Nothing New on the Highway
If you drive the A8 Highway from Stuttgart to Munich on an average weekday, people who have nothing to do with design on a daily basis will make the following observation: from a distance of – let’s say – around 100 meters, you can very rarely correctly make out the vehicle brand and type from the silhouette alone. It’s easy to confuse a Lexus with a Mercedes, an Opel with a BMW, and a SEAT with a Peugeot. Admittedly, once in a while you see a 911 model approaching fast through the rearview mirror and there’s no mistaking it. Or, even better, you have the aesthetic pleasure of passing a goddess. Does that ring a bell? Citroën DS was the actual name of the model built between 1955 and 1975. The last of around 1.4 million vehicles rolled off the production line on April 24, 1975.
Unbelievably Different: the Déesse
The déesse – French for goddess – was so unbelievably different that French cultural philosopher Roland Barthes compared the vehicle with a Gothic cathedral in his famous essay The New Citroën (La nouvelle Citroën, 1957): “I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.” (Source: FAZ.net., quote by Roland Barthes: Mythologies, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch 2012)
After all, have you ever heard a philosopher talk that way about the Astra, the BMW 7 Series, or the new Mercedes? In his article Fahr zur Hölle (the road to hell) in Süddeutsche Zeitung, which incidentally is worth a read, journalist Gerhard Matzig suggested in late 2015 that the automotive industry crisis is, first and foremost, of an aesthetic nature. Though it’s provocative, he proves his theory with interesting examples, in which he compares the MINI to a DOUBLE WHOPPER that suffers from obesity.
We spoke to industry designer Michael Tinius from BUSSE Design+Engineering in Ulm about design today. Tinius’s team received the Red Dot Design Award for the design of our Multigrind® CB grinding machine.
Schleifblog: Mr. Tinius, why don’t you begin by briefly explaining to our readers your responsibilities as Head Designer at BUSSE Design+Engineering, where the focus is primarily on designing industrial products, from lawn mowers to high-tech grinding centers.
Michael Tinius: In addition to the primary topics of company presentation and representation, as Head Designer I organize our Design department, plan capacities, and manage the projects in terms of quality, deadlines, and costs. But deep in my heart, I’ve always been a designer. I specify design strategies and development goals, develop formal content with the teams, and occasionally formulate the design down to the detail.
Is automotive design experiencing a crisis? Have we “quickly squandered the future-proof legacy of Bauhaus and Ulm School of Design” as Gerhard Matzig writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung? What goes through your mind when you drive along the highway and look at the cars?
The entire industry suffers from a monstrosity neurosis. If you ask me, cars are fundamentally evolving in the wrong direction. And I’m not only talking about design. It’s essential to ask what people actually need to get from A to B. A little more humility couldn’t hurt – not only from an environmental perspective. We need to again focus on the essentials, in part to unite the community of drivers. Those are strategy issues. I’m sure vehicle designers would be able to find answers beyond styling and image alone. To me, vehicle designs these days often seem over the top stylistically and too complex formally. With excessively dynamic lines and surfaces, the product loses all its seriousness.
How do things look in the manufacturing industry? For instance, does product design in machine construction enjoy the status it deserves also in terms of branding?
A lot has happened. In machine construction, they’ve learned that design is not cosmetic, but rather visualizes and emphasizes the qualities of the product. Solutions in heavy-machine construction almost seem architectural. There are some wonderful examples. The rules of brand design also apply to machine construction: design creates identity and thus promotes trust.
Shouldn’t future mechanical engineers also take a more in-depth look at good design and design history during their studies?
Not just engineers. Everyone should spend some time focusing on design phenomena. Products shape our world of consumption. Questioning and understanding them as well as their visual styles makes us more critical, capable, and autonomous. I also offer sketching and drafting seminars to engineers. In addition to learning and improving their own abilities to illustrate, the participants also find out how designers think and just how difficult it is to develop your own design ideas and transform them into a sketch. They usually leave the class more thoughtful.
Your colleague Dieter Rams once compared design with the trimming of a bonsai tree, speaking of design in a limited amount of space. What is your personal definition of design and who are your role models?
My role model is nature and its ability to optimize without compromise. Personally, I wouldn’t want to make big things smaller, but rather small things bigger, figuratively speaking. Designers are generalists. They shouldn’t feel confined, as they represent the point where everything comes together. They incorporate a whole host of faculties and unite the requirements of technology, manufacturing, ergonomics, and aesthetics. For me, the more interesting question is what design achieves and not what it is.
Where do you see good design today in industry or consumer goods? Are there any classic examples that you can still see today?
In my opinion, both areas have grown much closer together and even overlap. Our many small household goods often have an almost architectural structure and even a purist feel about them, while machines and large-scale equipment also demonstrate complex style characteristics in terms of shape and color. There’s something for everyone and everything is possible today. Good design allows you to experience functions and should trigger emotions and be inspiring. To this day, I still see Braun, Ingo Maurer, and iittala products as pleasantly straightforward and yet creative. They communicate formal continuity, even if in completely different ways.
And is there excessive design – when you think it just didn’t work and the designer went too far?
The relationship between appearance and reality is a matter of personal perspective. A walk through a furniture store or a lamp department can lead you through the depths of taste. If it’s the designers’ fault, I don’t know. I have the impression that there’s very little between upscale design brands and cheap suppliers.
What made you want to be a designer?
I’ve always wanted to design, regardless of what it is. The main attraction for me is the unknown and discovery, and not repetition. To put it boldly, each brand and each product is different. Providing objects with design and function and thus reaching other people are for me the best thing there is.
Where do you find the inspiration for your work and how important are ideas from other forms of art?
You’ll have an easier time harmonizing complex form structures if you try to fathom the polyphony of Bach’s music. Music is the greatest of all the arts, particularly in conjunction with movement and action, which is why I often go to concerts and the opera house or make music myself. Painting, sculpture, literature, and photography – I welcome anything that stimulates the senses.
One last question: Which book or text on the topic of design would you recommend to curious readers who haven’t studied design?
Lucius Burkhardt: Design Is Invisible.
Thank you for the conversation, Mr. Tinius.