Insights into the jury of red dot award: design concept: Interview with Professor Axel Thallemer

The red dot award: design concept 2011 is underway. On 13 May, the regular submission period will close. In mid-May, a jury of 17 experts will have the important task of shortlisting the most creative and innovative, yet manufacturable, ideas and prototypes. Using the example of Prof. Axel Thallemer, get an insight into the jury’s background, what makes them tick, and why they do what they do.

Professor Axel Thallemer was the founder and head of Festo Corporate Design, transforming Festo from a family brand to a global master brand. Since 2004, he has been the Dean of Industrial Design in Linz, Austria, and the owner of the studio “... innovation input by team Airena®!”. He is a visiting professor at various well-known universities in the USA as well as Asia and has won many international design prizes, including the red dot and the good design award from Japan, for his work.

Tell us about your latest projects and activities

I am very happy that my two latest books on my viewpoints on design have been published. So after "AIR" and "WATER" there is "SCIONIC: Purpose-driven Form" and "Visual Permutations" available now. To me design is not about physical model making, rather, it comes directly from philosophy, theory of science, and a non-verbal language system formed by deliberately shaped matter.

In the social web of people, technology, and ecology, with my project teams I have recently refined and designed new types of robot arms that do not look humanoid but have similar movements to humans to sustainably interact with and universally assist people.

This was followed by improving high voltage overhead lines and power pylons. Currently, I am working on control components and cabinets for hydro power plants and their human-machine-interfaces for higher safety and efficiency, so that they correspond to those of green energy.

What is the most exciting concept and idea that you have seen recently?

Manned space flight has probably contributed more to the progress of sustainable design on earth than the design profession. The whole discussion about going to Mars with humans has spurred some progressive ideas in life sciences and support. To name one, the closed cycle of using gases, fluids and solid matter are of utmost importance to exceed the boundaries of mobility in space. Those findings applied back on earth may yield greener cities, less energy consumption and better living conditions in large metropolitan areas, where the growth of human habitation takes place. However, contemporary megacities are environmentally much worse than industries, where relatively many rules and regulations are strictly enforced.

Why did you decide to become a designer?

My belief is that there is a meaningful relation between purpose, form, and material in nature; all in balance with minimal use of resources - like energy - and almost indefinitely recyclable. So far, the opposite is true for current products. Sometimes one is tempted to say the more contemporary the design, the less sense it makes for the future of mankind. The superficial beautification of things does not lead to better innovation. I want to prove that there is design beyond fashion and styling, a reason for a product’s being, not for the mere sake of functionality or utilitarianism. I want to base the embodiment of things on a more thorough idea, not that it is just a symbol of status and power.

What defines you as a designer?

Not to be a mere artist in the sense of solely displaying personal style in my designs. Rather to be a developer of new products using an analytical, scientific approach, to find better solutions to existing answers and questions in everyday life.

I believe in products with no brand archetypes, no suggestive marketing, no shallow advertising driven design to increase profits only by not changing the content and technical package of the prospective product. I believe in designs that transcend knowledge based language boundaries as well as fragmentation of information by specialisation through truly transdisciplinary new product development processes.

By teaching the next generation of students through research, I am proudly propagating this content driven ideal.

What is inside your bag?

I very much enjoy my bag itself; not so much the contents, although they are necessary. The bag is made of "plastics" and I have it in six colours, matching my clothing. Inside are keys, keys and keys, credit cards, a passport, memory sticks, a collapsible ball point pen, a miniature blue light LED-torch, and a tough Japanese digital camera as my virtual sketch book. All but the latter have no brands. There is also a tanned Aga (cane) toad key pouch from Australia and a coin purse made of stingray skin, all brandless. Finally, there is a black fiber reinforced composite bottle opener, no brand. I have not used it so far, but I could not open a crown cap otherwise.

What is your preferred means of transportation and why? (What car do you drive and why have you chosen this specific model? Or if you take the train instead of driving, etc., for what reasons?)

Fortunately, my first car at age 30 was a Porsche. And luckily I have not driven a Porsche since 35. Nowadays I prefer purposefully driving the most reliable car from a Japanese brand. I do not define myself through my cars, they are mere means of transportation. No style, no other function but transportation. I have always lived as centrally as possible in my life, with everything within walking distance so that there is no necessity for owning a car. The vicinity to major airports and good connection to mass transportation is of utmost importance to me. Last but not least, cars are a very bad investment. They are the most expensive and least sustainable consumables. I prefer to spend the saved money on art.