Alegre Design is a design company founded by Marcelo Alegre in Valencia in 2001. Throughout the years, he has constantly tackled design challenges that have resulted in professional collaborations with Spanish and international companies in sectors including workspace furniture, medical equipment, electronic products, lighting, and childcare, among others. The accumulated experience acquired through each project allows Alegre Design to transfer knowledge between industries and cultures.
The company has already designed more than 200 products for more than 40 clients in 15 countries; on these projects, Alegre Design headed all research and design processes, consistently providing creative solutions during every phase of each project. Their products have won such prestigious design awards as the iF Design Award, the Red Dot Award, and the German Design Award, among others.
Marcelo Alegre talks to us about the trajectory, work methodology, and international projection of his design company, as well as his role as an ICEX Next consultant. He also tells us what to expect from the current projects in which he is immersed.
Interiors from Spain: Next year your studio is celebrating its 20th anniversary. How has Marcelo Alegre-Designer and the studio evolved during this time? What have you learned over the years?
Alegre Design: Right. It's been 20 years, but we're really just getting started. The best is yet to come.
From day one, the studio has constantly evolved, year after year, market after market, and with each new member joining the team. Every week we take on a new challenge, have a new client, and learn something new. It’s true that I was the one who started this project as Marcelo Alegre, but soon after that Andrés Baldoví joined us, as well as many other collaborators who, thanks to their vision and contributions, have allowed us to progress and evolve over these last 20 years. We’ve learned to intuit what people need in their day-to-day lives.
Since its inception, Alegre Design's focus has been everyday designs. We began by collaborating with a wide range of sectors in our home country, Spain. This meant that we learned a great deal about processes, techniques, and user sensitivities to products. Time passed and, thanks to ICEX, we discovered new markets, new continents. In that sense, the studio's growth of knowledge was exponential and our approach became not only national or European, but global. Our knowledge of markets has allowed our clients to become globalized through products that we design by not only thinking about their function, production, etc., but also the users, regulations, and spaces for which they’re intended across five continents.
Interiors from Spain: Coming back to the present, what is your business philosophy?
Alegre Design: Coming back to the present, we’re starting over. This year is shaping up to be an extraordinary year full of change and opportunities.
Last January, I was riding the Osaka Metro, where I was visiting clients, when I saw the precautions people were taking against possible contagion from COVID-19 and I realized the seriousness of the situation.
The following day, back in Spain, we began the transformation of Alegre Design, creating a new team structure within the studio to manage the shift towards the Agile Design concept. We sensed a major disruption ahead of us.
And, in order to respond to this change and support our clients through this transformation, we began to create a new methodology for approaching product creation: Agile Design. The first thing was to incorporate the Agile method into project management, training the entire team of collaborators in this method and implementing its processes in order to maximize value as much as possible in the shortest possible time. The second part has been to study all our projects over the last 20 years and create methodologies based on "design thinking" for product creation. This shift in direction is allowing us to work in different parts of the world on #postcovid19 projects and #newnormal projects, allowing our clients to anticipate new scenarios.
Interiors from Spain: And what does this "Agile Design” method consist of? What kinds of services do you offer to companies?
Alegre Design: Our "Agile Design” method seeks to provide the maximum value possible to companies in the shortest possible time, supporting them as they launch products, services, and experiences. To do so, we start from the three fundamental values of Alegre Design: innovation, value, and people.
"We innovate to bring real value to people and companies.”
When we analyzed our long-standing product portfolio, we found that we already offered Business Design (Innovation) services—not so much oriented towards large corporations, but focused rather on companies that need methods which will foster innovation to create new products. In that sense, we support them by applying innovation management methods to create new value propositions.
We had to make sure all this innovation reached people, and to that end we created our second service: "Design Research.” Studying trends and defining colors, materials, and finishes —"CMF design”—allows us to identify and create real scenarios where people feel they can identify with new projects.
And finally, there’s the third service "Product Design," with which we realize all this work of innovation and outreach to create value through a real product that allows the company to flourish over the next few years.
Interiors from Spain: Your designs have an important technological component. In what direction do you think 21st century technology is going with relation to people? And in this context, what can design and designers contribute?
Alegre Design: Our designs have the main objective of bringing innovation to people’s day-to-day lives. This means that, in some cases, we have to integrate technological features into everyday products that allow people to live better at home, at work, or in public spaces. Always keeping people in mind, we believe that design and designers should make a huge effort to improve everyday products, making them safer, more relatable, and more user friendly, so that the technological concept is not a barrier or a problem and that the benefit that design brings to people is as cross-cutting as possible.
Interiors from Spain: Your studio has designed innovative ergonomic chairs for the office solutions firm Actiu. Are you working on any new projects with them?
Alegre Design: Yes. Our relationship with Actiu goes back more than 16 years. We've grown together. Actiu has done so as an innovative company in its sector, and we’ve done the same in the world of design. This growth is now more vibrant than ever in this new volatile, uncertain, complex, and changing environment, where all the rules are being broken.
We’re working together on new scenarios, over both the short and long term, to get a sense of what people will need when they go to work, go to hotels, the airports, the hospitals, etc. In this new normality everything has to be reviewed, redefined, and developed to keep people safe based on three rules: social distancing, hygiene, and the reduction of population density.
Interiors from Spain: And incidentally, many of these chairs have won prestigious international awards such as the Red Dot Award, the German Design Award, and the iF Product Design Award. What's so special about these pieces? What would you highlight about the creation process and their features?
Alegre Design: The greatest reward for all these chairs we’ve designed and are designing is to reach offices all over the world and see how people who use them every day enjoy them. Creating chairs that have the value of a tool and that bring prosperity to the people who use them is the best way to make people aware of the innovative work involved in their design and development. This process takes into account not only ergonomic principles, material technology, and the definition of colors and finishes. The overriding factor is always the value it brings to people. The awards you refer to are a form of recognition that confirms we’re working in the right direction, in a sector as competitive as this one.
Interiors from Spain: One of the facets of Marcelo Alegre is your work as a consultant for ICEX Next’s business globalization consulting program. What has been your experience with ICEX and the companies? Is it good strategic planning for a design studio or company to develop cultural sensitivity and to become more globalized?
Alegre Design: Since the beginning of Alegre Design, we’ve been able to count on ICEX’s support and backing in all our globalization initiatives.
In 2018, we were offered the possibility of becoming part of the ICEX Next team of advisors to guide other companies through the early stages of globalization. After two years of collaboration, I’ve seen the companies we advise become friends of ours, who we share our experiences with, through the tools of the ICEX Next program. We provide them with our knowledge and the sensitivity that we’ve developed over 20 years working around the world so that they can apply it and achieve their goals in the shortest possible time. Our profile of designers and specialists in the creation of products, services, and experiences, through projects all over the world, is a great tool for ICEX Next companies, as it allows them to add value to their products in markets they had a feeling for, but didn’t really know.
Interiors from Spain: In your case, you work with clients from Asia, Europe, and the United States. How do you get organized in the studio? What "cultural" differences do you find when working with them? What advice would you give to a Spanish design studio or brand that is starting to become globalized?
Alegre Design: Our philosophy is to work with the best companies worldwide. Companies that invest in innovation and create value for people, and certainly these companies are based where they were created: Asia, Japan, Europe, the U.S., etc.
Another limiting factor we encounter is that companies that invest their future in launching new products want to talk in person with the designer who will create that product. Given these two starting points, at Alegre Design we have three main Project Owners: Andrés Baldoví (Asia-Pacific), Jorge Páez (U.S.), and Marcelo Alegre (Europe and Japan). This guarantees that whoever listens to the client is the one who creates the design, supported by the entire team of collaborators and media at Alegre Design.
I recommend discipline, consistency, and methodology to a Spanish studio or brand that is beginning to go global. Globalization is not a goal in itself, but a means to evolve and improve—challenge after challenge, client after client, market after market.
Interiors from Spain: And speaking of a globalized world, can you tell us something about the latest projects that you’ve done abroad? Do you have any new projects outside Spain that you’re working on?
Alegre Design: One of the latest projects we’ve developed was a medical product, a "dental workstation" (patient chair for dental clinics) for a leading company in the sector located in Osaka, Japan. It’s been a three-year process that has led us to create tools for defining innovation, identifying trends for a new target market, and developing a product design of the highest degree. This has resulted in a global medical product, which is sold worldwide from Asia to the United States, and which meets all ergonomic requirements to ensure patients’ well-being during treatment and correct posture for the dentist in their daily work.
Currently, 77% of sales comes from outside Spain. We are currently finalizing the development of products designed in recent years and launching a large number of products aimed at the #newnormal.