Who's Who in Design

The Leading Designers of the World
Volume 3

Putting together a compendium of contemporary design such as this is an interesting yet at the same time difficult task because our ambition was to present not only the famous “design stars” known to the wider public, but – and this is where the particular challenge lies – to also include those “anonymous” designers who work exclusively for one company or accomplish great things as part of an in-house design team, as well as those designers who, although working for several clients and creating excellent products, prefer to operate out of the spotlight. It is these personalities and their teams that we wanted to highlight in particular because they play a major role in creating our life environment, both today and into the future.

Creators of product worlds

The role that designers play in the creation of our life and work environment cannot be overestimated. It is a fact that, over the last 85 years, design has shaped the material world to the same extent as technology. While technology has brought forth new concepts, new materials and new systems, it is design and architecture that make these innovations understandable and acceptable to us, maintaining their forward momentum through communication.

Thus it is designers who play a crucial role in the shaping of our future: they take a close look at the world as it is, and think ahead. It seems as if almost anything is possible today – at least from a technological point of view. But what is often missing are ideas for the visionary use of these new technologies. A couple of decades earlier things had been fundamentally different. The limits of technology largely determined the product world. Many inventions were conceived, but only

a fraction could be immediately realised. Today, the limits are mainly our imagination, because that which is technologically imaginable is generally also realisable. This offers designers great opportunities, even though they eventually will have to have their ideas measured against feasibility, since “all ideas are challenging because you need all the right set of conditions and criteria, like the right client or brand, the right market, the right technology and production method, the right location or place, the right milieu, the zeitgeist, and the right idea. An idea is nothing unless it is manifested.” (Karim Rashid)

Power of the factual

Designers have to live up to these opportunities on the one hand, yet face up to these limitations on the other, because beyond all creativity designers are, as a rule, subject to the “power of the factual” in their daily work. In an on-going dialogue with clients, marketing people and engineers, the designer has to reconcile the most varied specifications, expectations and requirements to a common denominator in the design process – a difficult task when it is remembered that designers and clients working on one and the same product often have a different emphasis and follow different aims. The aim of the designer is to create as good a product as possible. Good design is the goal of his work. For the client, however, the final goal is always success as defined by sales. For them, good design is just a means to attain economic success. And inevitably this also determines the limitations with which they will confront the designers: strictly budgeted development and manufacturing costs, DIN norms and the corporate design of the company, as well as target group-specific requirements such as display or font sizes, and so on and so forth. The greatest enemy of creativity is what could be termed “the dogma of the given”. Rules and conditions, too narrowly and strictly defined, leave insufficient space for creativity. Again and again companies design products compliant with strict guidelines in order to avoid possible risks. In the long run, however, this is not a guarantee of success. In the end it is vital to realise the best possible result as a compromise between that which is possible and that which is possible within the limitations defined either by the client or by reality.

In order to accomplish this, the factual has to be thoroughly questioned again and again. Although this is simultaneously the principal driving force behind the constant search for innovation in design, this motivation is not shared by all companies alike. Only the best within a given branch of industry allow themselves to be motivated by this – something that clearly differentiates them from their competitors. While some companies leap ahead of the competition through design and innovation, most competitors take a wait-and-see attitude towards the development of design trends and standards in order to simply follow suit later. However, if circumstances change faster than anticipated, those who hesitated will end up empty-handed.

Positioning between culture and economics

This context calls for designers who in the best sense of the word are the “creators” of our present and future environment, yet, despite this key role, are also often downgraded to mere “suppliers”, contributing hardly more than a pleasing form to an end product. One reason for this is that many designers still lack the confidence to communicate the value of design and successfully assert their position within the business world. In Europe especially the emphasis still rather rests on the cultural and societal value of design. That good design may foster better business is something that is not entirely overlooked, yet the point is not always explicitly made either. Many companies and managers as well as numerous designers still find it difficult to apprehend and practice design as a professional business. For this very reason it is crucial that designers not only communicate the cultural and social relevance of design, but in particular put its economic significance centre stage in order to acquaint those companies that qualify their daily business activities through design with innovative strategies and beneficial tools.

The real challenge for designers thus is to position themselves not only as mere suppliers but rather as partners and correlatives to businesses, since a designer thus positioned turns into an ally of the company, which then in turn also ceases to be a mere commissioning client. The success of the designer is then always concomitant to the success of the company. Only together can the best possible result for a given project be accomplished; a product that will meet both the functional and the aesthetic demands of the two parties involved, and thus a product that is also an economic success.

Design as a matter of taste

Prior to this, however, there are many cases in which designers go through quite a number of disagreements with the client, because in particular the decision whether a product manifests “good design” from an aesthetical point of view can trigger great controversy. A verdict on the functionality is after all much easier to reach than a verdict on the aesthetic, which is necessarily subjective. A verdict from a slightly more objective point of view may be reached only if the various parties agree on their perception of a particular design. For this reason, many companies resort to market

research and user interviews prior to the development of a product, trying to find out what directions the design of that product could take – a method which certainly has merit, yet also one which cannot provide absolute certainty, as an example from a home electronics manufacturer clearly shows. The company had asked people in a targeted user poll whether the housing of its new ghetto blaster should be red or black. The interviewed group predominantly tended towards a red model. However, it was only the black model that sold in the end. A frequent phenomenon: buyers often do not know what they really want, but when it comes to the purchase decision they know exactly what they do not want. Any company that ignores this fact runs the risk of missing its target, and producing something that does not sell at all. Successful companies, therefore, try to develop their products based on a thorough understanding of their prospective buyers. They know that it makes little sense to only celebrate themselves with their products, because it is essential after all that a product finds a ready market. Good design owes success. Yet it is always the consumer who ultimately decides on the success of a product.

Since it is in principle impossible to make the optimum decision on a design, it is crucial not to let the motivation to design fade. Optimum decisions in questions of design are not possible because simplified models do not allow for exact calculations of such issues. What companies constantly deal with is rather sufficing decisions. A decision is sufficing when it comes closest to solving a question of form in a given live situation.

But there is also another way to obtain a post-production judgement on a design decision: design competitions. Here the products and designs are examined by acclaimed experts who are in a position to reach a comparatively objective judgement because they are independent from the decision-making process between designer and client. Thus, receiving a design award can even help designers to defend their design decision in retrospect.

The work of designers is and ultimately will always be a balancing act that the designers and design teams presented in this book accomplish with aplomb. Again and again they manage to create products that still surprise and astonish us.

What is special about the work of designers is that they continually reinvent the world in part and in detail. Designers thus play a major role in the permanent change of our lives individually and of society in general. It is not the large, all-encompassing concepts, such as those that are generally developed in politics, but the small solutions to specific subjects that trigger innovation in design. Sometimes one single new product can revolutionise our everyday lives with its design as otherwise might only be possible through fundamental national policies.

The “Leading Designers of the World” take on a vanguard role-model function with their creativity and their work. They set the rules and standards of design both for up-and-coming young designers as well as for companies and consumers. What would our world and our lives be like without them?

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