Optimizing the Design Circle

A successful article in the well-known Chinese magazine Art and Design after an interview with Andreas Diefenbach (Stuttgart) and Yifan Zang (Shanghai), both managing partners of PHOENIX DESIGN:

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  • Chinese ART AND DESIGN magazine article

    Chinese ART AND DESIGN magazine article

    Phoenix Design: Optimizing the Design Circle

    Translation from chinese.

    Since winning the “Red Dot: Design Team of the Year 2018” Award, Phoenix Design, established in Stuttgart, Germany became instantly popular overnight as a new indicator in the field of industrial design. It has won more than 850 awards since its establishmen in 1987. Now, the two founders Andreas Haug and Tom Schönherr have gradually retired to behind the scenes. Their current roles are more like "coaches". Meanwhile Phoenix Design is with further locations worldwide represented.

    Phoenix Design's original "design circle" (Design-Kreis) concept has become a well-known design ‘secret’ as the studio continues to grow. "Usually, most company's focus is on its founders, but I think that the team is the core of the work." Tom Schönherr said. The so-called "design circle" is not a pioneering technology, but a simple working mechanism: one team introduces the design project to another team. The latter will provide evaluation and feedback without having to participate in the project. At the same time, the team that introduces the project cannot defend their concepts and designs in the "design circle", but they are also able to choose not to accept the opinions of all parties afterwards. This is how the "design circle" works at Phoenix Design.

    Andreas Diefenbach, one of Phoenix Design's managing partners, re-introduced the concept of "design circle" from the founder's findings that every time a decision-making meeting is held, people always hope to reach a consensus and be outspoken. However, employees often refuse to share new ideas because of timidity, especially when some ideas are still in the early stages. The "design circle" mechanism aims to encouraged everyone to actively speak out their opinions, and learn to listen more attentively. This approach invisibly promotes a more accurate direction for each project. "Because in design projects, you can always lose direction. When caught in the project, you will only see the tree but not the forest." Andreas Diefenbach explained.

    After implementing this design mechanism for many years, employees generally feel that the first impression of designing products is incredibly important. Therefore, during the "design circle", employees often have similar opinions or trains of thought as the client, as if the awareness of the problem perfectly links up between the designer and the client. "The debate in a 'design circle' is not about winning or losing, but to dig out the truth behind it." Andreas Diefenbach, who believes in essentialism, feels the same about it. This is an important reason in why he was promoted from an intern to a partner within only 14 years.

    Andreas Diefenbach recalled that he had been given a lot of responsibilities when he started at Phoenix Design. The first big project was to design a ceramic bathroom series for Duravit. This project was not only a contest with the brand's design masters (such as Starck and Foster), but also a challenging task to create diversity between 50 independent new products. Then finally, the PuraVida series designed by Andreas won the iF Design Award. The fusion of ceramics and chrome metal in the design shows the vitality and dynamism of the product.

    Andreas Diefenbach mentioned, "If you want a design to stand out, you need to have a distinctive design, and a broader understanding of design. In the past, the company would only focus on the pure product design process. However today, it turns to strategic thinking, processes, systems, and communication, which are all important considerations. "

    In 2015, Phoenix Design won the “Red Dot: Best of the Best” Award with the Care-O-bot mobile service robot which was designed for the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA), in which the customer wanted to give the robot an "elegant" expression as well as the ability to easily move the robot. In addition to using the modular design to highlight the basic functionality of the design, the most appealing element was is to endow the robot's "face" with a cuter intelligent interface.

    In 2016, Midea Air Conditioner won the “Red Dot: Best of the Best” Award, Yifan Zhang was responsible for the design, one of the managing partners in charge of Phoenix Design’s Shanghai Studio. Yifan Zhang remembered that China was still in a very serious stage of air pollution the year before the project was designed. “My family felt fortunate that I lived abroad and would not be affected by the polluted air. Although I was abroad, I was still very concerned with the smog situation in China. When I started the Midea air-conditioning design project, I hoped to solve the pain points that people are most concerned about in life through design thinking,” said Yifan Zhang. The biggest feature of the air conditioner is that it has traditional cooling functions, there is also an air purification function, and it can automatically clean and sterilize the body of the conditioner. After the success of this design project, the Shanghai studio was established where Phoenix Design could continue to better serve Chinese customers. Immediately afterwards, a new printer system was designed for "Deli", a leading stationery manufacturing company in China.

    In the current epidemic situation, domestic and international communication is very important. "In many ways it is true that because of the epidemic, remote work has greatly increased and continues to play a role in our work," Andreas Diefenbach believes.

    Phoenix Design hopes to convey the legend of Phoenix's "Rebirth from Death". The studio must continue to develop and regenerate. In which Andreas Dienbach said: “Our designers are those who think about and care about the future, and like Dieter Rams's famous quote 'Less but Better' is the worthiest of today. We always keep this quote in mind.” Looking at the global design circle, Phoenix Design with only 80 people may be just a "small circle", but everyone in the "circle" is a new talent worth cultivating. “Talent is very precious. Only those with a global vision can defend the future of Phoenix Design.”

  • Andreas Diefenbach, Managing Partner, Phoenix Design, Stuttgart

    Andreas Diefenbach, Managing Partner, Phoenix Design, Stuttgart

    Andreas Diefenbach (*1979) has been a Phoenix Design Managing Partner since 2019. He successfully finished his studies in Industrial Design at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design and the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen. Since 2006, he has held several positions with Phoenix Design, most recently as a member of corporate management. As a specialist for the sanitary and investment goods industries, he has consulted international brands in their innovation process and is today responsible for the areas of Business Development, HR, and Marketing.

    “Leadership in design, and particularly in innovation, calls for a new perspective and for a culture of true creativity, for hungry development, for critical reflexion, and for variety full of curiosity. This capability for change is deeply engrained in the Phoenix Design DNA.” – Andreas Diefenbach

    adi (at) phoenixdesign.com
    M +49 173 729 4615

  • Yifan Zang, Managing Partner, Phoenix Design, Shanghai

    Yifan Zang, Managing Partner, Phoenix Design, Shanghai

    Yifan Zhang (*1987) has been a Phoenix Design Managing Partner since 2019, and he is head of our studio in Shanghai. After graduating at USST Shanghai and Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany, he joined Phoenix Design in 2014 as a Product Designer. As a designer with an international background, he is committed to combining German design quality with the evolving Chinese design, while at the same time helping successful German brands achieve better business development in China. Since the studio opening in 2017, he has been responsible as General Manager China for all matters regarding Innovation, Strategy, and Business Development in China.

    “At Phoenix Design, we think globally, but at the same time, we want to get even closer to our clients and their markets. Only in this way will substantial innovations come about.” – Yifan Zhang

    yzh (at) phoenixdesign.com
    M +86 158 003 5068 2