How to make your clients happy: the strategy of an experienced and successful designer


Making a company happy (rather than merely satisfied) means a lot to a product designer: it translates in recurring assignments and more responsibility on a strategic level. But understanding the dynamics of this happiness is not easy. Here is Luca Nichetto’s recipe

Luca Nichetto designs products for major brands, some of which he also art directs.

In his long career, built between Italy and Sweden, he has authored some major best-sellers that made the difference for the companies that produced them.

He, truly, has mastered the art of making companies happy. And has spent a lot of time analyzing the strategies to get there.

How can a designer add value to a company beyond making a good product?

By creating with each project, however small, something that is more relevant to the company than what was originally planned.” says Nichetto.

And, in the long term, by helping the brand push its own limits. Basically by focusing on creating a good product while always keeping in mind the big picture: what the company really needs to become better than what it is.

Which is often not so evident to those who are part of it.

Discovering what a company needs

Marketing managers know what works commercially, but don’t have insights into what could work if it doesn’t exist yet. “A good designer should interpret marketing requests and go beyond them by mixing creativity and rational thinking. And, importantly, without scaring anyone off”, says Nichetto.

That seems easier said than done. But there is a safe way to go about it and it starts with listening.

Understanding a brand’s DNA: why it matters

You need to know intimately the company that you design for, as well as the competition, Nichetto told us: studying brands’ DNA and history from a production and a design perspective.

Do they produce everything in-house or rely on suppliers? Do they take sustainability seriously or practice greenwashing? Do they excel in a particular type of technology or way of working a material? And, if so, do their products truly reflect that? Is there a gap between what they really are and what they say they are?

We usually think that design companies are the same everywhere: that they focus on materials, make great research efforts, thrive on creativity and on the willingness to overcome the limits of manufacturing processes. But it is not the case.

And even when all these things occur, the methods can be more or less efficient. “As a designer” concludes Nichetto, “you need to know exactly who you are dealing with – and tap into your own knowledge of other companies’ approaches. Then you can start being creative.”

Creative pollination

A great deal of innovation can stem, according to Nichetto, from creative cross-fertilization. “Merging different approaches to design, innovation and manufacturing can result in a major step forward”, he says. “With the plus that if you get inspired by something that has been proven to work for others, it will be considered less scary by your customer.”


But watch out: you should only go for this strategy if you know the approaches involved intimately. And you should know as many as possible: whenever you visit a company, absorb like a sponge all you can in terms of how and why things occur in a factory.

What has an international brand got to learn from a glass blower?

Luca Nichetto has tested this approach himself. He grew up in Venice, on the island of Murano and as a boy he spent a lot of time in glass furnaces, where he learnt a lot about design and manufacturing. “I now try to bring what I learnt there to commercial brands, especially large, international ones that are often very focused on processes rather than creativity”, he says.

Italian workers and artisans cultivate a hands-on intuitive attitude to materials and techniques. They are encouraged to defy processes, to try the limits of manufacturing.

They always find good solutions for many reasons. “The first one is that they are hyper-specialized: they know their machines, materials and mechanics intimately”, explains Nichetto. “The second reason has to do with the economic situation: Italy has never really provided a safety net for small enterprises.

Spending a lot of time inside a company, in its laboratories and speaking with artisans, is a fundamental part of the designer’s works, according to Luca Nichetto.

Hence, in order to survive (i.e. to earn their living working for design-oriented and experimental companies who work with them on commissions), artisans have been forced for decades to challenge the status quo. And to do so in a lean, family-driven environment where the only rule is to get to the best possible result.

Did some of my clients know, prior to me showing them, that they could gain from observing the glass blowers’ way of working? Obviously not. No-one asked me. But when I deliver insights such as these, companies are really happy and they come back for more.”

Scaling a mindset

The trick is basically to have the capacity to scale a mindset in order to achieve a greater result. Transferring an attitude that leads to freeing creative energy in an environment that may have lost touch with free rein thinking.

Disrupting the comfort zone in a soft but firm way and being able to show that it works.

A practical translation of the theory: the Biggie collection for Twils

Luca Nichetto has recently applied this strategy when he designed a sofa for Twils, an Italian brand that has a long history in beds and has recently started to move onto the living room area.

“Before starting to even think about the product, I had a long chat with the art director, Matteo Ragni.”

Art directors often are the mediators between the company and the designers and they are precious people. “They know the company very well despite not being an everyday part of their mechanism, they perceive the limits and the potential strength of its production, and they are aware of the management’s expectations“, explains Nichetto.

Biggie, a sofa by Luca Nichetto for Twils

Twils wanted to expand its international market with a new collection of upholstery (a bed and a sofa). But going world-wide is not that straight-forward. “We all know that the borders between public and domestic landscape became ephemeral,” says Nichetto Having worked for years in this field, he also knew that each part of the world has its own mindset when it comes to seating.

“In the Far East, customers want sofas that can be resized according to the space: they look for macro-sized pieces. In Northern Europe, on the contrary, people like more traditional dimensions and layouts seldom go beyond two or three seats”.

So he decided to design a hybrid, customizable product to fit in smoothly in both residential and public spaces.

A sofa for all markets

Nichetto came up with a skeleton, a rigid structure of polyurethane covered in variable density rubber, a central bar where you can hook all the elements: the sofa is basically conceived like a sequence of single seats (that also function as stand alone armchairs).

And the bed that is part of the collection also hooks on the same frame. “I built Biggie’s modularity on the concept of an infinite track that can be resized according to any needs”.

Shells are placed on the sides to host the cushions and each single sector can create different modules: low and high back, with or without armrest(s), alternative presence of seats and supporting surfaces.

The human factor

Basically Luca Nichetto was asked for a sofa and a bed but went beyond the brief and came out with a passe-partout collection.

And Twils were truly happy about it. “They appreciated the respect for the company and their investments: working with one mold means to spare a lot of money and technical problems”.

The company was also extremely pleased with the analysis that Nichetto studio provided to support their future strategies: “we gave them a vision for what concerns the focus on international markets“, says Nichetto. Design is always all and foremost about people.

So having the boldness to work on the company’s needs also says something about who you are: a team player rather than someone focused on his own ego. “And that“, concludes Luca Nichetto, “is always a plus: at work and in your personal life”.

Know more on Luca Nichetto’s official website.

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