It's ‘Retro-Mania': The Corporate Museum and the Archive as Sources for New ‘Heritage-Based' Design Products

It's ‘Retro-Mania': The Corporate Museum and the Archive as Sources for New ‘Heritage-Based' Design Products

Floriana Iannone (Università degli Studi di Napoli L'Orientale, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3636-0.ch017

Abstract

For the design-based companies, the museum and the company archive can represent a source of new ideas and of innovation in general. Designers and creatives, through a constructive immersion in the museum environment, could perceive and elaborate the complexity of the heritage-based knowledge, finally expressing it in a different forms such as innovative ideas, models, prototypes, projects, and, new products.
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Introduction

The so-called 'retro-mania' from a niche phenomenon is increasingly becoming an established market trend. A clear sign of this tendency can be found in the bahaviours of many design-based companies more and more often inserting in their catalogs some iconic pieces derived from the collaborations with great masters of design of the past, artists to whom they have inextricably linked the success of their brand associated with 'made in Italy'.

The phenomenon of re-editions is not limited to the historical brands: more and more often we can find young companies trying to combine some products with a more rigorous and contemporary design, to others that are the result of meticulous archival work conducted on the icons of the 60s and 70s.

In the heritage-economy, it seems to be fundamental to give more attention to the analysis of the value generation processes focusing on the way it emerges in the value chains of each economic sector. For example, different kinds of tangible and intangible heritage aspects have been successfully used to establish new products in many cases from food and beverages, to designs and patterns (i.e., for clothing and furniture); but in general, the importance of the intangible cultural heritage refers to the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted from one generation to the next ones. Intangible cultural heritage is expressed through the process, phrases, know-how, and abilities including associated objects and cultural spaces distinguished by the people as components of their cultural heritage.

For example, many industrial museums display local history in a way that is not appealing to outsiders, preferring to address a community that still has an active relationship with the industry their product is related, or to a specificity that is slowly disappearing. Often these places fail to build a 'bridge' to future generations especially when their engagement activities are limited to offering a tour guide, laboratories for schools, or some products (souvenirs). They often lack an innovative twist that can somehow re-connect a specialized audience to a unique industrial past, becoming a source for heritage-based innovation. For these reasons the presented work assumes that corporate museums and archives could represent that missing bridge.

In fact, the interest in corporate museums and archives has experienced a sudden development and many are now the contributions on this topic. In the strategic perspective, even if corporate museums and archives have been considered a tool of heritage marketing to leverage in order to achieve and/or maintains sustainable leadership positions, it seems now necessary to deeply investigate what it happens when the focus is shifted on the set of those of the firms considered as ambassadors of “made in Italy” and in which key factors such as 'creativity' and 'innovation' play a central function.

The corporate museum strategic role has been long demonstrated and its different functions, clarified by different studies, can be synthesized in:

  • telling the company through its organizational memory;

  • being a tool for narrating the corporate identity,

  • representing a communication tool capable of reinforcing the identity and credibility of the brand;

  • be used as an engagement tool in the complex relationship between the company and internal and external stakeholders.

Anyway, if on the one hand, the brief reconstruction of the theoretical framework presented in the following paragraph will allow to clarifying definitions, forms and functions of the corporate museums, and of its archives; on the other, it will help to highlight the complexity of a phenomenon capable of generating multiple and various benefits within the related organization, as well as externalities relevant to its environment.

Looking at the academic literature dealing with the issue of heritage products it seems possible to say that the theme is not new, but it needs to be improved in a fully coherent form and should be more focused on the heritage utilization process.

With this aim, the work intends to provide an exploratory contribution to the understanding of the innovation and product development processes of the design-based companies typically labeled as “made in Italy” factories, that choose to enhance their own heritage in a container/showcase such as the museum can be considered.

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