On 24 January 2018, Andreas Diefenbach, member of the Phoenix Design Management Board, was the invited guest speaker at the conference series by the Design Friends at the museum of contemporary art MUDAM in Luxembourg. In his one-hour speech about “The Future of Living” he dealt with pivotal design topics.
Design Friends Conference in Luxembourg
The World is changing, but some things will never change. Shelter, food, water, warmth, safety, rest and light. This fundamental continue to define people’s lives. Civilization has come a long way but there is still so much that can be better for so many people all over the world. In context of massive urbanization, scarcity of resources and upcoming technological standards our needs of living and wellbeing are consistently evolving. As designer we are responsible for re-inventing the world we live in.
At Phoenix Design we believe that we can serve humanity best by focusing on those substantial things, that will always count: to find the way to manage challenges in daily life in clever, smart and meaningful way. In the interview with Mark Penfold from Design Friends, Andreas Diefenbach goes into detail.
So the home remains central to the work Phoenix does? Yes, that’s why I named my talk at Mudam ‘The future of living.’ This is one of the main sources of success for Phoenix Design. We have this strong philosophy. To be human. A lot of well-known designers got their start here. It’s really important to us to be a good brand for our clients but also to be a good company, a positive brand in the community.
That is unusually public spirited. Since the beginning, we’ve had three words which explain our philosophy: logic, morals and magic. If you understand these three words you can understand how we think.
Could you explain a little? The world out there, as well as design, it’s a logical thing. You have to use logic to decide what the future will be like, what will it mean for this product? You have to think first. Not sketching, but thinking.
Where do the morals come in? It’s a big word, morals. In fact, they’re all big words, but this one means we solve problems in a good and helpful way, out there in the world. In an everyday sort of way. No BS. A product should be a problem solver and it has to be innovative. It should not be just a one hit wonder. It should last for several years. It must be well done, made to last.
But how do you bring the magic? The challenge of the future, of design, is to find out the expectations of people and create solutions which solve problems in a new way. Because, the problems are always the same: you are hungry, or thirsty. People don’t change as fast as the technology does. Problem solving, combined with new technology. This is innovation, but the problems are the same.
How do you know where to begin? Research comes first. It’s all about observation of people’s habits. You know, you can take a seat in the middle of a city and just apprise people’s behaviours out there. How do they interact in different situations, with different products?
Hansgrohe have played an important part in the Phoenix Design story, haven’t they? Hansgrohe is one of our most important clients. We have worked for them since the beginning. For thirty years now! We are like an in-house design team but not actually ‘in the house’. I think this has been an important factor in our success together. This is a strategic, long term relationship. It’s much more than the typical design agency doing a project, it’s a long term relationship.
Do you have a favourite project from your work with Hansgrohe? The AXOR UNO faucet line. At the beginning of Phoenix Design, in ’87, Tom Schönherr designed the first edition. It was redesigned in the ‘90s, and now I’ve worked on the third generation. As it has evolved, this line has become more and more essential. And now, combined with a gold or copper surface, it’s a really nice mix between purism and luxury.
You are looking for an ‘ideal’? You can see it in music, in art, in cooking. It’s not about eating because you’re hungry, it’s about stop eating when you put the food in your mouth and saying ‘Wow, what is that?’ It’s the same in music, in art, and of course, in design.
Does it stop with ‘Wow’? We are always talking about first, second and third read.
‘Wow’ is just the first read? It’s quite simple. Imagine you go to a bar and you see a nice lady, you think ‘wow, she’s beautiful, I have to talk to her’. Your first impression works from ten metres. That’s the first read. You move closer, and this is the second read. You start talking, you hear her talk, her story and through the evening you fall in love. The third read, the most important. Spending years with this lady, getting married, having kids and after ten years you are still in love with this person.
Getting that third read right with a product must be rare? The third read happens where you have a long-selling product on the market with your clients. We designed the Caro line for Duravit in the ‘90s. They still produce this line today and it’s still successful. It’s an evergreen.
How do clients react if you suggest something completely radical? The research is crucial for this. It helps us present a good argument! People imagine that the designer comes in with paper and pens, does some drawings and says, ‘It’s beautiful and I believe it will work’. Perhaps they used to, but these days, the client will say, ‘Why should I believe you? Please show me why this form or shape, or design, is the ‘right’ solution. It’s not about being beautiful it’s about being ‘right’ for today and tomorrow.
So an emotional appeal on it’s own is no good? No. You can’t just have the magic, you’ve got to be logical, too.
What are some of the newest lessons for product designers? For me it’s about understanding how digital issues affect things. As a product designer you learn how to use software to create 3D objects. CAD and so on. This is a great tool, but on the other hand, product design is becoming more of an analytic process, focussed at the border between digital experience and physical product design.
And what are those borders like? There are no borders anymore! To use a product, there is an interface, but in the future you may not even have a display. You might interact with your voice, for example. The issues are changing all the time.
So how do Chinese consumers differ from German ones, for example? Chinese and German culture share the same type of logical thinking. I have a lot of experience presenting new designs in both countries. And you always need to say why it’s good. What feature is important and so on. And at the end of the presentation we have to show them the beauty. So first logic and at the end ‘wow’.
So it’s not totally different? No, but the Chinese like a bit more attitude. Not the ‘bling-bling’ attitude to show they’re rich. Rather, they’re really open-minded, and interested in the future, in high technology. The products have to look like intelligent digital products. This is much more important than it is in Germany, for example.
About Design Friends
Design Friends is a non-profit organisation not merely speaking to professionals, but rather creating a conversation with all design lovers. By hosting conferences and exhibitions, publishing magazines and much more, Design Friends became in the last years a vital platform for design-related topics in Luxembourg. Renowned designer held a speech at the Design Friends Luxembourg yet - e.g. Ruedi Baur, Uwe Brückner, Stefan Diez, Erik Spiekermann, Andreas Uebele and more. – www.designfriends.lu