Prof. Dr. Peter Zec

What are the key features of the red dot design award?

And what are the differences of red dot – compared with other design competitions? Professor Dr. Peter Zec, managing director of red dot, provides the answers:

What does the “red dot” brand stand for?
It stands for the globally leading design competition, for highest competence in design, and for excellent design.

What is the difference between the red dot design award and the iF Design Award?
Only independent jurors are invited to the red dot design award. This means that a juror must not be employed at an industrial company. We want to avoid conflicting interests, which cannot be avoided if you invite jurors from industrial companies. For example, how can the chief designer at Philips or Samsung judge the products of their biggest competitor impartially? Besides, the product design jury of red dot has to be international. Thus, we guarantee the international impartiality of the competition. Of course, only design experts will be invited to join the jury, that is to say, designers of independent design studios, specialised professors or specialised journalists, and directors of international design institutions.

Unlike iF, red dot runs two design museums in Germany and Singapore. In 2010 alone, the red dot design museum in Essen registered 240,000 visitors. That way, red dot is offering a cultural contribution, which can’t be provided by the subsidiary company of a trade fair company. That is why red dot commands quite another reputation than iF.

We have founded the red dot institute for advanced design studies in order to research into the relationship of design and business on an academic level. Market observations are made there, which are used for research and study purposes. As part of this activity, we have developed a formula for evaluating the design value of companies in analogy with the evaluation of brand values.

What do you think is good design?
Design has many facets. Depending on the field of activity, it has to serve different purposes. In spite of the necessary differentiation according to different product ranges, I have established a kind of empirical formula to evaluate good design. There are four qualities a product has to possess to varying degrees in order to meet the requirements for good design: the quality of function, seduction, use, and responsibility. According to the specified use of a product, each of these individual qualities may be prominently realised or stay in the background. If all four qualities arrive at a balanced synthesis, it will be good design.

If the whole issue is rather viewed from a business perspective, one might quote the former IBM president, Thomas Watson jr.: “Good design is good business”. Together with Burkhard Jacob, I have given numerous examples and reasons in our book "Design Value" to confirm the relevance of this statement.

In what sense is the red dot an orientation guide for consumers?
It happens more and more often, that a trading company invites a producer to apply for a red dot. In numerous branches of trade the products of different manufacturers are increasingly getting alike. Usually, only good detailed solutions make the difference. For this case in particular, and as a means of orientation for consumers, some of the products will then be awarded a red dot.

This is also true for the visitors of our museums. Most of them come to us to find out what makes up good design. In the course of time, more and more consumers will discover that the red dot is a useful means of orientation. And in the end, merchants and producers will also benefit from this.

What does the red dot design award tell us about the creativity of a designer or company?
It happens now and again, that companies terminate their cooperation with a designer if he or she hasn’t won a red dot for a long period of time. On the other hand, there are designers and companies who regularly receive an award. In each case, they count among the most creative heads of their branches of trade. It is really amazing that especially those companies and designers, who participate in the competition time and again, are considered by many to be leaders in design anyway. But for all that, they obviously want to match and compare with others to have their creativity and performance potential attested by the judgment of an independent jury. It’s just like in sports: The best athletes continually have to demonstrate their sporting performance by competing with others. Those who stop taking part in competitions are either no longer competitive or blind to the performance potential of others.

Are you annoyed by the fact that the Design Award of the Federal Republic of Germany is called “Prize of Prizes” and that its nominations are, among others, recruited from the red dot winners list?
It is embarrassing for the Federal Government, and for the Federal Minister of Economics in particular, that he allows such a dubious project to happen under his responsibility and that he even funds it with tax money. In its present realisation this prize is totally unnecessary as it makes no original contribution to promoting design or economy. After all, only products are nominated and awarded, which have already won an award in the iF or in the red dot design award. Why has the Minister of Economics to top it all off by supporting another competition with public money? A competition that actually neither promotes any knowledge nor leads to better quality and effects?

On an international level, this government-funded competition is utterly insignificant compared with the iF and the red dot design award. At most, it causes confusion among foreign companies when they are informed by the “German Design Council” that they have been nominated. To many of them, it doesn’t mean anything; they believe it to be a dubious offer. The Minister of Economics should consider whether he could grant the survival of the German Design Council with more reliable means.

Some designers have little sympathy for the fact that they have to pay for a distinction. After all, an award is usually endowed with prize money, they argue. What do you explain to them?
Certainly, there are awards that are endowed with prize money. However, these prizes are usually awarded for special purposes. In most cases, the organisations and companies promising such rewards want to gain an advantage – this may be an improved image or access to new ideas obtained at a low price. These prizes therefore serve concrete purposes and interests. But that is not the case with us. By our competition we provide a service for companies and designers. Everybody may decide for themselves whether they want to make use of this service or not, for a fee that is known from the outset.

By the fees we charge we ensure the independence of our competition, and we guarantee a fair judgment, which is of paramount importance to the participants. By their fees, the participants ensure the quality of the competition, the participation fee being quite small for everybody. All other services will then be offered only to the winners. These fees are also relatively small, though. So there is hardly anybody who does not want to participate. For designers who are still in the phase of setting up their business, we have introduced a new programme in 2009: We give away 50 participations in the competition completely free of charge. The winners will also get all other services free of charge. It is for each individual to decide whether he or she wants to participate or not on the known terms. Like in sports, taking part is always better than just to watch the others being successful. Only those who rise to the challenge will have the chance to win.