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Labour day

Let’s celebrate work in every shape!

Let’s celebrate work in every shape! 1280 794 Spii
Labour day

We have a dream. Actually, it’s more like a vision.

It is a human being, not male nor female, just human. And it is at the center.

At the center of what?
Of everything, of course.

At the center of design decisions, taken to improve its comfort and its well-being.
Of business resolutions, because happiness and personal satisfaction are essential for every workplace to actually work.

And also at the center of a day like Labour Day: because we are all workers, and we all need to be celebrated, especially this year.

All the working people have faced challenges never imagined in the past months: from the businessman who didn’t know if he would be able to see the end of it, to the workman who wasn’t sure if the paycheck would arrive on time.

From the tourist guide who stared alone at their city’s local beauties, to the train driver who kept driving even when the trains were empty, their smile hidden behind a mask.

From the doctors who were fighting a terrible war with invisible enemies, to the restaurant owners who tried everything to keep feeding people a plate of joy.

From the mothers and fathers who had to learn to work alongside their children, to the teachers who kept the light of education lit for them from afar.

Even to the children, the working people of tomorrow, who are facing the greatest challenge today to become who they are meant to be.

We are all workers

workers working

We want to celebrate all the working people, every human being who is working towards some goal.

We need to celebrate our strength, our resilience, our endurance: it brought us so far, and it will help us overcome whatever has yet to come.

This year, on May 1st, let’s not remember only the fights and struggles which led us to have rights and security today on the workplace.

Let’s remember we are all humans, all working towards the same goals:
safety, for ourselves and our families.
Happiness and satisfaction.
A sense of purpose, of making a difference with our work, as tiny as it is.

This is something we should celebrate every day, and especially today, this year more than ever.

Happy Labour Day to every working person!

See you next time,
Ilaria Cazziol

old car and horse

The advantages of including train drivers in the design process (or maybe not?)

The advantages of including train drivers in the design process (or maybe not?) 1600 857 Spii
What would happen if Ford had asked people what they wanted? Probably…this!

Fun fact: more often than not, the people who will actually use an object are not the same that design it. This is true in almost every human activity, but in most of them designers have some sort of connection with the final users – be it surveys, opinions, and so on.

Unfortunately, train design is not one of them. This is why, as we already found out, trains are not designed for train drivers.

In the design of a new Train Cab, and in particular for the creation of a Driver Desk, Train Drivers are not always included in the evaluation.

What is the reason for this? And above all, is it a good idea?

Why including Train Drivers in the design process would be a good idea 

Train drivers are the final users of the Driver Desk. These ladies and gentlemen spend many hours every day in the train cab. It is simply their place of work. As for every office, it is where they take decisions, feel emotions, exercise their abilities. And it is a place they may like or dislike to be in.

For all these reasons train cabs should definitely be designed for them. Actually, driver desks should probably be designed WITH them! They are the people who know best what they need to operate there, after all.

So it would seem like a good idea to involve them in the design process: to ask opinions, collect experiences and advice from those who will be using the product everyday.  


Why including Train Drivers can be a bad idea 

Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Instead, he made a car.

If Steve Jobs had asked people what they wanted, they would have said smaller mobile phones with a greater battery-life.

Instead, he made the iPhone.

Innovators are people who can see things that others don’t, and make them a reality that everyone wants.

So, what about train drivers? What do they want?

Some years ago, I was part of the team involved in the design and development of a new tram car’s driver desk, which would serve the public transport in an important European city. The team included the train builders and the city’s operating engineers.

It was not my first project, but the first time drivers were directly included in the process.

At the beginning I was persuaded that it was a great opportunity for some real innovation, based on the actual needs of the drivers. But instead, they chose a totally different approach: they pushed in the direction of a very conservative project.

The reason was simple: the previous driver desk had been in use for 40 years, so the drivers were used to drive it. Choosing a design that aligned with that would give the project a faster and higher chance to receive a positive response.

Based on this clear requirement, we developed a new driver desk very similar to the previous. During the process we did three design reviews, with three different drivers.

I will name them simply Driver 1, Driver 2 and Driver 3.

They were all very experienced, clever and nice: there is nothing to blame about their professional approach.

The insidious path of following what people want

When Driver 1 sees the first mockup, he is immediately confident with the well known design. He makes some useful comments, and suggests to move the blu push-button from the right side to the left side. So we do.

When Driver 2 sees the second mockup, he enjoys the design he is used, too. And suggests to move the blu push-button from the left to the right.

When it was Driver 3’s turn to express his opinion, guess what? He immediately asked why the blu push-button was on the right and not on the left.

The end of the story is that, obviously, the “new” design was approved. We had met the deadline and drivers had formally been included in the process.

Great Result!

But was it?

The truth is that, from a technical, ergonomics and style perspective, we had created a “new” driver desk that was fully equivalent to the previous one.
Designed 40 years earlier.

So really it was not the best we could aim at.

Imagine if Henry Ford had made a new horse saddle instead of a car.
Or if Steve Jobs had created a new Nokia-like mobile phone. 

Innovation is not compromise. Innovation is…well, innovation.


Now we have to answer the initial question: is the inclusion of the drivers in the design process positive or negative?

Despite the story above, I have no doubts about the answer: yes, it could be a great advantage!

It could be very helpful because they have all the information about the real needs of the final user in action.

Engineers and designers need them in order to really do a great job.

But it’s not just about involvement: it’s more about how you do it. It’s crucial to determine in which way they should be included, in order to grant the best possible result.

So a new important question arises: how can we best include drivers in the design process?

It is not easy to answer, but we’ll try to do that in the next article.

See you next time,
Silvio Zuffetti

happy women's day

Happy everyone’s day

Happy everyone’s day 1280 856 Spii
happy women's day

Today is a special day. A day to celebrate the force of creation, of change, of resilience.
A great day to remember what we should know everyday.

A day to celebrate the colleagues and team leaders sitting next to us, for the great job they are doing.
To be amazed by the decisions taken by our boss or manager, for the strength and the leadership shown.
To appreciate the relentless work of the assistant, the smile of the caretaker, the attentions of the train crew.

A day to remove the world “female” before any profession, not because it is more or less politically correct, but because it is just superfluous.

Today is the day of Francesca, who smiles at passengers boarding the train she works on because she loves her job. Or Ilaria, who can give for granted the fact that she is driving one.
It is the day of the Russian women, who can start doing this job for the first time in history.
But it is also the day of the countless women who, around the world, still can’t pursue their dreams.

It’s a day to remember that there are no limits, unless we decide so. That WE, humans, can do everything – when we are not told that we can’t.

Choose to challenge

hornet story

In 2021, the International Women’s Day theme is to challenge. Because that’s where change starts.

Do you know the story of the hornet? It’s said that, given the weight of its body and the dimension of its wings, he should not be able to fly. Yet he doesn’t know it, so he flies on and well!

Be it true or not, our challenge for everyone today is to dare being like the hornet.
Ignore what you are told you can not or should not do, just fly.

Just go #WhereverYOUCan.

Choose to include

Our call is for everyone – men, women, and all that falls between.

Because today should be a day of inclusion.
And Inclusion is for everybody, not just for women.
Inclusion means that we understand we can’t do anything alone: we need to join forces to succeed, despite of sex, ideals, roles, etc.

Today is a day when no one should feel excluded, much less so should men. There is no “International men’s day”, and we don’t want them to think we don’t value their role as we do! 😉

Today is a day to celebrate women in all of their forms. But most of all to celebrate friends, colleagues, bosses, train drivers, train managers…without any addition to it.

Happy International Everyone’s Day from SPII!

See you next time,
Ilaria Cazziol

Spii in the 50s

What’s the secret recipe for a story of success? History, people, change

What’s the secret recipe for a story of success? History, people, change 2560 1973 Spii
Spii in the 60s
Aerial photo of SPII headquarters in the 1960s

There are not many companies today who can date back their origin to over 70 years ago. Even fewer are the ones who managed to resist through time, history, adversities, change, and still keep their original spirit intact.

Among the few who can, there proudly is SPII. Not because it was a special company, nor thanks to any specific competitive advantage. Probably the reason is that it was founded on people, on their ideas, and still is today.

People are what make history. History is what declares a company successful – or not. And the origin of SPII is a story of history and people, of how successfully interconnected they were.

Let me tell you a tale, then, that dates back to 1947, but is more contemporary than ever.

A product of its time

spii's factory in the 1950s
Spii’s factory in the 1950s

SPII was born as a small industrial design studio for electrical appliances. It was a very technical company, a product of its time – the booming fifties.

The industrial history at those times was generally driven by technicians, because there was great request for new inventions to match the ever-growing needs of the population. Selling a product, then, was not hard: money were flowing, people rushed towards the adoption of mass consumption and the economy was booming.

building site in the 50s
Building site in the 50s

But times do fly, and soon enough just inventing the right product wasn’t enough anymore, you had to sell it better than your competitors. Marketing was born in the 70’s, and by the 80’s advertising had become an essential part of the success of any company.

Times were changing also for SPII, and in the late 80’s Roberto Foiadelli, Angelo’s son, best known among the employees as “The Engineer“, succeeded to his father as the leader of the company.
It was him who changed the course of its history and sent it, literally, on a new rail track, becoming a market leader for components and safety devices for railway and industrial applications.

spii factory in the 1950s
Historical photos showing the factory in the 1950s

A new rail track

Roberto was indeed an engineer, but he was also a natural salesman. Most of the management techniques today studied in universities were inborn to him, and that allowed him to create within SPII the authoritativeness that drove the company during the following 30 years. He was the kind of boss who spoke to people one by one: he loved it that way and wanted the company to remain small, only for the Italian market.

But again, time changes. Roberto was smart enough to realize that keeping its “child” from growing was not a successful strategy anymore: the world was moving fast towards innovation, but also towards the difficult times lying ahead in the years 2000s, especially after 2008.

SPII production site 2014
Spii production site 2014

In the early 2000s Roberto Foiadelli began to understand this future world was not the same he used to play in. He decided to open the capital to a private equity fund, in order to gain a a partner with managerial, investment and expansion skills. He understood that overcoming the provincial mentality and expanding into the international arena was the way forward.

That mindful decision and the choiche of Wise Equity as a partner, who proved to be a great one, are what eventually led to the glorious future of the company, despite the crisis that was to come.

A future that would include a partnership with Schaltbau Group, a company with whom Spii worked for the first time in 1965; exactly 50 years later they would close a deal to become a shareholder.

Ultimately, a future that would bring the “professional studio of industrial engineering” to become “strategic partner intelligent interface“.

Spii production site 2018
Spii production site 2018

The future belongs to people who embrace change

This future would see a third generation of the Foiadelli family at the wheel: Paola, a woman leading a company that clearly finds in its history the courage to be innovative, even at uncertain times. A leader that will write another chapter of the story, one that deserves to be told in full.

In the years ahead, difficult for the whole world, those who had bet everything on superficiality, jus on marketing strategies, lost it all. Because they lacked something that SPII has always had: a vision, a mission, strong values.

Today is the era of all these qualities, and this part of history matches perfectly with SPII’s identity: a company that was already like that, even before it became fashionable to be so!

Spii has always talked about agility, flexibility, human capital, and so. And it clearly doesn’t even need to talk about quotas for women in business leadership.
It has always done all of that, looking for new solutions to old needs, with a try&adjust methodology.
Now that these terms are on the first page of newspapers and on television, time has proven Spii to have the right approach.

Probably, that is something that the few companies who can trace their history back to almost a century all have in common. That’s the secret recipe for a story of success: history, people, change.

Albrecht Kohler, CEO at Schaltbau holding AG with Paola Foiadelli CEO at SPII Spa and Roberto Foiadelli chairman of the board at  SPII Spa during the Schaltbau 90th anniversary party in 2019
Albrecht Kohler, CEO at Schaltbau holding AG, with Paola Foiadelli, CEO at SPII Spa, and Roberto Foiadelli, chairman of the board at SPII Spa, taken during the Schaltbau 90th anniversary party in 2019

See you next time!
Ilaria Cazziol