Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen – an institution turns 50
From an elitist product show to an international qualification and communication centre
In 2004, the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen celebrated its 50th anniversary – and can look back on an eventful past. When it was founded in 1954 by the Krupp Corporation and the Federation of German Industries (BDI), high expectations were placed on the institution’s work. Beyond “any mercantile profit orientation”, it should contribute to creating a more beautiful environment, serve the modernisation and export qualification of German consumer goods, promote the “character-forming value of the beautiful, clear and simple form in human life” and was greeted as a “protest against the uglification of the world” – noble demands on an institution, which had been founded because the Essen Krupp Corporation realised that image-forming steps were necessary to regain its good reputation, which had suffered, as well as to extend its markets.
The “Industrieform” association, as the Design Zentrum was then called, was thus a real child of its time. A time, when Germans exports were still weak despite the beginning economic miracle, when the American industry was way ahead in design issues and the German market had no communication instrument to present a topic like the “good form” with great public appeal.
Victory over Gelsenkirchen baroque
In the following year, 1955, the “Industrieform Permanent Exhibition” was opened in the “Small House” of Villa Huegel, the legendary seat of the Krupp family in Essen. The consumer goods exhibition was regarded as a prime example of a presentation with model character for industry and consumers. In the first two years alone, the exhibition attracted some 450,000 visitors. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper commented on 12 October 1955: “‘Industrieform’ documents that there need to be no ‘Gelsenkirchen baroque’ in the Ruhr area; that the forms and things, with which one can live properly, well, and honestly - and even beautifully - are there.”
In the initial stage, the canon of forms and the values of functionalism determined the exhibition and the conduct of “Haus Industrieform”. In the tradition of Bauhaus and Werkbund, this shop window of the industry saw its task also in creating a social responsibility of design as a connecting link between man and technology.
Flexibility as a principle of survival
As a self-financing association, “Haus Industrieform” constantly adjusted to the changing demands on design in the following decades. Flexibility became the institution’s principle of survival; outside influences were understood as productive disturbances and impulses for change.
Thus, the 1968 movement resulted in an attitude critical of consumption and Wolfgang Fritz Haugs’ “Critique of Commodity Aesthetics” at the beginning of the 1970s. Design was dismissed as “beautiful packaging” and it became increasingly difficult for “Haus Industrieform” to promote design products. It threatened to lose contact with contemporary developments. Peter Frank, managing director since 1974, finally reacted and re-introduced the institution to the market as an exhibition venue and as the consumer’s advocate. He responded to the Zeitgeist and provided its elite, which was critical of consumption, with exhibitions such as “Design for Disabled People”, “International Road Signs”, and “Car Stickers – Automobile Messages”.
It was only during the structural change at the end of the 1980s that design promotion became increasingly recognised as an instrument of business promotion by industry and politics. “Haus Industrieform” returned to its original role as a shop window of the industry. The competition, which had been held in 1955 for the first time, was strengthened by the introduction of the label “selected by Haus Industrieform Essen” and a catalogue-like yearbook. The function of the house as a design promotion institution was further developed with active design management. This role change was made possible by the inclusion of Haus Industrieform in the regional management and a start-up fund by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. This became manifest in its name change to “Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen” in 1990.
On the way to becoming a global player
In 1991, Peter Zec took over the management of the Design Zentrum. He developed the competition further and first established it as “Roter Punkt” on an international scale, and later as the “red dot design award”. In the following period, the main focus of the task spectrum changed from design management to becoming a qualification centre for companies, which have to maintain their position in the international competition. As a reaction to the constantly growing significance of communication design, the Design Zentrum established, in addition to the product design competition, a prize for communication design.
Today, the institution is in a better position than ever. It can fall back on an international network, is involved in European Union design projects, the competition has new record entry numbers every year and the first design centre abroad was opened in Singapore in 2005. As the first category of the “red dot design award,” the new “red dot award: design concept” is organised in Singapore. All award-winning concepts of the red dot award: design concept will be shown in the red dot design museum in Singapore. The red dot design museum in Singapore was established in November 2005 and is the anchor tenant and key attraction at the red dot Traffic, a creative hub located at Maxwell Road, the former Singapore Traffic Police Headquarters.
After its renovation, the colonial building, situated in Central Business District at Maxwell Road, was transformed into a landmark for innovation and creativity. red dot Traffic is home to creative companies such as advertising agencies, schools and design studios.