Manuel Amaral Netto was the first person we thought about interviewing when we decided to do a magazine together with a clothing line. Why? Because the main purpose of this magazine is telling the reader about people we like, and why more of you should know about them. We’re huge fans of Manuel’s work. He’s a great example of a new breed of Lisbon-bred entrepreneurs who are taking fate into their own hands. Also, we dig his style.

Praia Grande, Caldas da Rainha, Milan, Lisbon, Rotterdam, Lausanne, Padova, and Lisbon again. The whereabouts of Manuel Amaral Netto over the past 34 years have been diverse to say the least, and have certainly made him the man he is right now. Let’s start with Caldas da Rainha, where Manuel graduated in Industrial Design. This was the really start of an inspiring path in product design and a globetrotting journey that culminated in UTIL, his most recent project. He likes digital technologies - “i’m somewhat of a digital geek” - and he looks for inspiration in science, economics and manufacturing processes, but he might also find it in movies, artists and writers.
UTIL means useful in portuguese, but the beholder will see much more. Simply put, these are some of the most interesting examples of product design we’ve come across lately. Nevertheless, we’ll let Manuel explain: “UTIL is my most recent project that I have been developing for the last 2 years or so. It is essentially a small furniture and home accessories brand. It is focused in the welcoming side of everyday objects. For that reason it looks carefully into the particularities of our everyday routines in order to understand the importance and the role that furniture and accessories play in such events. We are very curious about the impact simple objects have in our daily life.”
When Manuel says we, he means UTIL is a collective of like-minded product designers coming from different parts of Europe, aimed at quietly taking the discipline into new realms. All it takes, and it’s quite a lot, is an added level of attention to detail and human behaviors. Our take on this is that everyday objects tend to rely too much on functionality, maybe for fear of sacrificing functionality. Manuel seems to agree: “Some [objects] are there to clearly help you perform better at a particular task, others are only nice to look at. No matter the purpose we are always concerned about its relevance and its purpose. We aim at producing our products with finest quality in materials, construction and finishes. But above all UTIL is just about making very good and thoughtful products that you will enjoy having."
How did UTIL come about? “It came up in a phase when me and my wife now where looking for a place to settle. None of the other european cities seemed valid since we had no immediate reason to be there and had to start everything from zero.” Manuel and his family found themselves back in Lisbon and Manuel was developing projects in industrial design with colleagues from his Masters in Product Design at ECAL, in Lausanne.
He wasn’t really feeling Lisbon’s design scene, but two things helped him figure out what to do next: globalization and access to technology: “Today we are privileged with the ease of moving around. There are so many people based in one country and working in many others. Also, I started researching for partners in the industry for prototyping and I realised that in Portugal the diversity of available technologies is quite big. Sometimes the quality is not the best but I thought that with the right partners something fun could be done. Parallel to this I thought it could be interesting to develop something with other great designer friends that I met during these last years abroad.”
His creative process is never quite the same, but he know a few things about it: “it is a constant developing process. Most of the times it starts with either a need or a request. Either way the first step is to go out there and see. What is there, what has been done and what are people saying about that specific need or theme. With this step you start to create a microcosmos for something that is to be. Setting rules is also very important to keep a consistent narrative. They can be materials, shapes, textures, proportions.”
Then comes the testing: “Paper mockups, drawings, collages, renders... It is very important to try every single possibility. Whenever possible it is good to put the project on hold and give it time, so you look at it differently. For instance, the Hal coat hanger was something that I wanted to do since the beginning. I made a functional prototype and lived with it for some months before realizing that it was actually cool to use but at the same time the initial shape was all wrong. I tried many different materials and so on but they were always wrong. I stopped developing it until I saw a new machine that a supplier got and it was a chance to look at it with fresh eyes. It was finished a couple of weeks later.”
Finally, it all comes down to finding the right partners: “ This was a long phase to develop with many setbacks that now I see as lessons learned. I am very careful with all the drawings and demanding with the details that are important for the designs. Passing this information well is half of the job I thought! I can say today that I am very happy with the people I work with in production.”
He lives in Lisbon, 5 minutes away from his small studio in Pedrouços, just next to Belém. It’s all part of an elegant tranquility that we like about Manuel’s work and his overall vibe. He’s been all over but if you ask him about location, he’ll say wonders about Rotterdam, but there’s a light that never goes out: “Rotterdam was most likely the place where I enjoyed living the most. Opposite to Milan or Lisbon there is no sense of tradition and this gives you much freedom to do whatever you want to do. Most of my friends there where either Architects, musicians, designers or dancers. The community is quite diverse and interesting. But then I missed the light of Lisbon. Most of the time in Rdam you see low grey clouds.”
The cultural and urban landscape of Lisbon is really at the heart of what makes people excited about the city today, and Manuel is no stranger to that feeling: “The biggest difference is the way you make use of the city. Since I’ve left that Lisbon changed a huge deal. There is the nuisance of too many tourists, lousy public transportation, and roads full of holes and unfriendly to bicycles. But on the other hand the city opened up to use a lot more its gardens and its quiosques for after work aperitifs. The city is a lot more lively, which also has to do with the fact that some people moved back after the financial crisis and events such as tax reform in France or Brexit welcomed a lot of influential people from different areas.”
He admits it is still challenging to launch something from Lisbon to the world, but never have we been closer to each other: “Undoubtedly, social networks shortens the distance in between friends living abroad and potential clients. Even though I miss trains, plane tickets are super affordable these days. At the same time I’me closer to the production, making it easier to develop and check for quality.”