Design Focus: Matteo Thun

Eleonora Usseglio-Prinsi talks to the iconic designer who’s simple aesthetic has remained popular since the 1980s

illy espresso cup matteo thun
Illy espresso cup (1991)

What’s the first thing you do when approaching a new project?

Our work is based upon respect – respect for the place where we build, and for the soul of the brand we design for. We try to understand the company’s needs and try to find the right solution for it, following Ettore Sottsass´s credo: do it as simple as possible – reduce complexity.

No matter if it is architecture or a design object, a deep analysis forms the base of our work. We need to understand the history of the place, the needs of the user and the complexity of the brand. Our office stands for sustainable products and projects and we approach design with a holistic viewpoint. This is why we work parallel across all disciplines — from architecture to product design — from spoon to hotel resort.

What’s the hardest object you’ve ever had to design?

The next one – it is a challenge – but it is a joy as well. I like to find new solutions and step over borders.


Matteo Thun started his career as a co-founder of the Memphis Group in 1981, one of the most important design movements of the 80s along side designers Ettore Sotsass, Alessando Mendini and international architect Frank Gehry. The Memphis Group influenced the following two decades not only in design, but in fashion too with brands such as Dior referencing them in their Haute Couture Fall 2011 Collection. In 1984, Matteo founded his own studio in Milan. Over 25 years, he’s been responsible for many important design commissions, and was Creative Director of Swatch from 1990-93. He has been awarded the Italian ADI Compasso d’Oro Award for design excellence three times as well as the Wallpaper* Design Award in 2010.


Espresso cup for Illy (1991)

“Wood is one of the most original materials that offers all-important possibilities within the spectrum of our work: it is the material of the 21st century”

Penguino teapot for Cleto Munari by Matteo Thun

What do you think is key to creating an innovative object?

Sustainability and senoriality. Actually this is also a reason why we love to work with wood – for architecture, interior design as well as product design. Wood is one of the most original materials that offers all-important possibilities within the spectrum of our work: it is the material of the 21st century. It is the renewable resource material. It is flexible, adaptable and it is sensorial – it has a maximum spectrum of use.

Which of your designs are you most proud of? What is the story behind it?

We always try to create things that are sustainable – aesthetically, ethically, technically and ecologically. We want to make things that you still like to look at in 20 years. In 1991 for instance, we did “the” espresso cup for Illy. Rather than being a result of aesthetic concerns, it is scientifically designed to facilitate the enjoyment of Illy’s product through its volume, diameter, and substantial rim, as well as the special “bowl” of the bottom that helps retain heat.