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Promote, educate and encourage

Peter Zec, president of red dot, talks about the value of ideas and the place of quality in design.


Peter Zec, president of red dot, talks about the value of ideas and the place of quality in design.

As president of red dot Peter Zec gets to see some of the best design the world has to offer, from the tiniest gadgets to entire interior fitouts and industrial machinery.

Zec is also the founding chair of the World Design Capital, a project aiming to promote design on a city-wide scale.

He was also the first German to be president of the international umbrella organisation of design, ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design).

Although not a designer himself, he has spent years promoting the important role of design of all kinds in our everyday lives. CID caught up with Zec on the sidelines of the Association of Professional Interior Designers (APID) annual conference in May...

What is your first memory of being interested in design?

I didn't show any interest in design until I worked on a project for a centre of media art and technology. At the time people said this centre should be the new Bauhaus.

This was the first time I thought about what Bauhaus was all about. When I started to understand the Bauhaus philosophy I said we should not develop this as a centre for ‘media arts', because artists will go there to play with new technology and produce something that goes straight into a museum.

What we needed was people who would take new technology and apply it to some beautiful things for our daily lives.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was describing the work of a designer.

I went deeper into this kind of thinking. I wrote a book on information design, not the way we mean it today - where information means communication - my term was about how we can make our products more intelligent.

This kind of thinking was about how to combine information with product development, still a key issue today.

What is your background?

I studied media sciences, communication theory and psychology. So I had a background of communication and aesthetics. This is perfect when you deal with designers because you can understand them, but most importantly you have to translate them.

Because designers have not really established their own language, they need interpreters, mediators and facilitators to make things happen. That was my job from the very beginning - working with designers - and that's exactly what we do today.

You talk about sustainability and luxury as competitors: which one's winning?

I think, in the end luxury is winning. This has a lot to do with our normal behaviour. As long as we do not really suffer and if we don't feel that we cannot breathe anymore, or that we don't have big problems, as long we don't have this kind of experience, we think in terms of more comfort.

It's very easy to talk about sustainability, but in our world we have no real category for sustainability, because we cannot know today what is good for tomorrow. It is a sensitive matter and changes from day to day, but in the end I think luxury will win.

You said in design, quality comes first. How can that work in a design environment driven by time and cost?

I think it will move to quality more and more. You cannot afford to buy things that aren't as good, if you don't have enough money to buy them often.

In future people will become more educated and realise that quality is better than just consuming rubbish. I think there is a tendency for the quality to come down and down to meet people with very little income. Many people are buying by price and that price does not deliver what you expect.

This is a question of education.

For instance, in the past the US showed no interest in the red dot award. Now most overseas entries come from America. If the US wants to be in competition in the global market it must turn to quality.

For the long term the industry must believe in the quality strategy. Something inside people makes them look for better things, even though capitalism has taught us to look for more.

Does red dot have a role to play in educating consumer?

We are not strong enough to directly address the consumer, but we reach industry very well. Our approach is aimed more at targetting manufacturing businesses.

Red dot works because one company observes the other and if they see their competition is a red dot winner and promoting the fact, then the others will want to achieve it too. To do this they must improve the quality of their design.

Can you explain your concept of ‘Return on Idea'?

The point is we think money can generate more money, but we must focus more on ideas. You need to have a wonderful idea. This is why it is provocative to say return on ideas instead of return on investment; without an idea money has no value.

A good idea is very convincing, especially for interior designers. It is very important to come up with good convincing ideas, both to make a client say ‘yes' and because quality comes first.

You are founding chair of the World Design Capital. Do you think Dubai will want to take that title on?

I introduced the idea to [the government]; they are showing some interest. Dubai can apply at the end of this year, we expect it to be of the strong competitors.

What is an object that you think sums up your idea of good design?

One is obvious, the iPod. It changed my point of view on listening to music. It is simple to handle, a nice piece and connects with so many things. Once the iPod was developed, immediately after other companies created devices to go with it.

This little tiny thing became the object of a new kind of lifestyle.

Although it came from the Walkman, which was already revolutionary, but stayed with young people and caused a cultural clash between young and old, it quickly became obvious that everyone was using the iPod.

This is an example of high quality design.

What one thing do you wish you could have designed?

One thing I would like to have designed is the Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper. It is such a nice cultural lamp and the first one where power went through the material.

An idea like this is simple, convincing and complicated at the same time. It's one of my favourite things and I wish I had designed it myself.

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