiors.

ITF: In what other ways was the Sintesi ahead of the curve?

Silvio: The Sintesi, although we were not thinking about autonomously driving cars, was meant to be part of a network that communicated with the Internet of Things. That was 11 years back. Now, all of those concepts are used everyday. Everyone talks about connected cars and autonomous driving. Imagine a small city that manages its entire traffic. Design has to envisage the use of the most advanced technologies for a specific use—in this case, moving people. Design is the glue between technology, the physical world and the digital world.

ITF: Are there any big innovative projects Pininfarina is working on now that you can mention?

Silvio: The H2 Speed is a full electric racecar. It is a hydrogen fuel cell Pininfarina-branded hyper car. It’s again envisaging the future because it’s the next frontier of sustainable mobility. We are now testing prototypes at a racetrack here in Europe. We have some clients who have shown some interest in acquiring one and hopefully that car will be racing as soon as next year. Racing is at the leading front of the technology. Think of Formula One or Formula E. Race cars are at the benefit of the normal standard passenger car.

ITF: Pininfarina also designs interiors for skyscrapers, which is quite a departure from vehicles. How do those design principles translate?

Silvio: When your design language is as solid as ours, the values behind the brand can be used to design almost anything. For us, it has been very simple and straightforward to apply those principles into the architectural world. We started with a hotel in San Diego in 2006 and continued through the years to designing the Cyrela in Sao Paulo, which was just presented and opened. We’ve also been very active in transportation. We’ve designed the interior of the Eurostar that runs from London, to Paris and to Brussels. When you walk into the coach, you recognize our distinctive style.

ITF: How can companies use design to jumpstart innovation—and do you see other companies doing that well?

Silvio: Certainly the best company that comes to my mind is Apple. If you think about their products, they have style and technology in their products, and it is the best you can think of. There are other companies that can do that as well. If you think about Amazon, they have one-click innovation they’ve put forward. There’s been lots of strategic design behind that innovation. When you conceive a product or a service, if it is ugly it won’t sell. If it’s beautiful it will sell.

ITF: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other industry leaders looking to bring design and innovation together?

Silvio: They need to consider that technology without aesthetics doesn’t lead anywhere, and vice versa: it’s useless. Therefore they need to think about using design as an engine for growth. Their businesses would grow big time if they used design as a way to offer their clients tailor made experiences. Design should link to their own brand and make them different from everybody else. They may find their own space in the market if they can stand above everyone else.