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  6. “The German understanding of design has always been related to engineering skill”

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The German understanding of design has always been related to engineering skill

„Driven by German Design“

Dr. Mateo Kries is the Director of the Vitra Design Museum. His museum has made items available on loan for the exhibition “Driven by German Design,” running in Qatar until January 14, 2018; he himself was involved in an advisory capacity. In an interview, Kries reveals what makes a good exhibition, how a proper collection is put together and why the West’s design sovereignty is waning.

The form is normally not arbitrary, but derived from material, technology or function.

  • Dr. Kries, the exhibition in Doha with items on loan from Volkswagen and your museum is about German design. What is the key characteristic of this?

The German understanding of design has always been related to engineering skill and characterized by an appreciation of technology. The combination of functionality and aesthetics also plays a key role. German designers have always been innovative and driven by scientific curiosity – when testing new materials, for example. As a result, the form is normally not arbitrary, but derived from material, technology or function – a characteristic of many compelling everyday objects.

  • What distinguishes a good design exhibition these days?

Successful exhibitions put design in a wider context and maintain a critical distance from the topic. They have a strong narrative, invite participation and transmit their message powerfully. To establish connections – for example to other areas of life or to other periods – curators and museum designers should take a transdisciplinary approach and forge relevant collaborations. For example, historical expertise can help explain the origins of a design object against the background of social developments.

  • What effect does the increasing digitalization of our lives have here?

Contemporary exhibitions take place in real space as well as in digital space, focusing on the user experience. They draw on digital tools as a matter of course – something that has long been the case for many designers as well. Just think of web or app design or the use of complex computer programs that have been standard in the design of cars or in the structural calculation of architectures for quite some time.

Successful exhibitions put design in a wider context and maintain a critical distance from the topic.

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  • Is a world dominated by algorithms and code more of an opportunity or a risk for designers?

For us users it is both; for designers it is an opportunity to prove themselves.  First of all, digital assistants facilitate the work of many designers and enable them to get better results in less time. In addition, some creative heads show that it is possible to incorporate algorithms into the design process.

  • Can you give us an example?

When designing his “Breeding Tables”, furniture designer Clemens Weisshaar uses an algorithm that gives each table an individual shape. Only specific parameters such as joints and load awls are defined; the rest are customizable by the machine. Weisshaar thus departs from the idea of identical mass production based on a single prototype – and instead shows the possibilities of an approach to design that follows the principles of artificial intelligence and makes each object a one-off.

  • Normally, the word design conjures up pictures of haptic, tangible objects. Is this understanding now being turned on its head?

It’s being relativized at least. Design without an object – for example the design of communication processes or new consumption patterns – is becoming increasingly important in the age of digitalization and the ubiquitous availability of information. Look at the auto industry – the development of a completely new user experience will be part of the self-driving cars of the future.

Aside from digitalization, sustainability is a key issue – think, for example, of the trends towards e-mobility and autonomous driving and the possibilities that arise for vehicle designers.

  • Apropos globalization: what influence does the worldwide availability of goods and services have on design as a discipline?

Globalization has made new markets accessible to many designers and companies. At the same time, designers from outside the old industrialized nations are coming on the scene and setting new standards. In many cases, these standards are quite different to ours, for instance in relation to aesthetics or the cultural context.

  • How important is building collections in such a dynamic and multipolar world?

Each curator should be aware of how extensive collections are built which in terms of context – comprise not only the design objects themselves but also source material such as correspondence, plans or records. At the Vitra Design Museum we keep, among other things, the estate of furniture designers Alexander Girard as well as Charles and Ray Eames. In addition, our collection comprises around 7,000 objects from the areas of furnishing, interior design and architecture, which serve as a basis for arming many collections and which have found a home in our Schaudepot designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. There, our visitors will be able to see the collection for themselves.

  • What are the big trends in design at present?

Aside from digitalization, sustainability is a key issue – think, for example, of the trends towards e-mobility and autonomous driving and the possibilities that arise for vehicle designers. Another example is sports shoes made from plastic waste that the environmental organization Parlay for the Oceans fished out of the sea. New production methods such as 3D printing are also important. Adidas, for example, intends to soon offer shoes tailored to its customers’ wishes that will be manufactured very quickly using these types of printers.

  • Last question: which car do you own – and what do you like about its design?

I drive an estate, an Audi A4. What I like about this car is its restrained and functional design, which nevertheless radiates a certain dynamism. If I had a wish, it would be for more interior space to be able to fit in my daughters’ bikes. That sounds very German, doesn’t it?