kbb Birmingham 2020: ‘Good design is as little design as possible’, says Hettich

Exhibitor interview with product designer: Marius Schlüter, project manager from Hettich


Q: Where do you normally get your inspiration for new products?

A: Trade fairs are a natural place to start because, particularly with fittings, you need to understand the context in which your products will be used and the industry’s direction of travel. Talking to customers also provides important industry-specific input. But drawing on influences outside our industry is essential, particularly in our ever-more connected world.

Often, however, the driving force is the products in your current range. Using them day in, day out and constantly working out how they could be improved will always drive the designer and engineer to greater things in incremental, and sometimes revolutionary, ways.


Q: Talk us through the process of design…

A: The starting point is to establish a vision of the product – the design and user experience that will define its role. This leads us to the value proposition: what are the pains to alleviate and gains to be won by the customer and end user? This helps us to drill down to the product features that will add detail to the design. Throughout the process, we use discussions with customers and end-user market research to ensure we understand aspirations and expectations.


Q: How is technology changing the way you work as a designer?

A: The level of realism in CAD rendering can give us a very strong first impression of the way the product will look, and this has been a great boost to product development over the past decade. Then there is the use of 3D printing during development, which has been transformational for the design feasibility/validation process. It means we can speed up considerably the process from sketch to product.

Technology is changing the products themselves, too. What was once a product with a single, defined role, can now be a multipurpose device that connects to its user though voice and gesture control or touch-sensitive surfaces.

This really has changed the landscape in furniture technology and presents an exciting opportunity to the designer.


Q: Which Hettich design are you most proud of?

A: The AvanTech YOU drawer system (pictured) of course! Our ambition was a system that stepped easily from the kitchen into the living space, and from the bathroom to the bedroom, but without compromise. We went even further than this: AvanTech YOU brings something new to all these spaces.


Q: As a designer, how do you balance creativity with commercial needs?

A: Creativity and commercial needs are not necessarily contradictory, but should go hand-in-hand. To meet commercial needs is a creative act in itself. To ensure creative aspirations are commercially realistic you need to start with a vision of the product and then ask what are customers willing to pay.


Q: How do you rate the general level of design in the KBB industry?

A: There is considerable variation in the level of design in kitchens and bathrooms, but good design is definitely becoming more accessible.
I think there is also greater willingness to suggest new ideas to customers and end users rather than just be led by them. My personal kick comes from seeing customers integrate our fittings in their furniture or when they ask
us for special solutions. Collaborative creativity is a potent fuel for the design process. I am always excited about the interaction with our customers or when I visit a fair where I can see and feel their designs created with our fittings. That always gets me fired up.


Q: What’s the next challenge for the KBB industry in terms of design?

A: Integration of smart devices in an elegant rather than clunky way is an important challenge for KBB and beyond. For us specifically, the creation of invisible solutions is a strong driver.


Q: What is ‘good’ design?

A: I always refer to the 10 principles of good design of Dieter Rams, which can be summarised as good design always improves the user experience. Here they are:

• Good design makes a product useful;

• Good design makes a product understandable;

• Good design has longevity;

• Good design is… innovative; aesthetic; unobtrusive: honest; thorough down to the last detail; environmentally friendly;

• Good design is as little design as possible


Q: Do you believe you should be able to get ‘good design’ at every budget level?

A: Yes,  it’s part of being competitive, because the market for good design is growing at all price points. Nevertheless, you need to compromise when it comes to technical features for example.


Q: How important is sustainability to product design at Hettich?

A: Part of good design is to focus on the sustainability of the product. Perhaps there are consumers who don’t care about sustainability, but in the long term it will be an accepted and established part of design. Industrial developments, such as digitisation, will work in sustainability’s favour as it will lead to shorter supply chains and more local manufacturing. From my perspective, it should be in everyone’s interest to focus on
eco design.

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