The Real Value of Design
(Oct. 16/25, Beijing/Shanghai) Professor Mathis Heller, DeTao Master of Automotive & Industrial Design, delivered lectures at Peking University and Shanghai Library respectively on The Real Value of Design.
Professor Heller is a cross-over automotive and product designer. His outstanding talent in the industrial field is recognized internationally. Some of his representative awards are: several Red Dot and iF Design Awards and several nominations of Design Awards of Germany, Dutch Design Awards and the Volvo Sports Design Award. He used to work in Munich, Germany, as an automotive, transportation and product designer for clients including BMW, Ford, Siemens, Siemens Mobile, Bosch Siemens Household Appliance Group, Sedus Stoll AG, Verner Panton and OSRAM. His DeTao studio was inaugurated in November last year.
Professor Heller started by sharing his philosophy as a designer – ‘design is everything and everything is design.’ He went on to elaborate that, ‘designers are expected to know customers’ preference, market, and the design must be technically possible. Apart from that, what we design today will shape our future living. More power we have, more responsibilities we share.’
What is then the real value of design? According to survey findings, the value of design has been increasing in the past ten years. As of 2013, a company that values design generates 228% more profit than otherwise, because design is productive in a lot of ways. Good design will have a wow factor, triggers curiosity and encourages purchase. Good design should express brand language. It forecasts and addresses future customer demands. By enhancing user experience, a good design could encourage comapanys’ rethinking and repositioning of design strategies. It could also be a perfect combination of hardware and software. It could also achieve market expansion through user understanding. Good design can also reduce cost for company. In addition to the profits it generates for the company, design also creates potential perceived value, finds solutions to real-world problems and helps customer make changes with products.
According to Professor Heller, the most frequently asked question he had been confronted with since his arrival in China was ‘How do you like China’s auto design’. There’s no fundamental problem with China’s auto design, as he saw it. The problem lay in some deficiency. Current auto designs were shaped by a lot of new trends like futuristic style and vintage style. One distinctive trend is the design of car lighting. Headlight design is personified. LED is applied in car lighting design. This is precisely the deficiency of auto design in China. China did have design of car lighting but it was not recognizable enough. The seemingly trivial lighting design was more than the design of shape, but also a brand language. So was the design of car front grill. Professor Heller sketched a couple of front grille for the audience to identify, like the double nose or double kidney front grille of BMW, a one-century-old pattern, the beautiful arcs on the left top and right top of Aston Martin’s front grill, and the butterfly pattern of Kia’s front grill. Such detailed design has become part of the brand and is easily recognizable by consumers. Recognizability is crucial to brand strategy in any design.
When it came to the hot-topic-discussion round, Professor Heller made comments on the popular Tesla electric car. Different from most people, Professor Heller didn’t seem to appreciate Tesla that much. Its shape wasn’t so different from that of traditional cars but looked even larger. Actually such design wasn’t that compatible with city life. Two major challenges in future city life are traffic congestion and parking. The shape of electric cars, as a new category, should be innovated. BMW i3, as an example, was smart in volume and innovative in shape. Moreover, a lot of reusable materials have been used on BMW i3 and no efforts have been made to conceal those materials. Smart design in the details has secretly revealed the car’s exquisiteness. BMW i3 has arguably outperformed Tesla in this regard.
‘Is design serving the brand or the user?’ Upon this question from the audience, Professor Heller replied, ‘brand is the guarantee with which we purchase goods. It builds upon the trust from customers and develops into a trust mechanism. Design is expected to enhance brand and represent that mechanism. To put it in another way, design serves as the ambassador of brand. Product is the carrier of what brand stands for. And there’s interaction between brand and product so that the optimal product is delivered to the customer to meet their needs.’