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Double the design budget!
by Paul Jochen | 8/6/2009
Discussion round of the first evening: Dominik Wichmann, Marie Aigner and Gert Hildebrand (l.t.r.)

Three Minis - a Clubman, a Cabrio and a Coupé - decorated with event paraphernalia, park in front of the revolving doors at Promenadenplatz. Among all the black Porsche Cayennes, Audi A8s, 7 Series BMWs and Mercedes S-Class limousines, they do not look the least out of place. A subtle hint at the power of good design. In fitting with their standing, Mini München, in cooperation with bulthaup and Loewe, invited select guests to the rooftop terrace of the Bayrischer Hof hotel on three evenings in May, June, and July to discuss design and its economic environment.

On the first evening, taking Opel as an example, the panel and moderator Dominik Wichman agreed relatively quickly that careless design can endanger a brand. The last model to be very well received by customers with a high affinity for design was the Opel GT - in spite of being neither particularly practical nor sporty. It simply looked good, which was no doubt also due to the fact that at the time General Motors did not replace the staff responsible for product design in Rüsselsheim every three years.

Opinions differed, however, when "sources of inspiration" were discussed. While the architect Matthias Sauerbruch pointed to the role of chance (the façade originally planned for the Brandhorst Museum, which was structured by poles, fell through owing to safety concerns raised by the Landeskriminalamt [State Criminal Investigation Department]) and Gert Hildebrand, Head of Design at Mini, claimed that recognizing the existence of a problem was a basic prerequisite for any kind of inspiration, it was only Konstantin Landuris from the "hansundfranz" design studio who declared that his driving force was a wish to create something new every day. Be it idealism or a problem of peer groups, at 30 years old Landuris was by far the youngest participant in the discussion.

Finally, on the third evening there was much spirited discussion. The panel was decidedly split on whether good design could be created better in large enterprises or family-run businesses. On the one hand, management-led companies require a greater degree of "ability to lay down the law" (Nils Holger Moormann), on the other hand, "coordination" was no recipe for success for large companies either (Gert Hildebrand). What is vital for the success of design, however, is that it "fits in with the product concept" (Hartmut Roehrig from bluthaup). Whereas it is easier for a designer in a family-run business to refer to values and people, in major companies he is more likely to end up with "product manager as his contact if the Board is more interested in the share price and corporate takeovers" (Andreas Haug from Phoenix Design). Design, however, is not in good hands there, as innovation always involves a risk that cannot be calculated in economic terms.

So is it 1-0 then for family-run businesses? After all, in terms of design, small and medium-sized companies are very often more successful than large corporations - with the exception of the automotive industry, emphasized Gert Hildebrand. His advice to entrepreneurs: "Double your design budget, you won't even notice it!" The more complex - and thus more expensive - a product is, the less significant the design factor is in terms of the overall cost. The decision to boy the product, on the other hand, depends first and foremost on customers' sensory perception.

Discussion round of the first evening: Dominik Wichmann, Marie Aigner and Gert Hildebrand (l.t.r.)
Discussion round of the first evening: Frieder C. Löhrer: Christian Gärtner and Dominik Wichmann (l.t.r.)