Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand
Fritz Eichler: What is design? Answers to questions from the Museum Arts Decoratifs, September 1969

Fritz Eichler

What is design? Answers to questions from the Museum Arts Decoratifs, September 1969

1. How would you define "design"?


Design is a multifaceted, complex activity that is not limited to the external aesthetic form of products or objects. Rather the external formal solution is only the visible expression of a creative process, in which the designer is usually not the only one involved.


Design is a necessary function within our development process. It is neither good nor bad (although there is much more bad than good design). It is not possible to make a uniform assessment of design.


Design is to be evaluated as differently as the tasks and the conditions under which it is practiced.

The design of chinaware or wallpaper is different from the design of devices with a high amount of functional and technical components, such as a computer system or a complicated technical machine tool. This is why design cannot be judged solely on the basis of its external aesthetic form, but only on the basis of the task at hand and the conditions that determine its external form.


The more complex and varied these conditions, the higher the appreciation, if the designer, in cooperation with the engineers, has succeeded in achieving an aesthetically successful, harmonious and, of course, appealing external formal design.


2. Does design belong to the artistic domain?


Basically no, although there is certainly an aesthetic-artistic aspect to design.


3. Is design a manual activity with industrial purposes?


Design is not a manual activity – the manual aspect makes up the least part of the design; I know good designers who have the "manual part" done by assistants.


4. What are the limits of design?


Design is practiced in all areas of the human and technical environment – from waste bins to space capsules – insofar there are no limits to it.


The limits of design lie in the task at hand and in the technical possibilities and requirements that determine the solution.


5. Is design an individual or a collective creation?


The higher the technical part and the more complex the task, the more the design will be a collective creation.


6. Does design fit into a moral attitude?


"Moral attitude" is a questionable term – so I prefer to say human attitude. I think that good design requires a human attitude.


7. Is this to be understood to mean that these are goods that are definitely useful? Could its role also be to create works that are made to please?


In general, design is practiced on objects that are supposed to be useful (although often they are not). This does not exclude the possibility that they may please you. In fact, they should.


8. Does the form necessarily depend on the function itself?


Yes – I can't imagine any device that has a function to fulfill, where the function is not the starting point for the design – whatever solution you may arrive at.


9. Could the electronic brain take over the role of the designer?


No. But it can certainly help him (especially with more complex tasks) in the future.


10. Does design involve industrial production?




11. Is it intended to modify an old object with the help of new technical methods? To improve an existing model in such a way that it becomes more attractive?


I don't think that the primary task of design is to improve existing models so that they become more attractive.


What does more attractive mean anyway?


Design will always be faced with the task of reworking a good technical solution to give it an adequate form in terms of its appearance and also in terms of its handling – but design cannot be limited to redesign.
Every good designer will want to be confronted with new tasks, to be given the opportunity to find a new formal solution for a new technical development (in which he might be involved).


12. Does design play a role in industrial policy?


It may play a big role. But this is not a question of the designer, but a question of the intelligence and conviction of the company.


13. Does design have to reduce the purchase price?


Design has nothing to do with reducing the purchase price.
Of course, the purchase price determines the design solution; because it makes a difference whether the designer has the task of designing a product for a final price of 100 or 300 FFr – but whether he makes a cheaper device or an expensive one, in either case he can make good design.


In every department store you can find very cheap, simple devices that are well designed (if you have the eyes to see it).


14. Does design play a role in trade policies: Good products correspond to the idea of a brand – good conditions favor the sale of products?


Design can play a decisive role in the commercial policy of a company.
However, you should not expect short-term, quick success from it.
You should not overestimate the effect of design on sales success – at least in case of technical devices. Design cannot replace technical performance.


If a device is technically and functionally poor, neither a good nor a bad form, therefore not even an eccentric speculative one, can help it to live a longer successful life.


The more advanced the technical performance and the higher the functional value of a device, the more likely it is that you will be able to afford a good form – even with a wide-spread consumer product.
With all of this in mind, you should also not forget the psychological effects of the effort for good, consistent design – both internally and externally.


These are my experiences: With the increasing demands we have made on the form of our devices over the years, a higher awareness for technical quality has developed naturally along with it.


And externally?
When looking at short-term success, you should not ignore its long-term confidence-building effect.
And although you cannot put it in numbers directly, I am sure that it can be part of a company's important capital.


15. Does design accept certain constraints?


There is no design that does not have to accept constraints. In fortunate cases they are objective – in most cases they are subjective – and that is what makes design so difficult.


There are certainly many talented designers – but why is there so little good design? The actual design dilemma may be put into one question: How do I manage to even get the chance to make good design?


Design cannot be considered in isolation. It is more or less part of a very complex and multilayer process involving several people. First of all, the entrepreneur; then marketing and technical development (and who else is involved in the process).


They all have to be convinced, involved and inspired in order to achieve results through collaboration. To put it briefly: it is about making friends out of potential "enemies".


16. Are there any trends or schools in the field of design?


The trends in design are brought about by progressive achievements and examples – for instance, Italian design, which has found new solutions with plastic material. As an example of a school I would like to mention the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm.


17. Should the finished product bear the designer's mark or that of the design office?


No – the designer should not be made a star – out of his very own interest. It would only make it more difficult for him to cooperate with others whom he is dependent on.


18. How does design relate to fashion?


Design has – or should have – nothing to do with fashion.
Fashionable design is generally bad design. But certainly, the impulses and trends of the times, which are expressed in fashion, are also reflected in the work of a designer.


19. Is the effect of design short-lived?


The lifespan of a design is not only determined by the quality of its form, but also by the technical durability of a product. Of course, every designer wants his products to last as long as possible.

Design that is intentionally short-lived can only be bad design. (Examples prove it.)


20. How do you differ from a decorator? Interior designer? Stylist?


Because I am simply not a decorator, not an interior designer, and by no means a stylist.


21. What is your relationship with
1. industrialists?
2. engineers?
3. architects?


As for 1 and 2
Very close, friendship – because I live and work in constant and direct contact with them and am myself a member of the top management.

As for 3
I am very grateful to the architects, because they in particular have helped us to make our efforts for good design a success.


22. What kind of audience does design appeal to?

- most people?
- professionals or experienced design lovers?
- an exquisite social class?


Preferably all people of course – (unfortunately very often only the professionals and experienced design lovers are left – who in turn only rarely belong to an exquisite social class).


23. Can the audience help to promote design?


Yes – by buying well designed things.


24. Now that you have answered all these questions, do you think that you have been able to exercise your profession as a designer under satisfactory or even the best conditions? Were you forced to make compromises?


I think I can say under very fortunate conditions.


Yes – but they were only objective compromises and without them design is unthinkable.


25. What conditions do you consider necessary to make and spread design?


I think, beyond everything that is done so far, the most important thing is:
First, to convince entrepreneurs that design is not merely a formal and aesthetic thing, but can represent a real business value in addition to profit;
Second, that publications and events about design are no longer primarily made for people who already know about it, but that a livelier form is found to help the people who don't know about it to discover why one design is good and the other one is bad.


26. What kind of future is design preparing for?


The future of design is determined by the future of development – and if you look at development you can clearly see that design is lagging behind development. In the future, it will become more and more important that design is not limited to giving individual objects a "beautiful" form, but that it contributes to a better and more humane design of our environment, planned in time. On that note the development of our future cities is also a design task.



Eichler, F.: Was ist Design? Antworten auf die Fragen des Museum Arts Dècoratifs, September 1969. In: "Gesagt" von Dr. Fritz Eichler 1963…1972, Kronberg 1973, 45-49 und Eichler, F.: Was ist Design? Bewahrt im Archiv von Artur Braun, Königstein/Ts., Ordner: Braun Personen, Abteilung 1 Fritz Eichler

powered by webEdition CMS