Undersecretary of state Ruth Herkes with graphic designer Uwe Loesch, awarded for his lifework, with Fons Hickmann, who hold the laudatio. Photo © André Hercher
Hope alone does not suffice
by Thomas Edelmann
Sep 19, 2013

Anyone wanting to see how difficult it is in Germany to realize even manageable transport projects should pay a visit to Berlin’s Invalidenstrasse. It has been a construction site for over two years now. The plan is to build a new streetcar line along a 2.3-kilometer stretch of the street integrating Berlin’s Central Station in the streetcar network. Yet “Be it water, electricity, gas or telecommunications, every utility company has opened up and refilled Invalidenstrasse in the past two years,” reported the news magazine “Frontal21”, broadcast on ZDF. The street is due to be completed in summer 2015 at the earliest and is already considered one of the most poorly coordinated construction sites.

The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) is located on the corner of Invalidenstrasse. The neo-Baroque building was erected around 100 years ago as the “Akademie für das militärische Bildungswesen” (Academy for military education). The design of the carefully restored building is decidedly dreary, dominated by military stiffness despite its present civil use. It was here that the “Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” was awarded on September 12. For many years the design prize, established in 1969 as the “Bundespreis Gute Form”, was organized by the German Design Council. Following strong criticism of the competition rules, the participation fees, the prizes, which winners have to pay for, and the practice of calling all competition entrants “nominees”, the Ministry headed by Minister Philipp Rösler decided to make a fresh start (Stylepark published numerous reports on the disputes). The organization of the competition was put up for tender and since 2012 has been the responsibility of the agency DMY Berlin. What seems to be an unnecessary restriction is that the submission of entries, jury session and award ceremony must all take place in the same year. The German Design Council, in contrast, allowed and allows itself more time. The designs selected by the jury were presented at the DMY Festival in Tempelhof. A glamorous award ceremony was held in October 2012 in the former “International” movie theater on Frankfurter Allee. That year Wolfgang Joop received the lifetime achievement award. As was to be expected, the media were out in force. Parallel to the “Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, the German Design Council continues to host the (slightly modified) “German Design Award” in Frankfurt.

The second edition of the new and more open “Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, conceived in 2012, came to a festive end at the home of the Ministry. Was it a disaster? Perhaps not, but it was a disappointment. It almost seemed as though the liberally managed Ministry of all things wanted to prove once and for all that private organizations can do a better job than the state. And that the state should keep out of economic activities as far as possible. For, in short, the event was more like a fig leaf of German design policy than something attendees will look back on fondly.

Uninspired presentation

We entered the vestibule directly from the building site. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres were served on a mezzanine level; after a time a bell rang. The ceremony could begin. Winners and guests, 250 people altogether, gathered in the main hall of the Ministry. The initial impression was disappointing. There was a walkway in the center, decorated so amateurishly with lengths of cloth that no Berlin design university would dare present something like that as a final project. Just to remind you: This is the most prestigious state design award. The presenter suggested with his hairstyle, demeanor and chatter that he would like to have been a comedian. He wasn’t. Still he frequently bounced around the award winners over the course of the evening. And made it clear that he has gotten to grips with the topic: “Communication design, so, objects with a message, you could say.”

He repeatedly called for a “huge applause” for the award winners. In front of the Ministry building is a small poster in which Philipp Rösler promotes his party: “Strong center – only with us”. Today he must “fight elsewhere”, as State Secretary Anne Ruth Herkes stated. That sounds a little like a case of an overly full diary, but otherwise went unnoticed. Ms. Herkes talked uninspiringly and not particularly entertainingly about design and its significance, as politicians unfortunately tend to do now and again in front of designers and specialist companies. Design leads to economic success (really?).

Show vs. information

This award ceremony too, as is so often the case, wanted too much at once. Jurors presented the winning objects and projects, which were subsequently set down on a raised section of the walkway. Moreover, an animation visualized emotional aspects. Unfortunately the presentation froze a few times during the course of the evening. Then the presenter and award winners exchanged a few words, after which they were joined by the State Secretary and lady presenting the certificates. The mini photo session after every presentation of a certificate was a dramaturgical blunder, the prize winners posing with the State Secretary in front of a golden wall bearing the competition logo. It took some time, especially as the winners, if you please, were not to obscure the logo.

Grave of the unknown designer

Although the evening saw the bestowal of only ten awards and one lifetime achievement award, it went on and on. Precisely here the “Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” had the chance to come up with an alternative to the gala events currently all the rage. The idea of having a juror present the winning project or object is a step in the right direction. Some, including Uta Brandes or Karsten Henze, took the opportunity to say a few entertaining words on specific merits of the designs. Such as “Lingua Digitalis”, a digital sign language based on pictograms developed by Mutabor and Gestalten Verlag (Silver, Communication). Or the pendant lamp made of concrete named “Like Paper” (“Young Talent Award”). Here we learn in passing that things, even new ones, have a history, a context. And Fons Hickmann explained exactly why his almost-teacher, graphic designer Uwe Loesch, was precisely the right man to be honored for his life’s work. The video presentation cut off lines of text from several of his posters; that is somewhat careless. Uwe Loesch, born in 1943, who as a poster designer repeatedly showed that the first consideration in his profession is not commercial success, but sometimes also humanity, humor, irony and commitment, was delighted and confused at once. For his life’s work is by no means complete. He still wants, he said, to lay “a dead mouse at the grave of the unknown designer”. These were the closing remarks, even if the presenter immediately began hopping around again. Subsequently, the buffet was opened in the Ministry’s Eichensaal hall, accompanied by harp music and under the German and European flags.

New start needed

Who needs a design award like this today? The organizer DMY made an honest effort. Yet the Ministry was unable to summon up a festive atmosphere. With 400 entries, 66 nominations and ten award winners, the competition is a particularly small-scale endeavor. Since it doesn’t have to focus on making a profit, its non-commercial potential should be developed further. Perhaps designers could establish a kind of academy to this end, like Bernd Eichinger did for the film industry. Alternatives must be considered. In the second year of their collaboration the Ministry of Economics and DMY have not raised the award to new heights. Essen, Hanover and Frankfurt will no doubt be pleased. The big organizers are brimming with self-confidence. Their design competitions surely don’t suffer from a lack of participants. We need more than a sparsely decorated ministry to carry a German design award forward, namely ideas, goals, and concepts. Perhaps they would even benefit design too. And a public that has long since stopped taking notice of award ceremonies à la iF Design, Red Dot and the German Design Council.

Full list of the awards:

Read more on STYLEPARK:

Hope for the Original: a new start after 42 years
(9 february 2012)

Erik van Buuren, founder of eco-cosmetic-company Walachei, with the „Canyon Speedmax CF“, that was awarded in the category „Productdesign“ with gold. Photo © André Hercher
Design-Awards to touch – at the BMWi in Berlin. Photo © André Hercher
Designer Gregor Dauth and Lars Wagner were proud to get gold for their „Canyon Speedmax CF“. Photo © André Hercher
Ruth Herkes with Götz Esslinger and Wiebke Lehmann from “Hering“, who were awarded with gold for its tableware „Noble“. Photo © André Hercher
„Newcomer“-award for „Like Paper“, Design: Sebastian Amelung and Miriam Aust. Photo © André Hercher
A “Quantum “ herbs? The secateurs of the company Fiskars Germany GmbH won silver in the category „Productdesign“. Photo © André Hercher
Silver in the category „communicationdesign“ for „Lingua Digitalis”, a collection of pictograms, cooperation of Mutabor Design and edior house Gestalten. Photo © André Hercher
„Lingua Digitalis“ -creators Steffen Granz, Cynthia Waeyusoh and Patrick Molinari. Foto © André Hercher
Fangen Sie an! A tear-off-calendar, that focuses the 30 human rights of the UN-Charta. „Newcomer“-Award for Paul Wenert. Photo © DMY
„Anker-Ständer“ for wooden terrace, design: Ludger Kötter-Rolf, silver in the category „productdesign“. Photo © DMY
The Symrise Perfumers' Compendium is a visual reference book for perfumes. Designer: Symrise AG with Heine Warnecke Design GmbH. Silver in the category „communicationsdesign“. Photo © DMY