We were delighted to interview the wonderful Stefano Della Peitra from La Marzocco about the design of the new GB5, and what dig in deep with how the design process works at the company. Watch the YouTube video, or pick up the audio version of the interview on Bartalks Interviews, which is available on most podcast apps. The full transcript is below.
Nick: [00:00:17] Hi, I’m here with Stefano Della Pietra. Who’s the product designer for La Marzocco. And we’re going to talk about the new launch release of the GB5. Welcome. How are you doing? Stefano.
Stefano: [00:00:29] Tuti I’m doing pretty well
Nick: [00:00:34] so much for coming on, on to this onto this interview and and also for for doing it in English and cause Italian, I think we we’ve already, we’ve already come to the conclusion if we’re doing it in Italian.
It would not go well so thank you so much for your time.
Stefano: [00:00:49] Thanks to you
Nick: super you’re actually right now, you’re based at do you wanna tell us where you’re at? Because you’re at the design center, right?
Stefano: Yeah, I, right now I’m at the academia. They confess Presto, which is a kind of new app that was created by La Marzocco.
And it’s really the places where La Marzocco used to be from, I guess, 99 to 2009. So this was the production arm of La Mazzocco and we have as more workshops. With a lot of other things, but I’m going just straight to the points or your
Nick: [00:01:23] toys there, right?
Stefano: [00:01:25] Yeah. We have a workshop where we can make customized machines and mock ups.
And so it is where we have the freedom to try some new things.
Nick: [00:01:36] Perfect.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So it’s quite an interesting subject that we’re going to go through because rather than digging into the technicalities of this feature or that feature of the machine, we’re actually going to take a different view.
We’re going to stop talking about the design, how the, these machines get born, how the design process works. And in fact, how you fit that together. With the engineering teams and how those two teams come together and whether you’re strangling each other in the cafeteria or, or which I’m sure you, you wouldn’t admit to, but, but how the how that dynamic works inside of La Marzocco, taking into account, of course, all of the, the history and the other things that that, that you’ve got to, you’ve got to keep in your mind.
So but first of all, First of all Stefano, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got started in your career and how he ended up with espresso machines?
Stefano: [00:02:36] The beginning of my career is a completely mechanical engineering because this is what I study for. I really love, and at the moment, maybe even more and motorcycles cars and all this stuff. So I started for that. And after this, I tried to work in the automotive sector. I worked for a few in the.
Piaggo. Do you know the Vespa?
Nick: [00:03:02] Of course. I know I’m a motorcycle fan and we’ll talk later on because I know you’re going to try and sell me Ducati, but I’ve got a triumph.
Stefano: [00:03:12] Yeah, so we’ll get there in the after sales. So it was pretty far from where I am now, after that I worked in the oil and gas as project manager, but I really wanted to draw something to design something. I didn’t want to stay in front of an Excel file. It wasn’t my, really what I wanted to do. And so I moved to La Marzocco as really a mechanical engineer. But. I started drawing some new shapes and I showed it to Piero, Piero Bambi
Nick: [00:03:50] the wow. The legend is.
Stefano: [00:03:53] Yeah. He he saw these, these new drawings and he told me, well, we have to work on these a little without saying anything. So I say, okay, after two weeks there were Piero and Guido, which is the CEO of La Marzocco together at one table.
Say, say to me. They want to be the new La Marzocco designer. I said, really, this is how it started. And I mean, they have seen something that it wasn’t easy to be seen because now they’re, look at my first drawing. I wouldn’t have made that quest So, and that was six years ago. So I had the luck to stay with Piero every day for five years. It really helps me in improving my eye and seeing, or the proportion. The stuff was really, really an important period for my career.
Nick: [00:04:47] Not many people would would have that chance. So,
Stefano: [00:04:50] no, it’s not. And for me, I mean, you need to have a good base, then you have to study. And I was already studying design because.
I loved it by myself, but then you have, you need to have a master or someone that is helping you because it’s really giving you the right direction. And to have the lack of finding was really a big thing.
Nick: [00:05:13] That’s fantastic. So, I mean, you kind of answered the second question, which was who, which designers have inspired you during your career.
So, you know, Yeah, kind of cheating.
Stefano: [00:05:31] Maybe, maybe. I mean, usually I I’m, I’m not stuck on one style or one. I try to look at everything that is around me because in the end on every object that is close to you, there is someone who made the decision on the aesthetics. Right. They’re like it or not a buddy or these shapes are working in your head.
So I try to look as much as possible and probably for my background, I think a designer like Bambini or Bertone in the automotive sector, really the one that I love the most, but, but also, I dunno, aims or Sottsass. So a lot of really, really. I mean I, I love to see how people think about new stuff, that everyone is seeing things in a different way.
And when you’re making design, I think that you have to move from saying I like it or not, and to understand how they arrived there.
Nick: [00:06:40] Right. So it is actually more important to understand the thinking, as well as just looking at the final result.
Stefano: [00:06:48] Yeah. Yeah. There are so many amazing designers.
Nick: [00:06:55] What, is there a period of time, do you think in the car industry, just for one question, I’m going to ask about cars, but is there a particular period in time where you say that’s the golden period?
That’s when design really took a leap forward.
I think sixties, maybe
for me. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. I, I, I, I thought you were going to say fifties to sixties, but that’s.
Stefano: [00:07:16] Yeah, well really, I don’t know. I, in my, in my garage I have a Lancia Fulvia , but it goes from the 70s. So I dunno. It’s I would say 60s to me.
Nick: [00:07:29] Okay, fantastic.
Stefano: [00:07:30] So looking at the eighties or the nineties,
Nick: [00:07:33] the eighties were terrible, what are you talking about, but let’s not go there. Let’s not go down the rabbit hole I had one of my first cars was a 1970 Chevy Monte-Carlo in bright green with a white roof. And faux leather. It was fantastic except that if the if the engine cutout and sometimes it did all the power in the steering and the, and the brakes would go.
So you would just be this missile going down the road, with no steering and no brakes. So I know this from experience. So so let’s go back to the GB 5. You had, presumably when you start out on a, on a project. So the GB 5 is actually, when was the first GB 5 come out. It was in the 2005. Yeah. Okay.
Something around then. Yeah. So, so when you design the new GB 5, what were your goals? You sat down and you thought, okay, what do we want to achieve? What, what went through your head?
Stefano: [00:08:32] At the beginning, we were just saying, okay. The is this is a classic and we love the shape of this machine by. We want to make something new.
Maybe the time arrived for changing a little. So at the beginning we said, they told me Stefan. Just try to see something. If you want to change something not much, because we will like to keep not adding too many. troubles in production, you know, every time for example, putting a new machine like GB5 in production means to add something like 110 new version that you release your production.
So it’s a huge job and we start like that, and so I change the pannels on small things, but. These ain’t the LA Marzocco DNA. So we knew that we had to change then changing the change in the end. After a lot of changes, just more songs, more details. We said, okay, we know that we need to change a lot. Come on.
We cannot tell to need to change it. And our first goals were to try to improve how you can see the groups. Because on GB5 , they are a little covered, so we’ll work there. So on the front panel also to work on the drip tray, trying to because the, the old GB5 has plastic corner. Which stays with pieces of metal close to it.
So the dirt going there, we said, okay, we don’t want to have this anymore. Let’s think about the new drip tray and also the cup tray. There were too many pieces. It didn’t work too much for us. So we decide to work on these three things. And at the beginning it was really difficult because the GB5 is an iconic.
Machine and you don’t know what you can touch without changing the DNA and the machines really.
Nick: [00:10:33] Right. We’re going to come on to that question. Don’t cheat any more. You’ve already, cheated once you’re allowed one cheat in the interview and then that’s it. So but I’m interested for me. You it’s you’re, you’re not like an artist just making something.
You’ve got to make it hand in hand with the engineering team. So, so. Which comes first, do you do the engineers come to you and say, we’ve got these new technology we want to incorporate and you have to design around it, or do you kind of create the design and go to them with the ideas of what you want the thing to look like, and they have to fit their technology and talk, talk a little bit about how that dynamic works.
Stefano: [00:11:14] Well, let’s say that the dimension of the new machine, or like the GB 5 is something that is, part of the specs that you have in the beginning of a project so that the machine has to be more or less. that dimension, then you start we usually go in part, so there is the engineering part that working on the internal components while I’m going on the external one, or we try to combine them after a few.
So we try to keep separated for not giving us too many borders that we have to respect that maybe are not really needed. But also when we start designing a new shape, we know that we are not making a masterpiece that has to stay on a counter stuck there. Nobody has to touch it. No, our goal is to give to the barista, the perfect machine for his job.
I mean, if they, for some aesthetic reason, they are not able to work as they would like, we are making a mistake.
Nick: [00:12:19] Right.
Stefano: [00:12:20] Functionality always come first. So we start thinking about, how something has to be made. This is part of the design process and how the machine has to be maintained. So maintenance is really a huge topic.
And this is where we have the biggest fight with the engineers.
Nick: [00:12:42] Let’s get into it, come on, spill the beans.
Stefano: [00:12:46] It would be super easy to put some screws. Like on the sides and just remove the screw and that’s it. We did it, but it’s like, it’s not really part of our DNA. We don’t want to have screws around or things like that.
And also for cleaning reasons, we try to have less screws, the possible so that is the biggest fight. So I won’t have the screw under that panel. And now come up with crosswork that yes, we can. I, you start arguing for. The good thing is that many times I start from the shape and also I have to make the balance because as a, as I was telling you, I started as a mechanical engineer.
So I start thinking about the shape and how to put these panels together. So. When I push too much on design it’s it’s on me at least. So there’s no one arguing
Nick: [00:13:41] and Stefano, since we, since listen, no, one’s going to know, okay, this is just between you and me, but do you ever put things in there that, you know, a going to be objectionable and then you take them out afterwards as a concession and then you win all the other things that you really wanted.
Stefano: [00:14:02] Something similar when we have to make some aesthetical approval. So I tried to make the shape, as I know, the 90% exactly as it should be for me. And then I leave something. That I know that it’s not going to be that when people are looking at going that detail, that, you know, you can change. No problem.
Nick: [00:14:26] I knew it. Okay.
Stefano: [00:14:30] That you have to do sometimes.
Nick: [00:14:33] That’s fantastic. How long does it take? Like from the beginning to the end? So when somebody sat down and who makes the call, who sits down one day and says, ah, you know, we need to come out with a new GB 5 and then how long does that process take from the moment that guy says it to it being in the shops?
Stefano: [00:14:51] Usually this starts directly at La Marzocco from our CEO. So it’s Guido that has really great vision of the market that is steady hands. Okay. We should do, we should go in this direction. And then we try to understand how but by usually it seemed that he’s giving us the direction at the beginning. And also they that’s part of the marketing there is related to the product that is helping us find better direction by we are pretty free as in R&D.
We really don’t have at the beginning of the project such important specification there. closing you try to have a human centered design. So it’s like we can change our specs. We don’t, we haven’t them written somewhere. They are fixed there. We don’t want to change it. If we think that we can make a better product, we change them. And this is why going back to the beginning of this quest of this question, the first drawing was in 2017. So,
Nick: [00:16:03] so, okay. So it’s three years. Roughly. Yeah.
Stefano: [00:16:06] Yeah. Three years where we changed a lot from then you change and change and changing. Always try to obtain the better product that, that we feel is really respecting La Marzocco values. So we are not afraid of change
Nick: [00:16:26] talking of that great segway Let’s talk about materials for a second. So there’s a lot of talk about I mean, obviously materials change and you know, some people say a boiler has to be copper or other people say, you know, we can go stainless steel and then people’s opinions change.
And then some materials are considered more environmentally friendly. Some materials obviously have to be considered because of their weight, or because of their thermal dynamic. Capabilities have the how important, our materials into, in the design process. How do you do you, obviously you keep up to date with what materials that the benefits and the change in the opinions of different materials, but also of course, the environmental impact as well.
And sustainability questions come into, come into it. Can you talk a little bit about how those questions factor in. To the design process. And then specifically on this model, the GB 5 whether you, you purposely therefore chose any different kinds of materials to work with and how those work can do the design.
Stefano: [00:17:33] But I think for answering to these questions, we have to split it in two. So there is one partner is really related to the aesthetics. So for everything, there is the external shape of the machine. You have to stay true to your DNA, the need the need that you have material there is stuck there. But for example, if tomorrow La Marzocco is going to make something that is sustainable, but last like two years, that is. Really completely out of our thinking of how we are, we work. So and there is also a perception, maybe perception
Of what you see and what the touch so. Our machines have to be heavy duty machine. I mean, people want to have them on a counter for many years. They don’t. And also with the design you’re given this kind of feeling and with the material that you choose for your extent of shapes, or this is why many times we choose to go on with stainless steel because first of all is just the raw material.
And It gives you the importance of, of the product. And also, you know, that it’s going to be there for many years. So this is a type of approach in sustainability is for us to have a machine which can stay there for, I dunno, 20 years without going away. It’s a way of being sustainable. We can improve and we try to improve a lot there because that’s.
That’s road that, that we have to make and that we are making and also it goes through the materials that you were saying, you know, maybe find the. I don’t know, different way of heating up or for example, in the GB 5 we work with without going to the other part of this topic, which are the internal component of the machine.
We worked a lot of on installation. So because we have found on our common footprint that part of Where we can improve. Our sustainability was really they’re heating the heating moment of the machine, so which I insulate much better, or the components inside the machine. And also, we decided to add some small plastic components for their connection of the boilers for the frame in order to not throw away these, heat that.
We paid some electricity for it, so, right. And so there is big difference between external and internal components. And also we have to think about the fact that we are talking about a coffee machine so there is a lot about sanifcat, sanctification. Yeah. It’s so, and it’s something that you drink. So it’s really important.
The material that you are choosing for that stainless steel we know that we, we are not going to cause any problem to what is drinking our coffee. So also so these part is a huge important part of a coffee machine.
Nick: [00:20:49] Right. It’s an understood material. It’s actually interesting what you say because I’ve been, we’ve been writing a lot on on bar talks on sustainability from different angles, not just in coffee, but also in cocoa.
And the more I look into subjects, which seem quite simple on the surface, when you go for every single thing, you know, electric cars. Electric cars have batteries. Elon Musk was recently criticized in Tesla because he started accepting Bitcoin. And for those that don’t know a Bitcoin I think it’s it now.
Requires more electricity than some countries to generate new Bitcoin? Yeah, this called blockchain mining. So when you’re mining Bitcoin to make new Bitcoins, it’s a, you’ve got computer cycles having to, to go through a mathematical operation and it’s become so big now. The complexity and that’s just to do with the way the system’s architected that a huge amount of power is required to do the math problem, that then results in the creation of a new Bitcoin and an actual fact, it’s now only practical to do this in countries where the electricity is very free or very cheap, but the point is you worked it out.
That there’s more electricity used in creating Bitcoin than some small countries use in the entire country. So here you’ve got a car manufacturer selling an environmentally friendly car and taking Bitcoin in payment, which in itself is the most unenvironmental currency that that can exist. And so every single environmental question that I look at.
Is more complicated than it seems. And somebody can point the finger at anywhere and say, ah, that’s not environmentally friendly, but you say, hold on a second, you didn’t take into account the fact that this has got a two year life cycle. And as you just said, well, the people are going to keep on machines for 10 to 20 years.
Stefano: [00:22:42] And this is, what’s what we try to do with the shape. So you can also draw something that you think is going to be out of fashion. I don’t know. Two years I to draw something as we usually do that has a classic base could stay there for, I dunno, if fitting to the old GB5 , it was from 2005 to now.
And I mean, it’s a beautiful machine is one of my favorites. So, or to the Linea classic, it is from the 1990s. Still now still looks good. Still looks good with a part of our product based on that, that the Linea mini or the Linea PB is always the same shape and it’s still working. And this is a way of giving a base that doesn’t change in design.
Nick: [00:23:35] But does that ever, did they have a box you in, I mean, does that ever feel like a constraint to you? The fact that you’ve got all of that heritage, all of that. So you’re sitting down to design a new machine. Right. And, and maybe one day you just want to go crazy and design something. I don’t know. You want to design something totally new and totally, totally out there like a new concept.
Presumably it’s difficult to do that because you know, you’ve got such a, a, a loyal following that might. be that might find it very difficult to understand a completely new design direction. So how much does that constrain you? Does that feel like a constraint? Really?
Stefano: [00:24:20] To me, not really. Not really, because
it’s not so easy to explain it, but you really don’t have. So like is your high that there is a being you in understanding what could be a La Marzocco or design or not. And staying true to, to La Marzocco is something that makes me really proud of. So it’s something for the moment. At least, I don’t know why in 20 years it’s going to be different for me or not, but now it’s like finding always something that has a different shape, but still talk.
The same language is a big challenge every time. And. I don’t feel like I have too many I don’t feel close in something. No, I think it’s hard to find always the right room for having something that works as La Marzocco by changing shape. I don’t know if I was able to
Nick: [00:25:19] You did. I mean, I mean, we’ve, we’ve really beaten this whole car metaphor , to death as well, but I’m going to have one more throw at it and just say BMW with a new grill have come out, has come under a lot of criticism because they changed.
I mean, that was just the grill for crying out loud, you know, just the grill. And, but, but the BMW fans out there are like, Oh my God, I, you know, I’d never buy one now because the grill is a different shape, you know, come on.
Stefano: [00:25:45] Hey, something that I
think that the BMW designers have big shoulders, probably because every time you talk about aesthetics everyone. has an opinion, and everyone wants to share it.
Nick: [00:26:04] Yes, you was so right.
Stefano: [00:26:06] It’s not like saying and I I’m talking about math in a, such a high way. That’s no one can tell me anything. Not the aesthetics is just look at it and. And I have an opinion to tell it. And if I know that you had the designer I want to tell you even more so as I of the day is listening to people say, I don’t like that I want design another way.
Nick: [00:26:30] So you need the broad shoulders, but still keep the ears open
Stefano: [00:26:34] more brains are always working better than just one.
Nick: [00:26:37] Right, right. You have to be
Stefano: [00:26:41] by the right idea, but it’s something it’s really probable that it’s not in your brain but outside.
Nick: [00:26:48] Yeah, that’s true. That’s very true. Listen, we, we, we we’re, we’re coming towards the end.
I got a couple more questions that I’d like to ask you. One of them’s really about the, the maintenance, because I know that maintenance. Obviously in, in the cafe, all of your machine is very important. That becomes a cost equation as well. You know, if you can keep working on a machine, even when you’re still needing to do something on, on one of the groups is important.
If you’re busy, that’s money, right. That’s that’s money right there. So but obviously it presents. Oh, I say obviously, I don’t know. I assume it presents a challenge from the design point of view cause he got how you want the thing to look and then you’ve got these annoying. You know, technical people who’ve come along and say, we need all these different things.
And then on top of that, they might say, Oh, and also we might need to do the maintenance on this. Whilst over here, you’re still working. How, how does that play in? Does it, is that a, is that a consideration and on the GB 5 how did you, how did you tackle that problem?
Stefano: [00:27:46] So usually we have at the beginning we start making as I was saying, the, the design and the internal components, then we put them together on a first prototype.
Usually the moment we call the after sales guys, at La Marzocco. So they look at the machine, we really try to remove everything and putting it back again. But obviously you have to start thinking about the maintenance from the beginning of the project. And it’s even more difficult maybe than what you were saying, because you have to think about that, that a coffee machine can stay close to the wall.
close to the wall back because of the war one side plus wall on the other side that, you know, that will always be free is the front where the barista’s work really is. It’s kind of nightmare because you can not say I can remove everything from the back. No, maybe there’s a wall so it’s impossible. And so this is why on our machines.
Usually you have the screws. On the barista side, because at least there, you have to be able to remove parts I mean, I would love to not have it, but it’s something that it’s needed. So and we choose to have also both sides that can be removed without making without needing too much room. That is something that it’s the beginning.
If you are not doing that machine can not go out in that case. It’s impossible. So we have this moment we’d after sales guys who are, they’re saying that we don’t think about anything. We are not building anything, make everything, again, it many times they are right because when you start drawing things, You get about the aesthetics how it has to work? Something to maintenance needs. Really, if you don’t look at it by saying, okay, I want to remove it, then placing it back is something that you are going to forget. So it’s really an important point. And then we go to through the pre-series so once that we have made all these studies, we finalize the project.
We really saw the stamps, the molding. And we take back the single components, put them together in pre series call the after-sales guys again and see again, if everything’s okay. And then we can go in production if field testing en-route. So we have this it’s really an important moment. The maintenance, we know that we are making objects they’re used for work. I mean there’s so they have to be maintained
Nick: [00:30:35] right. Right. And you do it right at the beginning. So I said something that you, you don’t leave to the later, you don’t leave to the end, you know,
Stefano: [00:30:42] never every time I start drawing something I know that the lateral panel has to be removed easily and also the cover of the groups.
I know that that is something that is needed.
Nick: [00:30:57] So, what about let’s? Let’s let’s just talk about you for one second and then we’ll thank you so much for your time. We’ll we’ll we’ll wrap this up, but I wanted to know what’s it, what’s it like, I’m sure a lot of people want to know what’s it like working for La Marzocco what’s it like to be a designer for, you know, arguably like the top espresso machine maker in the world?
Stefano: [00:31:17] Yes, it’s beautiful. I mean, at the beginning you feel some pressure. There are a lot of people working for La Marzocco in the fabric walls around it. And so you feel like you cannot make mistakes, but this is where really where La Marzocco works because they let me feel super protected at the beginning.
Working with Piero was a way but when I had some doubt, I just went to him and he was saying, yes, no easy. Super fast just by looking at one thing. So when he was saying yes, you feeling like it kind of super hero you because you were sure that it would have worked. So having this five years with him was something that really had me not feeling the pressure and taking all the beautiful part of this job and it’s really
many people are fascinated by, by the design of our machines and they are telling me, and, and I mean, it’s, I think maybe the best part of every job that you can make. Because as I was saying before, there are many people telling you I would have done these in a different way, but there are also a lot of people saying I love that machine.
So that is something priceless.
Nick: [00:32:44] It is. I must imagine this and thank you so much for your time. I wish you the very best of the rest of the week. Thank you again.
Stefano: [00:32:50] Thank you, gratzi