Umberto Eco's imagined solution has come to fruition and design has brilliantly played this cultural role.
Right after World War II, the best components of Italy's economy formulated an ambitious agenda of reconstruction that was articulated by Ernesto N. Rogers in his famous speech given at the Milan Polytechnic in the early 1960s; he was already coining the idea that the country's post-war reconstruction be entrusted to architects, urban planners, engineers and designers who should oversee each and every thing, from the spoon to the city. Now, more than sixty years later, that project – a vehicle of such good sense and hope that it seems like a utopia – has been only half-way achieved, the half that deals with the spoon. Instead the other half hasn't gone so well, the one regarding the city, the tastier morsel that politicians have found it more expedient to entrust to building speculators and their surveyors, rather than to architects and urban planners. As a result, a great deal has been built but very little of it is architecture.
Italian design succeeds in bringing together artifacts as different from each other as those by Marco Zanuso and Ettore Sottsass.
It's thanks to design that, nowadays, some industrial design is guided not only by the priorities of profit, economy, and functionality but also by such values as beauty and sustainability. We owe it to design if new technologies that constantly expanding production are used to improve functionality and to domesticate technology, respecting both aesthetics and the conscience that must guarantee the Earth's survival. Conjugated in this way, design is emerging as a real and true hedonistic post-industrial neo-humanism, charged with rendering, just as Umberto Eco wished, an ever more friendly and pleasant encounter between man and industrial products.
The creativity of Italian furniture design has been able to count on a large number of exceptional designers and has shown ability at uniting seemingly-conflicting vocations and orientations under the same flag. The Brazilian critic Ethel Leon is right when she recalls that, “Italian design, one of the world's most widely-applauded productions, succeeds in bringing together artifacts as different from each other as those by Marco Zanuso and Ettore Sottsass; perhaps the only characteristic that all the designers have in common, that earns them the term of ‘school’, is their skill in formal invention and their insertion of artifacts into contemporary cultural debate” (Ethel Leon, Design brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro 2005).
Although it is true that objects, even those that are well-designed, don't ensure happiness, I do think that, at least in part, we can consider design as an achieved utopia.