BAUMEISTER - The Connection of Things

Architecture magazine BAUMEISTER in conversation with Andreas Diefenbach, Managing Partner of PHOENIX. Phoenix Design has worked with large bathroom and plumbing companies for decades. Andreas Diefenbach, designer and managing partner of Phoenix Design, explains in an interview how to develop a brand language and what the upcoming trends in the bathroom and sanitary industries are. The interview was conducted by Alexander Russ and will be published by Baumeister in the May 2020 issue.

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  • Baumeister: Mr Diefenbach, at Phoenix Design you are doing a lot of work for bathroom and sanitary companies. How did that come about?

    Andreas Diefenbach: Andreas Haug, one of our founders, was one of the co-founders of frog design, together with Hartmut Esslinger. Back in the 1970’s, i.e. already at frog design, was when the cooperation with Klaus Grohe, the owner of Hansgrohe, started. So right from the very beginning, there was a direct relationship between the entrepreneur and the designer. This relationship continued with Phoenix Design and still exists to this day. We design all products and product experiences of the hansgrohe brand.

    B: You just mentioned the direct relationship between entrepreneur and designer. How important is this relationship for the design process?

    A.D: With Kaldewei, there's a similar history like with Hansgrohe. The cooperation there also started right after Phoenix Design had been founded. From then on, we had more and more cooperations with bathroom and sanitary companies. With Duravit, we also have a long-standing relationship, and we designed very successful product series for them. But the outset of our cooperations with bathroom and sanitary companies, there was always an entrepreneur who had set his sights completely on design in order to differentiate his brand and to be one step ahead.

    B: How do you proceed when you develop a certain design language for a brand?

    A.D: There are two important aspects. The first aspect involves how capable a design is to appeal to a majority, which leads to these questions: How will bathrooms look like worldwide, and what will be their relevance and importance for future generations? How will the people who use our products develop? The second aspect is differentiation: What is the unique characteristic of the respective company? Each company follows its own strategy there. With hansgrohe, we define our design latitude within the scope of living environments comprising a persona, the matching style universe, and a need. Moreover, each product has to be able to touch the person using it each and every day both on a rational and an emotional level – regardless of their cultural origin and their everyday environment.

    B: How does communication with the respective client work during the design process?

    A.D: Hansgrohe is again a good case in point here because over the years of our cooperation, we have established a certain working culture: There are strategy meetings that take place two or three times a year. In these meetings, we get together with the Members of the Board and the Division Heads, and for three days we discuss the next steps the company has envisaged – design always being an integral element. With Duravit, cooperation is rather project-focused: So it’s less about the overall big picture but more about a concrete product series. The intermediate results are discussed monthly with the client, and the relevant decisions are taken.

    B: Which technological challenges are there in the bathroom and sanitary area,

    especially with regard to digitisation?

    A.D: The bathroom and sanitary industry is rather conservative in a positive sense, since it is directly interlaced with the construction industry. After all, you don’t construct a building just to tear it down again just ten years later. So the life cycle has a low frequency. Digitisation is the complete opposite, just think about your smartphone. There we’re talking about a high frequency life cycle. What has us face challenges time and again is the question of how we can bring these two worlds together. And especially: How to design the interfaces between the long-winded analogue constants and the short-lived digital variables.

    B: You just mentioned time as a factor. This also relates to a product’s sustainability.

    A.D: The issue of sustainability is of fundamental importance for our profession. As designers, we always fight against time. It is always our goal to design a product which lasts for generations – i.e. that is timeless. In the bathroom and sanitary area in particular, products have a long life span. That’s why for us, sustainability is not a trend, but an attitude – be it in terms of design, of functionality, or in terms of ecological issues regarding resources, production, or daily routines which promote sustainable behaviour.

    B: Which of your products would you say is timeless?

    A.D: I'd like to cite a current example: the “Rainfinity” series by hansgrohe. I would call this a timeless series because we derived inspiration from other areas. When you think about which products are bequeathed from one generation to the next, then these are for example cutlery and dinnerware – objects with an emotional value. And that was the fundamental question we asked ourselves in designing “Rainfinity”: How can I turn a sanitary product into an object for the living environment?

    B: How did you go about this in concrete terms?

    A.D: We got some inspiration from furniture design. That’s why the “Rainfinity” shower head is reminiscent of a luminaire. The shoulder shower can also be used as a shelf. So it’s like a kind of sideboard.

    B: This brings me to my next question: In what way does your work for other areas influence your work for bathroom and sanitary companies?

    A.D: As a matter of fact, that’s an advantage for us at Phoenix Design. We can bring together quite different industries. When we take the know-how we have established from working with a company from a specific industry and transfer it to a company from a completely different industry, we can arrive at truly novel and radical solution approaches. In the end, all of our clients derive benefit from that.

    B: You have subdivided your work at Phoenix Design into “Mobility”, “Home”, and “Work”.

    A.D: Yes, we are active in these areas because we firmly believe that all three areas are interconnected. These are the three aggregate states of human beings in which we permanently move around day in and day out. That’s what we want to anticipate and connect in our work.

    B: Finally, I'd like to ask you to give us an outlook on the future: What are the upcoming trends in the bathroom and sanitary industry?

    A.D: The next trend to me will be the individual person and their self-efficacy. In this context, I’d like to use the term “Internet of Me” as an extended version of the “Internet of Things”. How is a person interconnected with themselves? What’s my physiological and psychological state? Transferred to the bathroom, this means: How do I react to water and light, heat and cold? So it’s all about embedding my senses as a human being into an environment which is multi-sensorial. That means that in the future we will not think in terms of technology so much as in terms of an atmosphere that an individual will meet personally time and time again. In the future, the emphasis will be more on being able to imagine what an individual will expect, and what this individual will want to be and to become.

  • Andreas Diefenbach, Managing Partner of PHOENIX Stuttgart/Munich/Shanghai

    Andreas Diefenbach (*1979) has been a Managing Partner of Phoenix Design Stuttgart/Munich/Shanghai since 2019. Since 2006, he has held several positions with Phoenix Design, most recently as a member of management board. He successfully finished his studies in Industrial Design at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design and the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen. As a specialist for the sanitary and investment goods industries, he has consulted international brands in their innovation process and is today also as managing partner responsible for the areas of Business Development, HR, and Marketing.

    PHOENIX maintains the top rank “best of” at the iF World Design Index “external design studios” and is regarded as the leading independent design studio for product and interface design worldwide. Today, PHOENIX has 80 employees working at their locations in Stuttgart, Munich and Shanghai. PHOENIX has already received more than 800 international design awards, i.a. the title of honor “Red Dot: Design Team of the Year 2018”. Brand companies like AXOR, Deli, Haier, Hansgrohe, Huawei, Lamy, LG, Loewe, Stiebel Eltron, Still, Trumpf, Vorwerk, Wilkhahn, Xiaomi and Zeiss are among the long-standing clients.

    andreas.diefenbach (a)