Interview with UTIL


Interview with Manuel Amaral Netto, creative director of the design brand UTIL.

Tiffany Bähler: Hello Manuel, who is the team behind UTIL?

Manuel Amaral Netto: Hi Tiffany. We work with a team of designers, Geckeler and Michels, Ana and Gerry, Joschua and also Tobias and Cesare, who are spread all over Europe. I’m designing as well as running the company from Lisbon to make sure everything goes smoothly. For the graphic design we work with Felix Wetzel and Martina Vierthaler who are based in Berlin and Munich. More recently we initiated a collaboration with Tobias Faisst for the photography.

TB: How did UTIL start? What is its philosophy?

MAN: I lived abroad for six years and when I came back to Portugal the mood in Lisbon was quite inspiring! I already had an idea for a design brand in the back of my mind for some years and I thought the timing was perfect to bring it to reality. I wanted to produce high quality products with relevant designs for our everyday life, but at a reasonable price tag. In Portugal we are fortunate to have good small scale production, so I did a lot of research and found amazing people and manufacturers, some of which are now producing UTIL’s pieces. It is very important for us that the production is made in a controlled manner with great attention to detail.  Also, I wanted to focus on the welcoming aspects of our daily life and see how these objects influence our space and adapt to our habits. The next step was to bring an exceptional team of designers on board, many of whom I had met during my years abroad. In January 2017 UTIL was launched with a presentation at Maison & Objet

TB: Would you like to talk about one of your recent products

MAN: Last January we presented a shelving system called Pliè designed by the Italo-German duo FROM INDUSTRIAL DESIGN. It was a long awaited product that we are delighted to welcome to the UTIL family.

Pliè is a flexible shelving system that intelligently creates a range of storage solutions for your home or office using as little material as possible. The sidewalls and shelves are made of a thin aluminum sheet. Its distinctive folds form a robust piece of utilitarian furniture while adding character to every angle. The range combines self-standing and wall mounted solutions, with or without sliding doors in any colour of your choosing. It is a very elegant and interesting product for either a domestic or work environment.

We are, as we speak, finalizing the last details to go into production and so we are also accepting pre-orders on our website!

TB: What is the major challenge while developing a new object?

MAN: For me developing a product always includes a series of new challenges. The first step is to understand how the new product will fit into the existing range. We do not launch collections, instead we introduce new elements to our growing family of products.

Regarding the process, the designers develop the shape and proportions and after that I work closely with our local manufacturers in Portugal to see the project through. Frequently we come up with some resistance from the manufacturer, and there’s this phase where we need to convince him to do it. This is always quite exciting! Of course sometimes the manufacturer is right and we have to drop it. We have developed a close relationship and mutual understanding with our manufacturers, which we hope to deepen in order to make our process quicker while maintaining our high quality standards.

TB: UTIL is working with several designers from all around Europe, how do you choose the collaborations?

MAN: Most of the designers I work with today are people I got to know during my years abroad. I studied with some in ECAL while with others I have collaborated for specific projects in the past.

When UTIL began, I had a long list of designers that I narrowed down to the group we have now. Always keeping in mind the objects that we wanted to develop. In most cases instead of a briefing the designers are given a short clue that can be either a typology, material or even a scenario. This is how the dialogue starts and the process is always quite free and includes a lot of discussion of intentions and dreams. That’s why it is so important to work with people with whom there is a personal connection.

Currently I am a bit overwhelmed with the amount of requests for collaborations, but I’m trying to get back to everyone that contacted me!

TB: How would you describe UTIL’s products?

MAN: UTIL’s products are made with great care for design, using the best materials and manufactured by a carefully selected group of local producers. This makes for great products where every detail is considered. I think we now have a coherent set of pieces that share the same aesthetics with a strong graphical and minimal design. The pieces are meant to be beautiful but also meaningful, our objects are designed with the purpose of making contemporary living more enjoyable.

Tiffany Bähler


©Tobias Faisst