Success with design is
always based on the design of relationships. This applies to the design
of a product as well as the design of the collaboration between designer
Design is not art. Design is not art that makes itself useful either. Design is a professional service; a commissioned work that has to fulfil a defined task. In this respect, designers differ from artists. The latter use their creativity in order to do what they want. In their creative work they are only responsible to themselves and their own convictions.
Designers, however, use their creativity in order to do a job and solve a task. They put their expertise in the service of doing a task properly. The better they manage to do that, the higher the added value they can create with their work.
The added value that can be created by design is also what makes the designer’s work interesting for a manufacturer. Design can, if used properly, give a company an invaluable advantage. Many companies owe their existence and market success to design.
The success of the German company Braun, which has made design history with its products since the 1950s, was a result of the company’s close cooperation with the Ulm Design School in Germany.
The entrepreneur Erwin Braun sought cooperation with designers in order to give his company and products a new form. In the collaboration with graphic designer Otl Aicher a new visual identity characterised by clarity was created for the company.
The company’s expertise at producing modern, high-quality and unique products was able to be expressed in an instantly visible way. The first products in the new range had a very modern look created in cooperation with Hans Gugelot.
The company’s new, and for its time, completely unexpected product culture created a similarly fresh attitude towards life for many purchasers. From the very start, customers recognised the special design quality of Braun radios, stereo systems, household appliances and electric razors. By buying these products they felt they were leading a better life.
Design makes the difference. Even if products are equipped with the same technology and functions, they can nevertheless be very different in terms of their aesthetic form and use. Achieving this is the designer’s task; this is where their actual expertise lies.
The crucial point is to recognise the manufacturer’s intention and to design the products in such a way that the difference to the competitors and to whatever has been created before becomes clearly visible.
This, over time, creates something we call the product culture of a company; something that distinctly points to a company’s competence and quality and that makes every new product immediately recognisable as part of this unique culture. The outcome is a market positioning that is essentially based on design.
The most important task of designers is to design products that harmoniously combine the company’s identity and a distinctive ‘newness’. This requires a high degree of sensitivity on the part of the designers. They have to understand the company’s identity and meld it with the intended novelty of the product.
The play between the company’s identity and the product’s novelty is the greatest challenge for any good designer. Designers have to restrain themselves so that their identity does not get in the way of the company’s identity. It is important to find just the right balance and tension in the design of a product.
There are also only a few in the field of design who are up to this challenge in the long term and their expertise is rewarded with successful products in the market and numerous awards in design competitions. They are also the best partners for a company, regardless of whether they are working independently or within a company.
Manufacturers who want to make a safe decision when selecting their designers should always try to work with the best. They can be recognised by the successes they have achieved already.
However, time and again I come across the situation in which manufacturers and managers are afraid to approach the really successful designers and work with them. Often, higher fees are given as the reason.
But it is certainly better to pay a little more for much better work than to settle for mediocre or even poor work just because it costs less. Quality does have its price. What clearly applies to products can not be questioned when it comes to choosing a designer.
If a company has decided to choose one of the best designers, it is important to place the necessary trust in him or her. A high fee by itself does by no means guarantee success. In general, this can only be achieved through working together. This requires the development of a trusting relationship in which each party’s competence and skills are acknowledged.
Managers sometimes see designers as somewhat crazy creative people who want to realise their own ambitions in the design of a product at the cost of the company. However, this view makes it impossible to achieve the joint success hoped for. On the other hand, designers often believe that they can be true saviours of a company.
They then demand complete autonomy in order to lead the company to success. Obviously this doesn’t usually work either. Instead it is important that the relationship between designer and manufacturer is based on mutual trust and respect.
If mutual understanding is there, it is crucial to formulate the tasks and their division. What is the vision for the new product? What functions is it to have and how will it be used? What means are available and what is it supposed to cost in the end? Who is working together with whom? How can the designer’s and the manufacturer’s know-how be combined to achieve the objective?
How can product developers, engineers and marketing specialists work together as a team? These and many other questions have to be answered and determined before the actual work on the product can begin. Usually a design job is not just given to a designer who then returns after some weeks with the first drafts.
Ideally, designers and company staff form a team and work together on the development of a new product. This is, of course, much easier to realise if a company has its own in-house design department.
The best example of the success that can be achieved through task division and cooperation between designers and manufacturers is Apple. Here success is primarily characterised by the relationship between Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, and the designer, Jonathan Ive. What is interesting to note in this case is how similar this successful approach is to Braun’s.
Apple’s success story began with the cooperation of Steve Jobs and Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of frog design. Back then they created a revolutionary new product, the Macintosh home computer. In the second successful phase of the company an internal design department was set up and headed by Jonathan Ive.
With products such as the iMac, iPod, and iPhone, this design department has continually set new design standards. In the case of Braun it all began with the cooperation between Erwin Braun and Hans Gugelot. Later, Braun also set up an in-house design department.
Dieter Rams, the long-standing head of this department, has made a significant contribution to the company’s success with the products created under his direction.
The memoirs of Raymond Loewy also offer several inspiring examples of successful collaborations between independent designers and companies. The most famous is certainly the story of the re-design of the Lucky Strike cigarette packet.
In addition, the relationship of Loewy to his clients was always characterised by mutual trust and respect. Only in this way is it possible, in the long term, to achieve the goal of creating, with design, added value for the company.
Let’s summarise the key components of a successful collaboration between designer and manufacturer. First, there is the insight that design is not art but a task-related creative service. From this follows that designers cannot simply do what they want and believe is right.
Their work has to serve a company’s goals as well as the requirements of the product. Based on these factors the quality of their work can also be measured. However, it is not only the designers who are responsible for the success; the company also has to do its share. It is important that the company formulates clear goals and sets explicit tasks.
In addition to that, a joint willingness to work in a team is required. This is based on trust and recognition of the skills of each team member, because in the case of design the following applies: a team is only as strong as its weakest player. The stronger all those involved are with regards to their skills and willingness, the more probable joint success becomes.
Good design is always the result of successful teamwork. This is also the reason why the red dot award annually awards the title ‘design team of the year’.