Simon Keane-Cowell

Autore

Simon Keane-Cowell
Zürich   Svizzera

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years


Three score old and in rude health: the iF design gold awards, handed out to a painstakingly selected, international cohort of companies at the recent Munich Creative Business Week for their outstanding products, is looking to the future.
 

Remember the days when 60 used to be a ripe old age, where everything started to head south. Well, those days are gone. Lean, lithe and limber, iF, one of longest-established design awards schemes internationally, is showing little sign of slowing down. Indeed, with operations – beyond its HQ in Germany’s expo city of Hanover – in Taipei, Seoul, Istanbul, Curitiba and Zittau, this annual gong-laden showcase of the best in product design, packaging and communication design has long exceeded its original, post-war ‘Industrie Forum Design’ remit to become a truly ‘International Forum’ for design excellence.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
'DISCUS Evolution' LED lighting system by EOOS Design for Zumtobel embraces minimal form for maximum effect, picking up a iF gold award in the lighting category

‘I’ve travelled, on average, about six times a year to Asia in order to spread iF’s message,’ says Ralph Wiegmann, who has headed up the organisation since 1996. For the tireless, globe-trotting iF chief, increasing the brand’s profile beyond European shores, turning it into a highly covetable, aspirational mark of difference, has been central to ensuring the continued success of the scheme, which is no longer just about a one-night-only prize-giving shindig. ‘For many companies today,’ explains Wiegmann, ‘iF provides an opportunity to differentiate themselves. But what differentiates companies and brands? Are design-oriented businesses better in terms of quality or ecology? Can design put a company’s success on a stable footing?’ These questions and others iF engages with not only through its awards programme, but also in its exhibitions, both home and abroad, its books and its website projects. Many irons. Many fires.

The high point of the iF annual calendar is still, however, the iF design awards night, which, this year, pitched its tent at the brand temple that is Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW World in Munich, spitting distance from another architectural landmark, the elegantly canopied 1972 Olympic Stadium. The move from Hanover to Bavaria for the handing out of the iF plaudits during Munich Creative Business Week is a significant one in terms of brand positioning, speaking emphatically of the business relevance of design.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Some of the lucky iF gold award winners on stage (top); iF managing director Ralph Wiegmann (on right of image) presents one of the 75 iF gold awards during the prize-giving at BMW World in Munich (above)

The jury of around 50 hand-picked big hitters from the international design industry – designers, manufacturers, academics, communications experts – representing a range of creative fields, had the unenviable task of assessing over 4,000 submissions from 51 countries, all of which have to be sent over physically to Hanover for close scrutiny. (Logistically simple it isn’t.) From this vast body of hopeful entrants, an, at times difficult, consensus was reached on who should receive the accolade of an iF design award: approximately a third. But that’s not the end of it. A privileged 75 entries go on to be selected a second time, having the honour of iF gold award winner bestowed upon them. Add an invited audience of 2,000 and Ralph Wiegmann’s natural showmanship and you have a memorable (and long) awards night.

But if you weren’t there, fear not. Beyond the online presentation of all the winners on the iF website (www.ifdesign.de), this year’s high-tech CeBIT trade fair in Hanover will see a 6,000-square-metre space dedicated to their exhibition in real time. And from July, a new permanent digital exhibition will take up residence in Hamburg’s HafenCity. iF may hand out laurels, but, in its 60th year, it’s certainly not resting on them.

The birthday wishes have been coming in from the around the globe: warm words from the likes of Dieter Rams, Alessandro Mendini, Peter Thonet, Matteo Thun and Erik Spiekermann have been brought together in an anniversary book, entitled ‘SIXTY years of iF’. But perhaps the last word should go to Jan-Erik Baars, course leader in Design Management at the Hochschule Luzern, Switzerland, who writes: ‘Imagine what the world would be iF there is no design…’ Perish the thought.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
S, M, L, XL: iF gold award winners range in scale from büro+staubach's 'Metro Harbin' train for the Changchun Railway Vehicles company, Changchun City, China, to the 'Quicky-Pro' measuring tape, designed by industrialpartners for BMI

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THE CHIEF
Ralph Wiegmann, Managing Director, iF International Forum Design GmbH

Congratulations on 60 years. What do you think have been the main reasons for the longevity of the iF awards scheme?
Seriousness, integrity and a strong will to serve the industry and design. The value as one of the world's best-known award brands and the benefits winners have and can use. iF stands for design excellence in almost every way.

The design community is very aware of the fact that this is almost a unique organisation and we try hard not to disappoint them. The industry is aware of the fact that design has become a real key decision-making argument, being stronger than ever. So our award is something that can really help them promote the difference between product and company A or B. And last but not least: marketing has changed a lot in the past ten years. Today you have to be authentic, you have to have a message. The old marketing instruments are no more believable. Good design is honest, long lasting, individual, emotional – it represents many of the values a good company is longing for!

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Master of the fold, Issey Miyake, extends Artemide's lighting collection with his 'IN-EI' family of lighting products, a worthy winner of an iF gold award

Why does it exist? Why is it relevant?
It exists because Germany didn´t have any products or industry after the Second World War. Philip Rosenthal was the visionary person to predict that Germany might be successful with ‘good design’ and, as a key client of the Hanover Fair back then, he suggested founding something – and that was iF in 1953. So the relevance you are asking about has always been part of the story. And today this relevance is more visible than ever before.

What does it do that other awards don't?
The impulse for iF came from the industry. No other design organisation has such a background. It was from the very beginning part of the annual Hanover Industry Fair, where it was normal to see all kind of products – and the best ones being awarded by iF. There was never an artificial or political background to it. iF became part of the value chain and it still is.

How do you measure its success beyond the anecdotal? Are its effects measurable?
This is a typical question regarding the value of design. Can the value of engineering really be measured? No! But it is a fact that the decision to buy a BMW car or Porsche and Audi is primarily based on its emotional value i.e. design. The investment in the development of a new car is probably 1 or 2 billion Euros. I think a maximum of 3 to 5% of that investment is in design, the rest engineering, marketing etc. So the return on design investment cannot be beaten by any other discipline.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Ergonomidesign's 'November' chair for Artipelag impressed the jury with its ergonomics and its sculptural presence

How do you plan to innovate with the scheme?
We feel never satisfied with what we have achieved. Discussions with various target groups all around the world help us to identify upcoming topics, future design issues and more. And it is nice to realize that we are sometimes ahead of the design market. The product carbon footprint has been discussed for too long without integrating design and designers. But they are the ones thinking about the next product generation and the one after that.

Based on our own involvement in conferences and so on, it has become clear that designers need to be involved – especially as product carbon footprint is so difficult to understand. Who better than designers to help to make it understandable? That´s part of their everyday job – to make things understandable.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Abstraction, reduction and a striking graphic quality: Werner Aisslinger's iF gold award-winning 'R.classic' switch and socket for Berker

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THE JURY MEMBER
Werner Aisslinger, Product Designer

What did it mean to you to be part of the iF jury?
As a designer you are mostly working in the studio, with your people on projects. You’re working in your own slot, as it were. The iF jury is a special selection of very nice people, very international. It’s not just about looking at all those products, but meeting up with people and being involved in a very global thing. It takes you out of your daily business and puts you in a global design community.

What was the process like, reaching a consensus on the winning entrants?
It was fairly easy this year. I was in a team of three this time and we shared the same views and positions. But it can be complicated if your views are 100% different, as sometimes happens. But you always arrive at a decision. Although it is a huge amount of products that you have to judge. But I like that you have two days to consider them. It means time for an extraordinary discussion. iF is much better organised than any other jury. A real community feeling.

As a winner yourself of an iF gold award?
To be part of an impressive worldwide selection of industrial products – and to win a gold award – is a nice feeling. I’m not just an industrial designer. My portfolio has different directions in it. I’m involved on both culture and industry. So to be part of this real industrial showcase is a good feeling.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Berlin- and Singapore-based designer Werner Aisslinger joined an international, cross-disciplinary jury of around 50 members, made up of the great and the good, to evaluate this year's iF awards entrants

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THE WINNERS

COALESSE with ‘Hosu’ work/lounge furniture, designed by Patricia Urquiola

Why did you participate?
The iF Award is one of the most prestigious design awards in Europe. We are a young brand, launched in the USA in 2008 and in Europe just 5 months ago. It is important for us to benchmark ourselves with the best brands: iF award represents a wonderful stage to profile ourselves and present our new products such as ‘Hosu’, designed by Patricia Urquiola, to the design community.

What does it mean to you to win an iF gold award? What will it do?
It is an amazing and very encouraging result! It means that our mission resonates within people and that what we are trying to achieve is meaningful: in the connected world, work and life are merging, we aim to improve people's life at this fluid intersection with products that cross over between home and offices, meeting rooms and social spaces, private retreats and public places. This award confirms us in our strategy and represents a wonderful encouragement for our first steps in the European market.

What's special about an iF award?
iF is a very international award, featuring contributions from all over the world. It provides a very complete glance of worldwide trends and represents a true picture of the current and future design. It is a real honour for us to have been selected and awarded.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
Partricia Urquiola has designed a low-slung lounge chair for Coalesse called 'Hosu', which the iF jury describe as a design 'that could easily become a design classic of tomorrow'

ZUMTOBEL with ‘DISCUS Evolution’, designed by EOOS Design

Why did you participate?
Good design is a key asset of Zumtobel’s products, but design quality is best assessed by the user, not by the manufacturer. So the participation in design competitions comes quite natural.

What does it mean to you to win an iF gold award? What will it do?
It's an honour to be part of such a selected group. In addition to that, it is an acknowledgement that our way of teaming up with the best design partners as well as pursuing our own design with a strong and dedicated in-house design team seems to work very well. Furthermore, it is the proof that our products are not only beautiful but also obtain a certain design quality, which makes us proud.

What's special about an iF award?
The iF has a very long tradition, stays true to its values and has become one of the most respected design brands in the world – so we feel kind of related.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
EOOS Design's 'DISCUS Evolution' lighting system for Zumtobel scoops one of the coveted iF gold awards

DURAVIT with ‘OpenSpace’ shower, designed by EOOS Design

What does it mean to you to win an iF gold award? What will it do?
Duravit’s range of products is the result of a collaboration with a renowned network of designers. In addition to design directions, we continually place an emphasis on innovation, so that we can offer a problem-solving approach to the bathroom. It means a lot to us that such a renowned and independent expert jury as that of the iF awards applies strict criteria to the assessment of the design quality of our products and recognises this quality.

A design award can support the decision-making process in purchasing behaviour. It’s rarely the determining factor, however. More important is the recognisably good and meaningful design of a product, the quality of a product that the brand ensures, as well as the added value that innovation brings.

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years

The Gold Standard: iF International Forum Design celebrates 60 years
The only iF gold award winner in the Bathroom/Wellness category, EOOS Design's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't 'OpenSpace' fold-away shower for Duravit creates a new typology

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to the iF website to the iF website

to Werner Aisslinger's products on Architonic to Werner Aisslinger's products on Architonic