Alessi’s Anna G Anniversary Corkscrew (or AGAC) is ostentatious. That’s the point. You must stop and think before grabbing its oversized head, hidden behind a mask that slides on top but doesn’t stay in place. Stop, think. Good design asks us to revise our interactions with everyday objects by liberating us from mindless routines and offering space for reflection.
Founded in 1921, Alessi is an Italian company that combines smart design with industrial production. Until the 1950s, Alessi produced mainly small wood and metal objects for the home. As the economy industrialized and consumerism too hold, design became an essential tool to stimulate consumer desire. Form may have followed function, but form was an increasingly integral to function. In 1955 when Ettore Alessi decided to introduce product collaborations with external designers, he asserted the industrial object’s potential to be an artistic product. Italians mitigated society’s transition to consumerism by uniting an object’s aesthetic value with its use value.
It’s not immediately clear how AGAC manifests this union or if it does at all. The corkscrew jars with Alessi’s sleek spoons and clever kettles. The garish plastic body and oversized magnet mask seems to combine a day of the dead mask with a vintage doily. You turn away. And then you turn back. Because Alessi’s AGAC isn’t a bottle opener but an invitation to celebrate daily life.
I discovered the AGAC as a sales associate at Eataly. They were released to commemorate the twenty years of the corkscrew’s manufacture. AGAC cost $150. We received four and sold them all, including the sample. This surprises people who don’t believe in spending more than $20 on a single kitchen tool. But when you buy an AGAC you don’t purchase just a kitchen tool. You buy an invitation to the party, a conversation piece, a moment of reflection.
I was carrying the floor sample while searching for a colleague. You have to hold the AGAC upright so the head doesn’t fall off. I circled the store once, twice, three times. My face pinched into a mask of annoyance. I’m trying to do something important, I fumed, where are they! I walked by a mirror, caught a glimpse of myself and laughed. In my hand was a $150 corkscrew with an expression that suspiciously resembled my own strained scowl. How could I be angry? For a moment, I saw from afar. I’d become so invested in my invented drama, I forgot myself and my surroundings. AGAC brought me back.
Good design forces us to step outside of ourselves and re-examine our situation. Good design doesn’t make acts thoughtless. Absentmindedness is a flaw of bad design. Think about the duvet you toss over your bed or the shoelaces you notice only when they turn black. Whereas bad design reminds us of its presence through its flaws, good design directs us to reconsider our routine. Think about your buttery smooth leather wallet or the magazine whose pages feel pleasantly weighty in your hands. These moments invite us to reconnect with our actions and thereby cultivate a more mindful attitude. Good design finds reason to celebrate the ordinary.