Red Dot Award: Product Design

Interview with Phoenix Design (Part 3)

About the work with clients, challenges and the mythical phoenix bird: Red Dot in an interview with Phoenix Design (Part 3)

During the Red Dot Gala, Phoenix Design was officially named Red Dot: Design Team of the Year 2018. And with good reason: over the years, Phoenix Design continuously convinced the Red Dot Jury. In the Red Dot Award: Product Design, the studio has been honoured several times for its excellent design achievements. The products are not only characterised by longevity, but also by unmistakable innovative strength. They always succeed in breathing life into the identity of the customer’s brand.

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, talked about the work with clients and new challenges. They furthermore explained what the mythical phoenix bird has in common with the design studio.

Red Dot: How can one work together with the customer or client to achieve a good and successful results?

Schönherr: You get the best results when you are trusted, because you feel even more committed to the customer. You can’t break this trust.

Diefenbach: A good designer always needs a good entrepreneur as a counterpart. All those who take part in the design process must want to change and achieve things.

How do you approach the requirements in the customer brief? Because the brief cannot be ignored.

Schönherr: It is a mistake to think that a brief has to be worded like an instruction. A brief like that does not allow any scope for creativity. If necessary, we always design a model that meets all of the requirements of the brief, but we also reserve the freedom to produce an additional, second design – a design that we believe to be on the right path. This design may involve a technical challenge. It may be somewhat ahead of its time. That design may be a little more innovative. It may be a big risk, but also an even bigger opportunity. Classic products do not come from refinements. They start with a revolution.

So your understanding of a brand is very heavily influenced by the product?

Haug: Yes, in our eyes, the product is the ultimate brand ambassador. If the product is right, there won’t be any problems with the brand or identity.

Schönherr: What we can offer that business consultancy firms don’t, don’t want to and can’t offer is to implement company and brand values in the form of products.

Lee: The goal is always to obtain a very comprehensive understanding of design and to have a positive impact on the company. What we want is to shape companies, manage brands and position them correctly.

Does the responsibility and obligation to the client grow in line with the level of strategic involvement of the designers?

Schönherr: The obligation does grow, but so does the trust. And that brings about better results, because you can work in a better and more targeted way. And that offers whole new possibility, and it’s also beneficial for the company when designers are involved in the overall strategy.

What new challenges does Phoenix Design face today?

Haug: Companies and clients operating on international markets expect designers to be familiar with and understand those markets, in particular the American and Asian markets. This is precisely the challenge that prompted us to set up a design studio in Shanghai. We need to be able to tell our clients what Chinese users expect from the products. We have a strong position in Germany, and we will also tap into the American market going forward.

How is Phoenix Design tackling this challenge?

Schönherr: Firstly, our design studios are organized in a way that allows each team to work independently and to be a discrete team. But we also want the teams to work together on projects. And with a view to the phase of internationalization and growth, we of course also want to maintain our quality standards, regardless of whether in Stuttgart, Munich or Shanghai. We are well on the way to doing this.

Diefenbach: Often people are too quick to say that everyone is replaceable. But talented people are extremely valuable. We want to attract up-and-coming talent worldwide, because they safeguard our future. And it is also this diversity that has ensured that Phoenix Design has never been in crisis.

Lee: The core element of Phoenix Design is culture. And part of this culture is the team and how we approach each other and our clients.

No discussion of Phoenix Design would be complete without mention of the mythical phoenix bird. What role does the phoenix play in giving the design studio its name?

Haug: We always knew that we would have to make sure to constantly develop ourselves further, and perhaps even reinvent ourselves. That was also the reason why we called ourselves Phoenix. The myth reflects the core of who we are and what we believe in.

Schönherr: It has become our motto, supplemented by our philosophy: Phoenix Design is logic, moral, magic. Logic refers to understanding and thinking the product through in all of its rational facets. Moral relates to the responsibility that we as designers have. Last but not least, magic stands for emotion.

Lee: As regards the question of why Phoenix Design has a strategic or design involvement in this industry, part of it is the idea of wanting not merely to change the world but also to make it better.