Photo: Thomas Mayer
Photo: Thomas Mayer
The interview of Frank A. Reinhardt is published in the actuell designreports. Klick here do get directly to the website.

Designreport Interview with Peter Zec

Frank A. Reinhardt interviewed Professor Dr. Peter Zec for the current issue of the German specialty magazine designreport. We are publishing the interview here with the kind permission of the publisher and the editors:  

 

 

Departure from the Ivory Tower  

Peter Zec enjoys the reputation of being a "doer" who also knows how to represent economic interests. He has caused the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen to become known internationally and, alongside the iF Hanover, distinguished it as a symbol of German design. Last September, the communication scientist with a doctorate was elected President Elect of the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design), the global association of product designers. 

designreport:

2003 seems to have been a good year for German design, at least on the floor of the lobbyists. The first congress of the ICSID in Germany – and now, you will be the first German to take over the leadership of the global design association in 2005.  There have been several attempts to bring an ICSID congress to Germany. Only Ralph Wiegmann from the iF Hanover was successful. Certainly, this has something to do with the character of this association, which – basically – is an association of associations. What does the ICSID actually do, what's its task? 

Peter Zec:

First of all, it's about lobbying for design in the other non-governmental organizations on an international level and about assuring a presence of design on this level. This is the idealistic goal to document the fact that design can also play a role in the U.N., in development aid and in other sectors.

designreport:

Which is the body responsible for the ICSID? 

Peter Zec:

The state organizations. Among the German members of the ICSID, for example, are the German Design Council, the iF Hanover, the design centers Stuttgart and Bremen as well as our Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen and the IDZ in Berlin. In addition, there is a sponsor membership from companies like Braun, Mabeg, Grohe and so on. 

designreport:

How do the companies benefit from supporting the ICSID? 

Peter Zec:

They demonstrate their serious commitment to design and, in this way, can express that they care not just about the ostensible business success with individual products but also about the idealistic development of the idea of design – and that on a global level. They thus demonstrate their farsightedness and integrate into a spectrum of like-minded people on an international level. 

designreport:

To what extent is politics behind the election of the president? 

Peter Zec:

There is certainly a lot of lobbying. After I had the official vote of the German members, I was confronted with the highly differentiated and, at times, even contradictory interests in the ICSID. 

designreport:

The formation of camps of regional identities and the rich-poor oppositions that we know from other global organizations? 

Peter Zec:

Yes. There's a strong differentiation of interests between the continents – there's an Asian and an American faction, the Europeans, and the weakly represented Africans. Added is the opposition of the emerging nations and developing countries to the highly developed countries. The formation of a majority, therefore, was not only difficult but also tight. The issue of globalization dominated the discussion and appropriately means an obligation for myself. 

designreport:

Is the office attractive for financial reasons, too? 

Peter Zec:

To the contrary, the office creates a lot of expenses. You have to calculate at least 20,000 Euro for an ICSID board membership for each period. In Germany, we have to pay this amount ourselves. In the end, I am financing my activities. But the office is, of course, combined with respect and distinction. 

designreport:

A distinction for Germany, as well? 

Peter Zec:

Absolutely. The interest in Germany as a design nation automatically increases if a German ICSID representative is president. That's no different than it is in the world of sports. When I take over the presidency, I will, of course, argue issues from my own perspective with references to Germany as an example for success. I have seen with my predecessors that the nation standing behind the office does play an important role; it's combined with learning effects and a gain in image. And, finally: Italy is not the only design nation. 

designreport:

What else can you move, what are your plans? 

Peter Zec:

I already am functioning as a kind of vice president. At the moment we are dealing with the question about where the ICSID will reside in the future. We are striving towards cooperation with the other global design association – the graphic design association Icograda. I believe it makes sense to bundle our capacities. This is one of the big challenges: sorting out where these two global associations will have their headquarters in the future. We're in the midst of founding an International Design Alliance (IDA) – a type of umbrella organization that enables designers to speak with one voice and yet allows them their independence. With a single organization we would make clear that there is a common cause, and we could provide the issue of design with an even greater weight. 

designreport:

This all sounds very dry. What is the practical value? 

Peter Zec:

The ICSID also has a lot to do with social commitment. We created another joint organization whose name is its program: Design for the World. It was established in 1998 following the initiative of Kenji Ekuan, who is its chairman. This organization is involved with promoting design in poor countries, even in African regions, where the primary concern is usually the production of drinking water. We want to raise the understanding of the industry for these concerns and for the importance of design. 

designreport:

What does design have to do with social commitment? 

Peter Zec:

One essential point is education and training. It is undeniable that design development continues drifting apart worldwide. The highly developed industrial nations have developed a refined and sophisticated understanding of design, whereas the conditions for design students are more than humble in poor countries, and other standards and goals apply. The gap continues to widen and we feel obligated to do whatever we can to close that gap – and to absolutely do so with an economically motivated idea in the back of our minds. 

designreport:

The industrialized nations should have an interest simply because sophisticated products also need an educated market. 

Peter Zec:

We already have problems getting things moving in terms of training – even with respect to the more developed nations in Asia. In Nagoya, a delegate from Lebanon approached me with a very direct concern: "You have been elected, now you have to help me". There is virtually no design training in the Arab world. Jordan would provide the financial means; in Lebanon that's not possible, but he had the mission to approach and ask me to do something. If we launch development programs on the educational level in such countries – and this is where it becomes clear that our work always has to be seen in the context of the U.N. and the likes – we could create an entirely different basis for the people there. Therefore, I consider it my task in Germany to also generate awareness that, although there are entirely different problems in the world, they can nevertheless have something to do with design. 

designreport:

And what does this mean for German designers? 

Peter Zec:

If we practice a kind of development aid with our potential of trained designers, this is of great importance culturally and socially. But it also has an economic effect. Why? Because, for example, the Chileans are still strongly oriented towards Germany due to the fact that German designers taught them their principles years ago. I consider it a tremendous opportunity to be able to encourage qualified people in Germany to go abroad and provide training in order to function, in this sense, as ambassadors for our country. 

designreport:

It sounds like a tremendous task. And you also have responsibilities in Germany. How do you plan to manage everything? 

Peter Zec:

I am in the lucky situation in that I have many excellent assistants. Vito Orazem, who, by the way, stands out with his strong social and cultural understanding of the world and is a perfect complement to my economic orientation, manages the operational work here at the design center. Furthermore, Elmar Schüller takes care of the red dot design award, and I am supported conceptually and intellectually by our "chief ideologist" Burkhard Jakob – a former student of mine. Without them, I would never be able to manage the job. 

designreport:

Despite all the success of your work and your commitment, events like the Design Oscar still suffer from a relative lack of public attention. Do the media lack open-mindedness? 

Peter Zec:

That's a structural problem, in part also a problem of attitude. In Germany – contrary to the United States – we do have a fear of contact with competition. But we need competition that is reflected in the reporting in order for the subject to gain in importance. I rather consider the iF Hanover as a competitor for the necessity of design awards; the iF Award, which has a goal similar to our award, offers a possibility for comparison and the inducement to be better. The idea of  "too much" design or too many design competitions is absurd, in my opinion. But what's important is that new qualities emerge from the quantity.

designreport:

Can you tell us something about your no-longer-secret, large-scale project of which we can see so many photo collages and designs here in the region? 

Peter Zec:

I admit it's a very ambitious project that we've called "ENTRY". The way we imagine it, it will be the biggest design event in the world ever. It will all take place in the year 2005: up to ten simultaneous exhibitions are planned, and they will run for 101 days – a kind of global forum for design and architecture, which has the goal to offer insights into how our living environments will develop in the coming decades. 

designreport:

So it's mainly about design in a social context? 

Peter Zec:

Yes, we are preparing subject areas about architecture, new materials, nanotechnology or accelerated life together with international curators. Now, for example, Barbara Blüming and Ellen Lupton from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York are coming here for a work about the subject Living Skin. 

designreport:

And the financing is secure? 

Peter Zec:

We have been granted 11.2 million Euro for "ENTRY", which will be raised by the EU, the city and the state, although I principally consider it proper to campaign for support from private industry, too. The concept is ready and the partners we could gain – including those in the United States – are more than open-minded. However, we have somewhat expanded their ideas about the dimensions a forum "just" about the subject of design can take. "Wow, you really think big!" was the comment from a man like Bill Moggridge.

designreport:

You have been planning for a long time – will you be ready in time? 

Peter Zec:

Our chances of bringing the global forum to Essen are good if we have the appropriate infrastructure ready in time here at Zeche Zollverein. After all, it's about positioning this location. A global forum can't take place on a building site.

Interview: Frank A. Reinhardt

Photos: Thomas Mayer

Place and date of publication: designreport 2/2004, pages 38-40