Locksmith – ndion

Franco Clivio models the soap bubble collector, © Laurent Burst

For him, discovery, collecting, recognition and design belong together. The most famous designs by Franco Clivio are the Gardena system, the Lamy pico, and the Erco headlamps and lights. Today the designer is celebrating his 80th birthday.

Tomasz Wagner.

For Franco Clivio, design is not a distant affair that has more to do with things than with people. But quite the opposite. Decisive for him were the close, trusting relationships that have existed over many years or even decades with entrepreneurs and chief designers such as Werner Kress from Gardena, Klaus Jürgen Maack from Erco, Manfred Lamy from the writing instrument manufacturer of the same name, Jürgen Werner Braun from FSB, Herbert Schultes from Siemens and Eckhard Tischer from Rodenstock. For the cooperation to be fruitful for both sides, personal attitudes were as important as the design issues. Additionally: Clivio is open to people, does not put himself above others and likes to work in a team. He says he worked for Gardena for over 35 years, 17 for Lama and 15 for Erco. Perhaps that is why, paradoxical as it sounds, he never worked as a paid designer, but always worked as an independent and independent designer. He is very happy that he was able to work with people who were passionate about their work, were able to make their own decisions and were able to motivate their people. Today, he notes, marketing primarily decides on design, but has no position of its own on this subject. New projects would be delegated to market research for review. The results are consistent. You just have to be lucky in life, says and quotes the saying, “You can’t win the lottery if you haven’t played.”

He always remained an Ulmer

In many ways, Franco Clivio has always remained an Ulmer. He always emphasized that his stay at the HfG broadened his horizons in many ways. Like a giant sponge, he absorbed everything that happened to him. He studied at “Oberen Kuhberg” in the years 1963-1968. Co-founder Otl Aicher was an important teacher, he was close to Hans Gugelot until his sudden death, with Gui Bonsiepe, whom he used to be an assistant, and with Tomás Maldonado, who remained on friendly terms after graduation. Maldonado visited him on his 60th birthday and wrote about his work. Today, Clivio is one of the most successful designers in the field of system design. What made him famous is his product design for the garden tools manufacturer Gardena. He did not come up with well-known fasteners that can be assembled so easily; already existed for compressed air hoses and gas stoves. However, he designed the connectors so user-friendly and so consistently refined the system in all its parts that Gardena has become an established term. It also reduced the material used for injection molding as much as possible, which, above all, made it possible to produce cheaply. As already mentioned, apart from Gardena, he has been closely associated with Erco, FSB, Lamy, Siemens and Rodenstock for many years. From 1972 he was a guest lecturer at various universities in Germany, Finland, Italy and the USA, from 1980 to 2002 at the University of Design in Zurich, and then at the Instituto Universitario di Architettura in Venice.

In design, all questions are practical questions

Clivio didn’t lean on, or even build upon, the familiar, but looked for its own way with each design problem. For him, all design questions are practical questions – and none seems too trivial to ignore. When we talked on the phone in the last few days and asked him if he was some kind of a locksmith, he liked it quite: Well, he never made furniture, of which he adds with a laugh, yes, all northern Italy lives.

Collect things to understand them

There is no doubt that Franco Clivio is proud of his designs. Design is not about being modest, but about being open-minded, team-oriented, precise and also original. And yet she cultivates a secret love for anonymous design. Or perhaps it should be better said: she can still admire the enormous ingenuity of people like a child who discovers for the first time how diverse and rich the world is. Clivio is always fascinated by how differently designed things are created. When asked when he started collecting, he replies as brilliantly as his manner: “Since I had pockets in my pants.” About 1,000 items – from pens, fans, saws, fountain pens and all kinds of writing utensils to monocles and pince-nez and glasses for fittings and hand drills – are to be included in his collection, which he stocked in antiquities, antiques and flea markets.

Photo from the exhibition »No Name Design«, photo by Hans Hansen

Train your perception

His collection may be large and rich, but Clivio does not collect to collect, not to own things. Collecting helps him discover. It forces him to look closely at how something is created and to reflect on what constitutes the quality of the design of the thing. Whenever he discovers something, he exercises his perception and judgment. He often practiced this with students of the Zurich University of Design and asked them to bring products for a franc or two and explain their design quality. Although, as he notes with a laugh, it has been hard for him to find a better object to watch.

The Clivio training program also explains something else: everything that surrounds us does not automatically become a source of inspiration. What distinguishes them, what determines their quality, should be found consciously. It only appears in the light of keen interest. The fact that the endless interest in anonymous design is not marginal is also evidenced by the fascination that the Clivio collection has had on many entrepreneurs and designers over the years. Once it was known, he reports on the surprises in his drawers and boxes, when he came to the meeting he was often asked: “Clivio, what did you bring us?” Together with photographer Hans Hansen and graphic artist Pierre Mendell, he also presented his Clivio collection at exhibitions and in a wonderful book »Hidden Project« along with not always easily recognizable points for solving problems.

Small for a bag

And because Franco Clivio is who he is, there is something in the designs he designed that you can’t see right away, but it’s essential to the cause. Not a secret, but something that makes an item fundamentally different from others in use. The best example is the “pico” pocket pen that Clivio designed for the Lama in 2001. Pico is also inspired by an unknown find, but it goes way beyond that. Dr. Manfred Lamy, Franco says, told him then: ‘Every designer wants to make a fountain pen’ but immediately added: ‘Clivio, do what you want. It just has to match the image of the company – but without the fountain pen. «Clivio asked himself: How do I use writing instruments properly? Everyone has a clip so that it can be inserted into a jacket or shirt. But what do women do?

Writing implements, toys and hand-flattering instruments

In short: Clivio prefers to put his pens in his trouser pockets. They jam there just like you put them in the side pocket of a bag. Realizing this, he thought about reducing the pen to an absolute minimum, without the cap and clip. It should be a pen that only needs one hand to run. So just hit pico and you can start typing right away. Technically, the implementation was a huge challenge for Lama. That the pen works perfectly was an essential requirement for Clivio, but it was definitely not everything. After all, the blade of the pen is not in its form but in its function and the aha effect that occurs when you use it. In short: cleverly it is a writing tool, a toy and a hand smoothie at the same time.

Rozmaitości or love for geometry

Small and large, a compact that can turn into something else – like an umbrella that only unfolds to its true size when needed. A pen like a pico works on the same principle. Even the Gardena system incorporates a spirit of transformation. Clivio’s love for order, geometry and surprising but always practical changes dates back to his student days at Ulm when Walter Zeischegg told him that he had developed a method to bring a cube into a plane and shared it with him, but no. So challenged, Clivio found out for himself. The case of folding and unfolding has occupied him in the meantime – and has intensified over the past two decades. “Collector”after the English word for diversity, he calls a structure made of thin tubes connected by joints, as they are used in medicine. They form squares, rectangles and triangles on the surface, but they can be rotated and distributed in three dimensions, thanks to which movement creates new, fascinating spatial structures. Clivio invented hundreds of them.

So what design makes for him adds up to the whole: the will to play, which is connected with the ordering system; the intimate relationship between function and utility; the never-ending process of finding, picking and making, assembling and disassembling. A seemingly simple principle that fueled by ideas, equipped with the right connectors and connections, leads to useful things, such as those designed by this tool manufacturer. Today Franco Clivio celebrates his 80th birthday. Congratulations, we raise the glass and shout to him: Pico for that!

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