Germany is one of the largest consumer markets in Europe. With a population of almost 83m and a spending power which ranks among the highest on the continent, it is an Eldorado for foreign companies looking to sell their products. By the end of 2018, Germans will have spent €1.9 quadrillion on consumption, living, leisure, and savings, says German market research institute GfK – an increase of 2.8 per-cent on 2017 – while approximately a third of all expenditure is attributed to consumer goods.
Unsurprisingly, many foreign companies are queueing up to get a foothold in the German market, but not all of them will be successful. Only those who understand what kind of design works in Germany will have a chance of survival. Due to the size of the population, German consumers are very diverse and have different needs and values. “There is not one German customer. Selecting the relevant ones leads to a valuable context for the design,” says Janine Budde, founder and managing partner of the Munich-based design agency Budde Burkandt Design. However, from a metaperspective, Germans do have certain preferences in product design that uniquely characterize them as a people and these can be summarized in three guiding principles:
Form follows function: the credo of the Bauhaus era of the 1920s is still just as relevant today. Stripped-down design shapes the products of many German companies; it is also a principle that many famous and successful foreign brands adhere to, because they know that Germans like products that are reduced to the essentials. “The Bauhaus style has influenced products in Germany for decades. The Germans are simply used to it,” Florian Schaake, creative director at the design agency Peter Schmidt Group, says. Straight, unemotional, minimalist, Bauhaus design also resembles the character of German society. “That’s why it works so well here,” Schaake states.
Functionality also includes convenient handling. “This is very important for German consumers,” says Gunnar Spellmeyer, professor of product design at Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Esthetic details are arguably important, but functionality tops it all. “The product has to work. It does not matter if it’s blue or red ultimately,” he asserts. “Products must also have a meaning. Otherwise they will not work in Germany.”