The Compasso d’Oro prize was instituted by the Rinascente company in 1954 and was initially an idea of Gio Ponti and Alberto Rosselli.
1954 was a landmark year for Italian design and culture which saw the holding of the international industrial design Convention presided over by Enzo Paci in Milan, the Triennale’s special international exhibition of industrial design and the publication of Alberto Rosselli’s Stile e Industria, the first Italian magazine dedicated wholly to design.
The large stores in the Rinascente group, then headed by Aldo Borletti and Cesare Brustio, began at that time to adopt a very advanced and modern image created by the graphic designer Max Huber.
They initiated the Compasso d’oro, therefore, at a time of great ferment, of affirmation of Italian design and at the birth of modern consumer culture and large-scale distribution. The award’s symbol of the compass was suggested by Rinascente’s consultant and graphic designer Albe Steiner.
The prize promotes culture and renewal in the production of consumer durables, while supporting the determinant role of the designer in their quality.
As well as the prize itself, awarded to a few cases of special excellence, the Compasso commends many works in an effort to encourage the adoption of design criteria to a wider range of products.
From 1958, just two years after it was set up, the ADI (Association for Industrial Design) became involved in the organisation of this award, leading to close collaboration with the Rinascente group that in 1967 awarded the prize itself to this Association that has been running it all these years.
Since its beginnings in 1954 over 2,000 products have been nominated or received awards, ranging in type from household and office furnishings, means of transport, work tools and sports equipment. A prize was also established for companies, with over twenty having been awarded, including one to Rinascente itself.
Over what is now almost half a century the Compasso d’oro has recognised the work of many of Italy’s premier companies and greatest designers, including the Castiglioni brothers Achille and Piergiacomo, Marcello Nizzoli, Bruno Munari, Marco Zanuso, Vico Magistretti, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass jr, Giorgio Giugiaro and Pininfarina. In 1997 the CLAC, (the Cantù Wooden Furnishings Centre) became custodians and promoters of the historic collection of prize-winning products, setting up the Cantù Galleria del Design e dell’Arredo. Over 2,000 products have received awards or been singled out for special praise in the years between 1954 and today.