Red Dot Award: Product Design

Interview with Phoenix Design (Part 1)

About quality, change and responsibility: Red Dot in an interview with Phoenix Design (Part 1)

The title of honour “Red Dot: Design Team of the Year 2018” went to Phoenix Design with its teams in Stuttgart, Munich and Shanghai. Founded in 1987 by Andreas Haug and Tom Schönherr, the interdisciplinary team with an international gearing has consistently convinced with top-class design achievements. It is both the high quality and the level of innovation of the products with which Phoenix Design set an exemplary quality standard for design studios. In the past five years alone, the team has been awarded 44 times, amongst others three times with the Red Dot: Best of the Best.

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 changes in the industry, quality and the responsibility that comes along with the job as designer.

Red Dot: Mr. Haug, Mr. Schönherr, you can look back not only at 30 years at Phoenix Design but also at a career spanning 45 years. How do you see your role in the company today?

Haug: These days, I am more of a coach than anything else. An advisor in my own company. Personally, I am currently in the third phase of my design career.

Schönherr: Often, the emphasis is on the company founders, but I think that teams will be more and more at the heart of what we do in our society in future. This is due not least to the complexity of the tasks and topics.

Haug: It also makes winning the title of “Red Dot: Design Team of the Year” something very special, as the distinction focuses on teamwork.

What are the changes that you have seen during your career as a designer? What has remained the same?

Schönherr: We have always strived to produce the best quality possible. Quality never loses its validity; it never goes out of fashion. And I’m convinced that’s not going to change.

Haug: Design is more or less established nowadays. But that was not the case back when the company was founded, and we had to work hard to win people over, because design was not yet a major focal point for industry in the 1980s.

Has design now become a standard in industry?

Diefenbach: If you want to use design to stand out from the crowd nowadays, you need a very different and broader understanding of design. Whereas in the past, companies concentrated on the individual product and product design, today things like strategic thinking, processes and systems, and the communication that accompanies this development are equally important.

Schönherr: And if you want to be innovative today, you have to consider the entire process, not just individual aspects of utility or function.

What values are just as important in design today as 30 years ago?

Haug: Quality continues to be an important value. That has not changed. What has changed is the understanding of quality, because many things are subject to rapid change and are more short-lived. Updates are released for many products, and not every detail of the products has been refined when they are brought to market. It is not possible to get faster and better at the same time: the two do not go together.

To what extent has the understanding of quality changed? Is it fair to say that nowadays only the fastest, rather than the best, is good enough?

Lee: Users do expect a high-quality product, but because products have an ever-shorter lifespan, they take a different view of what this means. Of course, this poses questions like how we should approach products with an ever-shorter life and what it means for our environment.

Schönherr: These are questions that entrepreneurs and designers have to ask themselves too. Everyone who makes a product also has to ask themselves what happens to a product that is no longer used.

To what extent is the designer also responsible?

Schönherr: Die Arbeit von Designern ist unglaublich verantwortungsvoll, weil die Produkte, die wir gestalten, später millionenfach produziert und verkauft werden. Und das ist jede Mühe wert.

Haug: When I was a student, the designer’s social responsibility was an important topic. It appears to me that this has been somewhat forgotten nowadays. A user-focused approach and design was also already a concept back then. This retreated into the background in the era of mass consumption and is now back with a bang.