Since the launch of their new company catchphrase ‘enjoy water’ in 2005, the company – led by English CEO David Haines – has increased sales by twelve per cent, while its expenditure on innovation has gone up sixteen per cent since 2003.
Product launches follow a very hectic calendar, with forty per cent of sales in 2006 achieved with products that were less than three years old. Fifty new items were launched in March at the ISH, the international bathroom fair that takes place every two years in Frankfurt.
But what truly places Grohe in a new design-focused era, is its digital bathroom platform, Grohe Ondus, presented at the Milan Furniture Fair in April and awarded a ‘best of the best’ red dot award – one of the most important design accolades in the world – in June.
Heading the eleven-strong Grohe design team is thirty-five-year-old Paul Flowers, a graduate of Northumbria University (UK), who before landing at Grohe, had held several design positions with giants such as IBM, Philips and Electrolux, as well as in small, agile London design studios.
“The design function at Grohe is at the same level as marketing and development,” says Flowers, who reports directly to CEO David Haines. “This obviously creates fantastic opportunities for innovation, and the company invests heavily in both design and technology.”
Upon his arrival at Grohe, Paul Flowers was allowed a lot of freedom in deciding how to enhance design know-how within the company. “When I took the position of VP of design in November 2005, I saw a lot of potential in the company’s impressive history of well-engineered products. I decided to use this as a foundation on which to build world-class design.”
Convinced that good ideas can come from anywhere within a company, Flowers started transforming the design centre into an innovation hub. “I am after creative osmosis: allowing ideas – all ideas – to be generated within the company but also to be translated into meaningful products and branded experiences, and this is the designers’ task,” he explains.
While prior to his arrival a lot of the design work was outsourced, Flowers focused on strengthening the in-house team, and on developing a brand.
Grohe Ondus is the first major outcome of this new branding exercise, a truly well orchestrated solution in which product design, user-interface design, technology and communications go hand in hand – harmoniously.
With the bathroom becoming increasingly central in the home, Flowers felt that the time was ripe to introduce digital technologies into what is turning into a well-being centre where we experience water and stimulate the senses. “My vision was that of a digital bathroom in which technology helps us enjoy and save water.”
Grohe Ondus is a line of faucets and showers with three monochromatic finishes: Moon White, Velvet Black and the more institutional StarLight® Chrome.
The name Ondus is a derivative of the Latin word for wave. The advanced curvature of the tap provides it with an effortlessly minimalist yet also warm appearance: radiating simplicity and purity, with a sensual, emotional lure.
Water flow and temperature are controlled by a digital system that memorises settings and preferences: every user can thus set temperature, volume and running time with a simple touch.
Since the desired temperature is reached instantly, no water will be lost trying to balance hot and cold, and thanks to the pause button it is possible to stop the water flow temporarily (while shampooing for instance) and to resume the previous temperature settings when required. Set programs for brushing teeth or washing hands may seem on paper just a little over the top in terms of convenience, yet they can really make a difference in terms of minimising water waste.
Interaction with the faucet occurs through the control panel, a sleek, oval device that features an analogue clock when the system is in its sleep mode.
Its digital nature is only revealed when the panel is switched on: at the touch of a button, the clock turns into a temperature display, and functional icons appear on the surface of the control panel. “The icons are self-explanatory,” says Flowers.
“And users can program the switching between shower head and bathtub faucet, or between fixed, side and hand shower head, making each shower and each bath a personal experience.”
But the meaning of Grohe Ondus goes beyond its interesting technological features and seductive design. The system stands out as a statement of intent, as the visualisation of a strategic direction. “We could have introduced 100 products rather than fifty this year”, says Paul Flowers. “Yet we thought it would be more meaningful to make a bold design statement.”
It certainly took a lot of courage and investment to design and develop a platform like Grohe Ondus rather than another fifty cheaper (yet decent and possibly easier to sell) faucets.
Only time will tell whether this courage has paid off in terms of returns, but Paul Flowers is convinced that “design has the ability to create an emotional connection beyond the physical and rational needs of the consumer; an emotional connection that has the potential to increase the personal worth of a product or service and thus its economic value.”