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Stefan Diez: «design + engineering is the new opportunity for designers»

«In my studio we are designers but with a strong engineering interest. To those entering the profession I say: start in a workshop, learn about materials and mechanics. Companies have lost these skills and they add extra value to design». In conversation with Stefan Diez. In front of his RGB bathroom furnishing system for Burgbad, presented at the IMM in Cologne.

LEGGI IN ITALIANO

When Stefan Diez presents a new project it is interesting to find out what it’s all about. First of all because it is a relatively rare occasion (Diez Office works purposefully only a limited number of products). And then because with the German designer it often happens to start talking about something very concrete – in this case a colored glass cabinet for the bathroom called RGB, produced by Burgbad – and end up discussing much bigger topics.

 «READ ALSO «GENERIC DESIGN WILL DESTROY DESIGN», IN CONVERSATION WITH STEFAN DIEZ

«The company wanted a bathroom system for domestic assembly», explains Stefan Diez. «So something ready for online sale, dismountable in case of breakages, with replaceable elements. An object that can be easily transported».

 

A material, and its technical challenges

The cabinet has an ethereal and light flair: it is made entirely of glass. But it is also an important presence in a room: because when light touches a transparent but chromatic material, it creates shadows of different colors on the wall. And the winning idea? The toiletries contained in the cabinet become part of this light and iridescent setting.

The transparency of the unit represented a challenge because the visible technical elements (such as hinges and screws) had to be formally integrated or simply avoided. «Order is created by the monochromatic content and by the fluid passage of light», Stefan Diez explains.

A simple look and function that stem from ingenuity

As often it happens, the price to pay for this apparent simplicity is a high complexity of design. «To achieve the desired effect, it was necessary to design specific technical elements: we engineered a stick and click system. The laminated glass side panels but also the shelves (or any baskets, drawers or whatever else the user wishes to install) are placed in correspondence of the wall profiles. It is sufficient to position them and push them in by making a simple rotation to hook them in a very stable way to the structure». The micro-mechanical precision of the “hinges” also makes any movement smooth (for instance when the cabinet is equipped with doors).

The one-stop (work)shop

«This kind of challenge used to be tackled by the technical offices of companies», continues Diez. «But this is no longer the case. Most companies have de-localized and no longer have the skills and materials know-how in-house. RGB was not only conceived in our studio but also prototyped and engineered. The clicking system has been patented. And it’s Diez Office that is at present busy to solve all details related to production».

From studio to atelier

This is, according to Stefan Diez, a direction that contemporary design can take to add value to companies.

«I would say it’s the point of design today. Finding essential and elegant solutions to solve technical problems. Considering the value of proportions, not only from an aesthetic point of view but also from a mechanical and manufacturing one. But above all, being able to make a happy match between the design intuition and the type of material that will be able to satisfy it».

The value of prototyping

In the RGB case, for example, «the concept was born in a couple of days. But experimentations lasted weeks. Most of the work is done through prototyping in our workshop, where we have an immense collection of materials. We know them intimately, we test them, adjust them freely: we keep the original idea in mind but we are not anchored to it. Because what we can only imagine with the mind or with paper and pen iis limited and limiting. As far as I am concerned, it is only when I see something in front of me, when I am questioning a prototype, that constructive ideas come. Which, in this case, were then developed – company wise – not with a technical office but with the person responsible for corporate marketing».

The great opportunity for designers

Design and engineering are often seen as complementary disciplines but traveling on two different tracks. This is not the case for Stefan Diez. «Dealing with prototyping allows us to create an object as a concept car. There are no limits. And the ability to engineer the object ourselves as designers, helps us finding compromises as close as possible to the initial idea. Once upon a time, especially in Italy, all this happened thanks to virtuous collaborations between designers and companies. Today this hardly occurs. It’s a shame. But also a great opportunity for independent professionals to broaden their horizons».

Should designer study engineering?

Should designers then study engineering? «Not necessarily. Because those with an engineering degree often have a very abstract and intellectual approach to manufacturing. Rather, I would seriously consider working, hands-on, in a workshop. Before studying design, I worked for years in the family cabinet making company. I built furniture by hand, followed my father when he went to customers to install kitchens, small offices, clinics family doctors. Talking with those who use the products has a priceless value. As well as seeing how the materials respond to processing or installation. Wood, metal, plastic: the way they behave in different situations must be understood through experience. It’s a physical relationship that cannot be learnt from books».

The advice to young designers is therefore clear

«Look for craftsmen of proven quality and go and learn from them. The world has changed dramatically over the past 15 years and not just for the arrival of digital. The relocation of production has opened a large window that designers can fill. Paradoxically, perhaps, by looking at something very analogic: the processing of materials and mechanics. Together with design, these are the knowledge areas that makes a solutions more generous, virtuous and with added value. For companies and consumers».

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