The Quality Makers

My passion for travel began in college with an unexpected art scholarship to Italy. There I explored the country's cities and villages through the workshops of people making shoes, paper, books, jewelry, saddles, wrought iron and myriad other products with ingenuity. Over the decades, these experiences, and the makers themselves, continued to captivate me and add a curious dimension to my career as a graphic designer and brand maker in America.

In our work as designers, we're often in meetings with companies who ask us help them find their uniqueness as a beginning to the definition of a marketing advantage. In the past, the mantra of these meetings was reducing costs, finding efficiencies and ways to know more, work faster and reduce time to market. I often heard the premise that the goal of a successful global business was to “never to have to touch the products we sell.” And these corporations have been the profile of success in the new, technologized global economy and continue to be the mainstays of client lists for many design firms—including my own.

Branding is not a pressing subject for the craftspeople of Italy. Marketing, yes— branding, no.

As markets have become more competitive, however, there is an increasing drumbeat around the area of innovation. “Innovation” is commonly finding itself into taglines and mission statements. Another popular tagline includes “high touch”—as in, “We're a high touch company” or “We sell high touch products,” another way of saying, “We put some of ourselves into the making and selling of what's being sold. And we do that because that makes us different/better.” The actual degree of real live “touching” going on in the making of those products is minimal compared with the making of crafted goods created by people who will put their name on the actual result—their “brand,” if you will.

Branding is not a pressing subject for the craftspeople of Italy. Marketing, yes—branding, no. In fact, it's the high standards of their products and principles that many global corporations are trying to emulate, but without the pesky, time-consuming efforts that would actually require. If they really embraced the standards of Italian artisans in the making of their products, their productivity and profits would certainly plummet. It's easier to resemble it than to deliver it.

Various brochures and branding projects from Miriello's portfolio.

I had an insight one hot summer day while interviewing two Italian women about their family's ceramics business. Next to one of their sensual, innovative and beautiful hand-painted ceramic cups was a mass-produced cup from IKEA. Both were perfectly functional objects and the IKEA cup was attractive in its own way. But they were clearly different. “What's the difference between these two cups?” I asked. They both bring liquid to my mouth, they're both cool-looking, yet there is something very obviously different about them. I realized at that moment that I was on a journey to understand the space between those two cups. The differences in the end were in the human stories behind them. Those differences were so vast that I began to comprehend those two cups came from separate worlds. The differences between them formed the territory I would have to navigate not only in the writing of my book on quality makers of Italy, but also in helping clients navigate in a changed world where their marketing compasses aren't true any longer.