Interview of the "Absatzwirtschaft" magazine with Dr. Eichler and L. Schmude, April 1969
The Braun company in Frankfurt has been known for its design all over the world for years. It is common knowledge that it has its own design department that has defined a new style in the field of electrical appliances. In 1954, when the company began to give its appliances a new face, it did not yet have its own design department; it first sought external support and found it with Hans Gugelot and Otl Aicher from the HfG in Ulm. Not only did they create the first real samples, they also provided methods and suggestions that determined Braun's further work. At the same time, they began to set up their own department for design and marketing. Braun is one of the few companies that realizes all marketing in-house, with 40 employees. The product design department employs eleven people. Head of both departments and as a member of the board of directors responsible for all design and marketing of the company is Dr. Fritz EICHLER.
The fact that the Rheinstahl-Henschel company in Kassel employs its own staff of designers is probably largely unknown. A design department for capital goods is still a unique entity in Germany. Seven employees have been involved for 4½ years now in designing products as diverse as special vehicles, engines and machines, instrument scales, chemical plants and many others. Head and founder of the department is Leonhard SCHMUDE. At Henschel, design is assigned as a staff position to the technology division of the management board.
If Mr. SCHMUDE has to deal with more difficulties in his work than Dr. EICHLER, this is probably less related to the different types of products than rather to the less favorable organizational set-up of his department.
Since the two design departments are special in their nature, we asked their managers the same questions. We wanted to know whether and where there are fundamental similarities or differences of opinion.
How do you define the task of design for the company and especially for marketing?
EICHLER: "Design is not only product design. It includes the entire design process up to marketing, i.e. the entire message design. The exterior form is ultimately the visible expression for a certain entrepreneurial attitude."
SCHMUDE: "If the corporate goals are the same as for marketing, there can be no difference between design for the company and design for marketing. Our responsibility is to design all products of the company in order to have better market opportunities. Typical design factors and color elements in all products lead to the visualized face of the company."
So design is explicitly directed at but does not necessarily conform to the market. Its tasks are much more complex than the public generally assumes. "Good design does not only mean aesthetically beautiful appearance. The evaluation is based on whether a form is necessary from a functional point of view. It must not have been designed speculatively. A design is only good if it is an integral part of the product development process," says Dr. EICHLER. "Making good design is certainly not easy, but it's actually not that much of a feat," he continues. "What is decisive is that you actually get the opportunity to make good design. And that's a question of the personal attitude and the attitude of the management." It's not the market that determines whether good or bad design is made, but the respective company. The answers to our second question were also along the same line.
Does the market educate the designers or does the designer have to teach the demand which is the right form?
SCHMUDE: "The market cannot educate the designer; then there would be only repetitions and no new impulses. Of course, it is about finding the gaps in demand, but that does not at all mean that the designer has to make compromises. Compromising design with chrome trim and tail fins would be a sales barrier for capital goods. In the case of two machines with the same function and capability, the good, consistent design will always be the decisive factor in the decision to buy. The attitude of buyers towards capital goods is more objective than towards consumer goods".
EICHLER: "To follow what you can learn from market surveys makes the designer sterile and uncreative. Market research has its importance when looking for gaps in the market. It also plays a role in monitoring how the finished product sells and how the consumer perceives it. Of course, preliminary tests with samples and models are also carried out. However, a survey can never provide a basis for the "how" in design. The designer must consider such aspects and results to be a thing of the past as soon as he gets hold of them. It will take a long time until a new product can be launched on the market, two years or more. The market cannot provide recipes and no designer should try to get recipes from survey results; he should first develop his own ideas." So, what is the 'right' form is by no means dependent on public taste, even for consumer goods. "The much-quoted John Doe that is so often used as an excuse is not sitting out there somewhere; he is usually in the producer himself" Dr. EICHELER puts it rather exaggerated. But fortunately, not every consumer is related to this much-quoted being. To all these others, Braun offers the alternative. Over time, it becomes standard for the Does to also cultivate the new style. This may result in compromising imitations.
What are the reasons for and against an in-house design department? Under what circumstances is it beneficial to work with external designers?
EICHLER: "The higher the technical share of the development, the more complicated the product, the greater the necessity for in-house designers. For products where the technical share is low, such as chinaware, curtains or wallpaper, which live above all from creative diversity, freelance designers are probably the better solution. Because they constantly bring in new ideas."
Mr. SCHMUDE also sees the advantage of an in-house design department in the fact that ideas can be aligned directly due to a constant exchange between design and engineering.
"An internal design department can realize far more of their ideas and suggestions." He basically thinks it's better to employ in-house designers. "Whether a designer shuts out new influences or not ultimately depends on his quality!"
In addition to Eichler, he believes that using freelance designers is a viable option for a company that produces very few different products. The reason are mere cost considerations.
How does the design department work; what are its specific tasks?
EICHLER: "The aim: To build a unified, cohesive and therefore effective image. At Braun we work as a team. Since product and advertising design is based on a long-term program, development meetings at regular intervals are essential. The individual product design areas are divided into shavers, electronics, photography and household. There is a team meeting every week, so each area is discussed once every five weeks. The product design department is actively involved in the long-term program considerations. Because the individual product cannot be considered in isolation, as it is part of a whole range of products. Therefore, you must never fail to keep an eye on external factors: What are the technical possibilities? What about the price situation of the competition? What does the market for our product look like? Making a device for 100 DM is, seen as a task, something completely different from developing a similar product for 200 DM. Accordingly, the design will have to be completely different."
SCHMUDE: "The task was to build a uniform face and good market opportunities for all products. At the beginning, design was part of the automotive division, parallel to the engineering department to be more precise. Since the department has been reporting directly to the technical board of directors, it can work for all engineering departments of the company. As a staff unit we can work with all departments, but unfortunately only as consultants. There is no possibility to push ideas through if we were not able to convince.
There is no universal method or recipe for achieving useful results. The problems with such a diversity of products are so different that each must be approached in a new and unbiased way. However, an extensive repertoire of practicable approaches, tools and facilities must be available. Some typical approaches: The ideal solution would be the collaboration of one or more designers from the time of the design concept, through engineering, production, presentation and delivery. Tools are analyses, tables, sketches, pre-models, technical drawings, tests, the finished model or the prototype. Half the approach: A product or prototype that exists in its conception and technical execution is revised in terms of ergonomics and form. (Our task is 30-40% ergonomics.) The reason for revision should come along with technical improvements, as otherwise no satisfying result can be achieved (old machine with only a new control panel or in a new dress). Aids are originals or prototypes that are modified accordingly, drawings, tests and possibly a new prototype. Other possibilities are, for example, changes to individual details or a mere graphic solution. However, this can only be justified when deadlines are tight, because the advantage of speed is offset by many risks!"
While design tasks at Braun mainly imply a new design, at Henschel design tasks mainly, but not exclusively, mean redesign, i.e. building on what already exists and continuously improving it.
What problems arise in the collaboration between designer and engineer, and how can they be solved?
EICHLER: "Collaboration between engineer and designer is indeed a problem, a real management problem to be precise. In particular with technically complicated devices both can give each other a hard time: The engineer by insisting on an engineering solution he found and protecting it against all new ideas with the argument: This is not feasible from a technical point of view; the designer may be obsessed with design ideas and insist on specifications that are really not feasible from a technical point of view under the given technical preconditions and possibilities. At Braun, these problems have been solved because designers and engineers live and work in close contact."
The favorable organizational structure at Braun makes cooperation easier. SCHMUDE, who has to explain and convince his colleagues at Henschel each time anew, finds harsh words.
SCHMUDE: "The engineers have no idea what we want; no technical university or engineering school teaches them design. (Hanover as the only exception now.) Moreover, we have to work with other engineers each time and explain each time again what we actually want. With above-average intelligent and talented engineers we can get along very well, they are willing to rethink our ideas and to realize them. The more unidirectional an engineer's thoughts, the more stubbornly he sticks to his own ideas and jealously controls that nobody else is involved in his product."
How is the cooperation between marketing and design organized in your company?
SCHMUDE: "Little contact. Marketing is less concerned with products than with processes. Only a few steps later, the design department usually comes into play when the corresponding units are to be built for the process. And then the job is already passed on to the engineering department. Closer cooperation with marketing sometimes comes about for a single object. But that is not the rule."
EICHLER: "Product design is an integral part of the company's long-term program; consequently, communication between marketing and design must be a matter of course. Sales success does not depend on form alone. Form cannot replace technical performance. The device must be correctly positioned in the market and must have an adequate price in comparison with competing products."
Is design of different weight for different product categories? What is the difference when comparing consumer and capital goods?
Both gentlemen have the same opinion on this question. Design is equally important for consumer goods and capital goods. While design has been systematically applied to consumer goods for a long time, it is by no means a matter of course for capital goods yet. The typical design of a company becomes a quality image. A better designed product is expected to have a higher functional quality. As soon as technical performance and appearance diverge, failure is inevitable. Strangely enough, the buyer's displeasure is then directed against the form, even if it is objectively correct, ergonomically and functionally consistent. A better form does not lead to sales success in the long run. Unless it goes hand in hand with an increase in technical quality. With regard to international business, the designer does not need to make any compromises. The sales opportunities for a product do not decrease significantly unless goods of – I any respect – identical value from other manufacturers enter the market and compete on price. To this extent, the international market is no different from domestic business.
Hirsch, E.: Design und Marketing. Interview mit Fritz Eichler. In: Absatzwirtschaft, 4/1969 ; Eichler, F.: "Gesagt" von Dr. Fritz Eichler 1963…1972, Kronberg 1973, 27-31, Bewahrt im Archiv von Artur Braun, Königstein/Ts.. Ordner: Braun Personen, Abteilung 1 Fritz Eichler