The Spirit of Bauhaus

Foreign companies and investors value Germany’s product design expertise as much as they rate Germany as a first class industrial location, explains industrial ­design expert Uwe Gellert.

October, 2018

Mr. Gellert, what can you tell us about Germany’s reputation as a center for good product design?

Uwe Gellert: Germany has a good reputation. We still benefit from the Bauhaus era. In fact, many German product developers still follow its design principles. Their role is not simply to beautify products, to decide on material, color and shape, but rather to develop a concept that promises easy handling of the product. Design is a complex process – the value and benefits of a product are deeply rooted in its design – and German developers approach this process particularly strategically. The design language in this country is still strongly characterized by ergonomics and usability.

Which recent global design trends have their roots in Germany?

Gellert: Germany is a giant in industrial technical products and stands for precise and reliable technology. German design is characterized by clever ideas, pared down to the essentials, and without unnecessary embellishment. There are numerous examples of successful German design trends, such as the design classics produced by electrical appliance manufacturer Braun in its early years.

Professor Uwe Gellert © Uwe Jacobshagen

Masters of Design

For some years now, Germany has been known as a global export champion. The “Made in Germany” label is recognized as seal of quality and reliability worldwide, while demand for German products – from automobiles to washing machines and razors – remains high. Product design plays a significant role in Germany’s export success, maintains the industrial design expert Professor Uwe Gellert. Gellert has worked for internationally-renowned companies in a number of industries. After gaining experience abroad, he founded the design office Quantis and designed, among other things, laboratory technology and machine tools. He now teaches product design at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Dessau, one of the leading design cities during the Bauhaus period from 1919 to 1933. Markets Germany spoke to him about why German design is so attractive to foreign companies.

Is it fashionable for foreign companies to have new products designed and developed in Germany?

Gellert: Yes, absolutely. It is not only fashionable but relatively straightforward: foreign companies can either set up a business here or hire German design service providers and agencies. There’s also a trend for foreign companies hiring design graduates from German universities. That’s why more and more foreigners are coming to Germany to study.

Why are product design courses at German universities so popular with foreign students?

Gellert: Our universities have understood that there are no more pure product or graphic designers. Many applicants to our university in Dessau want to study groundbreaking Bauhaus design but they must appreciate that the requirements have changed. We take Bauhaus values and traditions and use them in new fields. For example, we offer an integrated degree program that includes corporate and editorial design as well as product design or digital publications, utilizing all the new interactive and smart applications. We also see a product as a multi-faceted concept in which various factors are at play.

Bauhaus Archives, Dessau © picture alliance/Arcaid

Design Legacy

The Bauhaus Phenomenon

The Bauhaus is still remembered as the most famous school of design of the modern era. In 1919, Walter Gropius founded the school of art in Weimar, Germany with a dream of combining art and craft. For the last hundred years Gropius’s ideas have set the standard for successful design. If something is functional, it is also esthetically pleasing. Bauhaus products are “fit-for-purpose”: form follows function and utility and efficiency are valued more highly than decoration. With this philosophy at its heart, Germany has established itself on the international design market as the true North for industrial designers and has taken the lead with high-quality, simple products. Even a century on, Bauhaus design principles still serve as the basis for many successful products.

What do these developments mean for Germany as a design location?

Gellert: In my opinion, German designers are increasingly under pressure from international competitors and must be careful to remain on top. The Dutch, Spanish, Danish and especially the Chinese are getting stronger in the design field. While Germany’s traditional strengths such as the use of high-quality materials are important to consumers and companies, they also come at a price. So, as design gets increasingly similar and the playing field starts to level out, I wonder what is more important in our fast-paced society: a long shelf-life or just a cheap price?

How can Germany assert itself?

Gellert: I hope that while keeping its reputation for reliability and quality, Germany will also be a pioneer in terms of sustainability and environmental issues. New and smart materials have great potential and many high-quality materials can and should be reused. As a global export champion, Germany has a certain responsibility.

The iconic MR10 Side Chair designed in 1927 by Mies Van Der Rohe. In 1930 he accepted the appointment as director of the Bauhaus in Dessau and began his academic teaching. © Berthold Steinhilber/laif