Design Knowledge Intermediary
Prof. Dr. Peter Zec
Professor Dr. Peter Zec, born in 1956, has been president of the internationally renowned Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen since 1991. He developed the institution, founded in 1954, into a qualification and communication center for business, design and society. Its red dot design award is regarded as one of the most prestigious international prizes for innovative design. For over 15 years now, Peter Zec has been working as a design consultant with numerous companies in foreign countries. He has gained world-wide recognition with lectures in more than 40 countries.
He is the publisher of the "Red dot design yearbook" and the "Who's Who in Design" among other design books.
Designophy: You have seen the works of Turkish students, and you could get information about ITU. Would you compare Turkish students with the German ones?
Peter Zec: I have just seen the presentations of ITU students. But I must say, if we look at the presentations, there are almost no difference in shape, the way hw creativity was expressed, how drawings were made and how products are developed. In my opinion, due to the education period, they are at the same level. We, in Germany, can also let the students with a specific creativity deal wth it, That is how the beautiful drawings are made. But in this case it is here the same. I found some presentations and concepts really interesting. The only difference is that we in Germany due to stronger industrialization are thinking more about the design of machines, cars and such greater products. While here mainly furniture and tableware, service and such things. It is also possible that I have not seen anything else, because that was they had shown.
In Turkey, the students and the professional designer have less contact to other countries. They have no chance to lead the way of the design; they follow the existing way of the design. What is the reason of this, and how can Turkish designer change this?
P.Z.: Design is very connected with the technical product standard of a community and if the industry of a community is not at the highest level, then the design can not be also at the highest level. But that is not, because the designers are bad, that is related to the conditions which are not optimal. That means, your fantasy can only be stimulated, by the opportunities and what can be technically made. Then new ides are created. But if they have not the newest techniques, then they can not be on the top. That means, the economical development and technical development of a country is the first thing that must happen. That is very important, and out of this comes the innovation power in design. There is the example USA, and we can also see that in Japan, where they tried to realize an industrialization, in which designers play a big role. Japan is a nice example, because Japan in the past, after the war, did not play a role. They did copy, they had no own ideas, and we always laughed at Japan. The cars were also bad, and check what Japan does today. Japan has then learned, especially from USA, and suddenly they revolutionized the automobile industry with a new prepare technique. Everybody went to Japan, to watch how the Japanese do this, and not how the American or German do it. And suddenly new designs came, which were revolutionist, also automobiles. The Mazda LX5 is presently a classic, a "Supercar" , and many other things. Also the quality of Japanese cars is perfect. But take a company like Sony, Sony is leading in many categories all over the world, and also in design. We from the Designercenter in Nord-Rhein Westfalen named Sony the design team of the year two years ago. Because of nobody from our point of view was not better as they were all over the world. You see that depends very much on the economical and political happenings in a country.
Should we take the result, that for example a Turkish designer can not design anything for the German industry?
P.Z.: In the sectors, where the industry in Germany is very high developed, it is very difficult for a Turkish designer to work for Germany out of Turkey. But what he can make is he can go to Germany, and work in Germany with the company. And then the Turkish designer is definetly as well as anybody else in the world. Only if he is talented. Then there is no difference. Then you have a real chance.
In your speech in ITU, you said that the scientific part of design should be searched, so that we can make objective critique in the evaluation of the level of quality of design could have. Do you think that th scientific part of design is possible or do you think that it is just a Utopia?
P.Z.: First of all, I think design is a profession, which comes out of making. But that does not mean that you can not make this profession become scientific. There is a opportunity to connect a historical science with design, in which you take economical cases, for getting result from the past. But there is also the possibility to develop a design science, in which for example results of other sciences were produced for the design, for example experiences out of psychology, that is made extremely with ergonomics, that is science, too. And if we make this objective and systematically, then you can reach a real design science. But I do not think that it is possible to generate a pure design theorie or design logic. That would be more the death of design, because then the creativity would stand still. Then everybody could make a cup or something else with an algorithmus in a computer. Such hypothesis I find less progressive, but I think the hypothesis which are trying to reflect useful things from other scientific professions to design, for very successfull. But such things are happening very seldom. For example, we could use knowledge out of the economy in design. We could also use knowledge out of the contructive sector and work with architects. But nowadaysthe design educations is dependent on itself and that is a big problem.
You mentioned that, some students in the first year of their education are founding an office on their own. Should the students be hinered to found their own office, and get the responsibility for a project or should they be free for founding an office, despite their lack of theoretical knowledge, and try to compete with others in business life?
P.Z.: First of all, in design it is important that you make a clear difference what a good design quality is. Or what design really differs from other professions of economy or creative jobs. That is one point, which is very important. Including a professionalizing of the job itself, which can only be reached with an intensive education. But if adesigner in his second semester founds his own design office, then he means actually: "I do not need my education." Otherwise he had to wait until he has his diploma. And this causes many problems in economy, because in this way design is not set to be a high qualified profession, it is thought that design is more like an artisitic talent, in which the designs are made mornigns in the bathroom in the bath, under shower or on the toilet. But this is not like this, as we said, design is very hard connected to industrial development; You have to know about material science, you have to know about production techinques, you must have strict knowledges to work for a leading firm. And students which are making them self-employed in their 2. semester, can not have this. But I have nothing to say if students during their whole education are working as asisstent or intern, to see how the daily life of a designer looks like. That is something different. Students have to earn their money to live. And if they earn their money in a designer office, I'll think that's super. But not if they have responsibility and discredit the corporate profession.
Is this the fault of the universities or the system, when students in their 2.semester found their own offices, or should they do this?
P.Z.: No, I would not teach such students, because who founds an office knows already everything. What can he leran from me? And in such case the professors have the responsibility, to do something for it. They say: "Who has his own office, does not need me anymore, he should earn his money himself. And he has to show that trhis kind of work does not match the quality, which we in professional offices know as design quality.
On what depends the quality of design in addition to the development level of the industry in a country?
P.Z.: The quality of design results in the innovation power and the vision of designers in relation with the newest technical opportunities, because of the designer often require more or even has to require more as the engineer already knows. And that is why he is a pushing force in the economy. And only designers, who have this qulaity, have the appropriate success in economy. When designers come after, then they are not the ones, who push the economy forward. And that is important, that you learn this while your education, that you have to be brave, that you know much, that you are also well educated, and every time the newest, ever be dissatisfied, then you will ever go more forward.
You did not mention a success of sales potential. But especially in big corporations, which are designers themselves, but make decissions regarding the design, evaluate the quality of design, considering salesvolume. Is this not a conflict for the design?
P.Z.: The measurement of quality regarding the success of sales is not a crucial dilemma for the design since the designer is not responsible for the success regarding the final decision. In the chain of success there are so many other factors after the design phase, such as advertising than marketing and distribution are very important. The image of the company is vital. Altough you can design a superior product for a company of bad image it is possible that the product can not be solved, not because the design is bad, but because the people do not relate the quality to this company. The designer should beware not to be victim of others fault. Designers should be able to express themselves, and understand these situation. Of course it is better from designers point of view to work with big and well structured companies, because if you are good enough, then your success in this company is guaranteed, but if you work in bad companies, then failure is assigned to you. It is very bad that an outstanding design is poorly solved because it is bad marketed. That is why there is for example the possibility of participation of design computitions, because in design computitions the salesvolume is not an evaluation criteria. If the product is not sold, the designer has the opportunity to tell his company:" Look, specialist have proved, tat the design is good. Well, find the failure in your company and not in the design." This empowers the position of designer. The designer can only succeed in the competition, even if he is not promoted but the product is sold, then he can say:" As you see, the jury was bad, but the product is sold well." There the designer can turn it upside-down. It is only worse, if the designer is not promoted in the competition, and the product is sold worse, too. Then maybe there is something bad to say. That is the only point, where he really would get problems, but otherwise it is an important and helpful argumentation, to have an adequate promotion in a competition, even if the product is not successfull in the market. That is very important.
It often happens, that the designer comes to a point, where he can not get further. What do you think, to do in such a point?
P.Z.: In my opinion, a designer has to think in company mind not in shape. That means, the more a designer is married with his design, so worser he is in self-critic and so worser he takes critic., because he is been shot into in his heart. You have to also free yourself emotionally of your design. And if I, make this emotional seperation, then I am ready to take critic from others, because then I say to myself:" I want to reach the best. And to reach the best I need often the opinion of others." That is only possible, if I free myself of my design and be professional. Professional means:"not being individuell, on the contrary to work out of profession" That is, what a designer has to learn and this you can not know at the beginning because the designer is first of all an artist. And he has to learn to be an artist, without giving up the creativity. This is a big challenge and this can not do many.
This interview has been made with Peter Zec, when he was one of the member of directors board of ICSID in 2004 while he was in Turkey for the ICSID Board meeting.