Red Dot Award: Product Design

Interview with Phoenix Design (Part 2)

The Red Dot: Design Team of the Year 2018, Phoenix Design, convinced over years with top-class design achievements. But how does a design studio that is this successful work? When are you as a designer satisfied with your achievement? And does one always have to be one step ahead of the client?

In an interview with Red Dot, Andreas Haug and Tom Schönherr, Founders and Managing Partners, as well as Andreas Diefenbach and Joon-Mo Lee, Members of the Board, speak about the working methods of the team, about satisfaction and quality as well as about the future-oriented development of products.

Does Phoenix Design have a particular method or approach to ensure the desired quality?

Diefenbach: The design circle is an essential tool. The principle is relatively simple. One project team introduces the project to another group. That group assesses and evaluates the project without itself being involved.

What are the advantages of this method?

Schönherr: When you know as the project team that you are not allowed to defend your concepts and designs in the design circle, you are automatically in a very different situation and you focus on listening. That’s important and it works well.

Haug: It goes without saying that the project team also always has to keep sight of the big picture. It is not possible to take into account every single criticism. At the same time, the observations and impressions are extremely important, as the criticisms expressed in the design circle are virtually identical to the questions posed later by the customer.

So understanding an argument does not mean that it will automatically be accepted?

Diefenbach: The only way to advise and guide a customer is to understand and listen to the customer’s arguments. The aim is not to simply select from five designs that one that appeals most. As a design studio, we also want to maintain certain quality standards.

To loosely quote Robert M. Pirsig, isn’t it possible to say that quality is ultimately nothing other than the peace of mind you get when a work can be completed to the satisfaction of all those involved?

Haug: Yes, ultimately both sides have to be satisfied. Then the objective is met. Customer satisfaction is important, but the design studio also has to be satisfied at the end of the day.

The Phoenix design circle is a little reminiscent of the method of design thinking.

Schönherr: Many approaches and methods aimed at resolving problems or developing new ideas are nowadays referred to using the buzzword “design thinking”. At Phoenix Design, the human being and the brand have always been at the heart of what we do, and we were able to use fast models and prototypes to examine concepts and optimize them in iterative steps during the process.

Doesn’t the design studio always have to be one step ahead of the customer or client in order to be able to imagine the direction in which a product, brand or customer can develop?

Diefenbach: There are projects where our clients are defending a position and there are others where they are on the offensive. How does one want to be perceived in five or ten years’ time? What potential does the core business still have?

Haug: Two things are always important for our work: On the one hand, the company with its brand and values, and on the other hand, we have an obligation to the users and their requirements. It is true that we have to think ahead in order to show the client options, as only then can the client decide whether what we are doing is consistent and innovative.

Is it difficult to imagine what the future might be like?

Lee: We generally don’t have any problem imagining the future. On the contrary, we have to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves. Our client has to take this journey with us. What is much more challenging is finding the right balance between what exists and what could exist.