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Interview with Hall of Fame contributing writer Stefano Marzano

Stefano Marzano is CEO and Chief Creative Director at Philips Design. Instead of focussing exclusively on technology, the company concentrates on people, and claims to improve quality of life with its products. This approach was revolutionary in 1990, when it was developed by the then CEO, Jan Timmer. In the interview with red dot online, Hall of Fame contributing writer Stefano Marzano talks about design as a factor for a better quality of life.

 

red dot online: Mr Marzano, it is impossible to find an absolute definition of the term „quality of life“, as too many personal factors play a role and everybody has a different understanding of it. What is your personal definition?
Stefano Marzano:
By quality of life, I mean, not what we think it is but what people themselves think it is. What is the quality of life that people are looking for? When they talk about quality of life what image do they have in their minds? What will it mean to them tomorrow – and the day after tomorrow? Do people’s views of an improved quality of life differ from place to place – and if so, how? When we’ve discovered the answers to such questions, we need to work out how to create solutions that take people’s quality of life in that desired direction. That way we can provide solutions that aren’t just technologically possible, but rather because people want them to improve their quality of life in the way they, themselves would like.

red dot online: What does Philips do to understand these differences of quality of life in the perception of people, and to provide solutions which improve this quality of life?
Stefano Marzano: Improving people’s quality of life requires a detailed understanding of the complex, fragmented world in which we live today, and the ability to reasonably predict what that world may look like in the future. Philip Design’s Foresight, Trends & People Research Team provides the detailed research we need to reach such an understanding. Foresight research delivers strategic insights into the global and regional socio-cultural changes that casue a shift in today’s values, needs, lifestyles and behaviors. Trends research provides global and regional forecasts of the most important cultural trends in the coming two to three years. People research investigates not only the needs and personal motivations of people in different regions but also how they see their futures and what they perceive as a good quality of life.

red dot online: To complement their research activities, Philips has developed a practical, multi-disciplinary methodology, which they call “High Design”. Please explain this methodology briefly.
Stefano Marzano: Philips Design developed a unique methodology known as High Design. High Design is completely human-focused and research-based, and always uses a deep understanding of people's needs as the starting point for the design process. It also provides the framework for taking these insights and translating them into imaginative yet feasible solutions.

High Design focuses on people, from start to finish. Besides this key principle it has three other major characteristics. It is research-based because it is important that our actions and decisions are taken on the baasis of solid research and understanding. It is multi-disciplinary, as traditional design skills alone are no longer enough to deal with the complexity of the problems we need to solve. So we include many design-related professionals in our teams such as trend analysts, psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists, as well as marketers and technologists. Lastly, High Design is fully integrated into the business process. It is the designer’s job to help bridge the gap between what people want and the reality of where we are at present, so you need to know what is going on within the business and be able to develop a roadmap to get us from where we are to where we want to be.

red dot online: In your article you write that, in designing for a better quality of life, it was more than just about satisfying the everyday needs of people. It was also about looking far ahead and to determine a direction, which would lead to a long term improvement in the quality of life. In what way are you attempting to achieve this?
Stefano Marzano: Our future-oriented projects are a vital part of High Design. We need to know not only what people see as a desirable quality of life now, but also how they will see it in the near future. Based on our research we develop realistic product concepts and scenarios. We don’t keep these in a drawer, but present them to the public and the media in exhibitions. This way, we get people’s feedback on our interpretation of the information our ‚sensors’ have picked up. It allows us to validate our hypotheses about what people see as a desirable quality of life.  We’re effectively asking, is this what you meant?

red dot online: What particular challenges do designers face, in your opinion, in this fast-paced time in which one can never precisely predict future developments in business, science or technology?
Stefano Marzano:
A major design issue that I believe will increasingly challenge designers in the coming years is also to do with things intangible. As a result of the digital revolution, designers will also need to design non-material qualities. Objects are starting to become animate; they are beoming “subjects“ , ie active – even proactive – players in our lives. They’re beginning to interact with us, taking the initiative and doing things on our behalf. And in doing so they are becoming the focus of new, complex relationships; and these relationships will need to be designed, and it is important they are designed well because once established, they may be difficult to change. Designing for immateriality will therefore become a major challenge in the coming years. 

But of course, the challenge remains for designers to continue to create solutions that are both responsible and sustainable.Whether from a business, environmental, personal, social or moral point of view, I believe there isn't really any other feasible option.


About Stefano Marzano
Stefano Marzano was born 1950 in Italy. He holds a doctorate in Architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute. In 1978, he joined Philips Design in the Netherlands as Design Leader for Data Systems and Telecommunication products. He returned to Italy 1982 to direct the Philips-Ire Design Centre (Major Domestic Appliances), becoming Vice President of Corporate Industrial Design for Whirlpool International (a joint venture of Whirlpool and Philips) in 1989. In 1991, he took up his present post in the Netherlands. He is Chairman of the Supervisory Board for the Faculty of Industrial Design at the Technical University in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and is member of the Design Management Institute (Boston) Advisory Council as well as member of the Design Management Advisory Panel of the University of Westminster, UK.     

About Hall of Fame – Volume 2
What contribution does the factor of design make to a better quality of life? The answer to that question can be found in the latest red dot edition of the publication “Hall of Fame – Volume 2”, which showcases those actors on the global design scene whose creative and innovative work has shaped the “Design of the World". Milestones of design history are documented alongside today’s products. Publisher is Prof.  Peter Zec, commissioned by Icsid, the global network of industrial design.

Hall of Fame – Volume 2 can be ordered in our bookshop here.
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