Design is storytelling: in memory of Valerio Castelli

Founder of Domus Academy, art director of Flou, collaborator of Kartell and Olivetti, awarded the Compasso d’oro in 1977, Castelli  (1947-2023) was one of the firsts to understand the essential role of storytelling in the design world.

“Design is storytelling” that’s how Valerio Castelli entitled a lesson he held for the students of the faculty of Industrial Design at the University of the Republic of San Marino on December 5th, 2013. The title was as emblematic and meaningful as ever: even though he was born and raised in one of the great entrepreneurial families in the Italian design (his mother was the designer Anna Ferrieri and his father, Giulio Castelli, was the founder or Kartell), Valerio Castelli – who passed away on January 29th in Milan, at the age 76 – understood before many others the strategical centrality of communication in a complex and sometimes elitist world, like that of the project culture.

With his forward-looking gaze, Castelli grasped the narrative dimension congenitally linked to the design discipline and the need for strengthening project and productive practices with notions of communication, promotion, and training. “I’ve been taught that there is no design if there are no innovation and emotions – he loved to say – and I learned that designing is a complex process that involves many actors.”

Domus Academy 1982. Da sinistra si riconoscono: Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Alessandro Guerriero, Valerio Castelli, Maria Grazia Mazzocchi. Published in Domus n. 1024. Courtesy Domus Academy
I’ve been taught that there is no design if there are no innovation and emotions

All his professional activity was inspired by this underlying belief: from the foundation of Centrokappa in 1972, for which he was awarded the Compasso d’Oro in 1979 for his design research and communication, to the foundation of the magazine “Modo” (together with Alessandro Mendini) in 1977, all the way to the creation of the Domus Academy in 1984 and the Design Library of Milan (the first worldwide network of design libraries for universities, companies, designer and media; with two other branches, one in Shanghai and one in Istanbul), Castelli was for four decades not only a polyhedric promoter of Italian design but also a lucid and coherent interpreter of a vision that broadened the limits of his field, enriching it with multidisciplinary contributions that aimed at creating and enhancing a deeply innovative narration.

Compasso d'oro alla carriera, Centrokappa. Poster ADI © Filiberti Design

Being curious, sharp, clever, for over 25 years Valerio Castelli was the Art Director at Flou, he had a long and fruitful collaboration with Kartell, and from 2004 to 2008 he was the New Product Design Manager at Olivetti. In 2011, he and his wife Caterina Mosca established the Mosca Partners and he started working on designing and creating international events in the design and cultural sector, among which the Fuorisalone and, in 2017, and the redevelopment of Palazzo Litta as a civic cultural hub.

Contrary to some of his other peers in this field, Valerio Castelli was never self-apologetic when it came to his job. His intelligence often pushed him to wonder (and make us wonder) about the meaning of his (and our) job.

Valerio Castelli, Milano Design Film Festival 2014. Screenshot of the YouTube video

“I’ve always thought that the design of an object, of a space, of architecture – he stated in an interview – should have the goal to improve the quality of our lives, but since that’s not how it works nowadays and it’s evident that there is little need for designing a new table or a new chair, what is the meaning and value of what we do?”

Beyond his many other merits, questions like this, and the search for a meaning within it, are perhaps the most valuable lessons Valerio Castelli bequeathed to us.

Opening image:
Valerio Castelli. Photo by Desirée Sacchiero

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