Since 1954, Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen has played an important role in the promotion of design both at home in Germany and around the world. We spoke to Achim Zolke, Head of Communications, to find out more about the organisation’s perspective on changes to the profession throughout the years and about the celebrations planned for the Red Dot Award’s 60th anniversary.

Q: What are the biggest changes Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen has seen in the design field in its 60 years of existence? 

A: In the same way our institution has constantly changed over the years, so too has design steadily developed further. For decades, the art of engineering has been leading in the field of industrial design. In recent years, innovative techniques such as 3D printing, software visualisation or laser cutting have had a great influence on products and their design. Looking back, more and more material novelties have influenced the design process, revolutionised the work of designers and opened up new possibilities. In celebration of 60 years of Red Dot award-winning design, we are presenting the exhibition “Enduring, not ultimate form”. The title characterises design as being very lively while referring to the timelessness of the basic form of day-to-day objects. This “enduring” quality is only made complete through constant change and optimisation. For example, while the design of a chair is entrenched in people’s lasting collective memory, there will never be the “ultimate” chair.

Q: After Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen’s anniversary last year, 2015 marks the Red Dot Award’s 60th anniversary. How would you explain the ongoing and even growing popularity of the Red Dot Award after so many years?

A: The importance of a competition is defined by its credibility. In 1955, like today, there were clear criteria for granting awards, jury members with integrity as well as excellent framework conditions for presenting products. For 60 years now, the Red Dot Design Award has stood for fairness and independence – principles which guarantee its high reputation and thus, its popularity. The jury has always been the centrepiece of the competition, comprising qualified professionals such as designers, university professors or specialist journalists. Moreover, there is no preselection: Every individual entry is evaluated live and on-site. The fact that the award jury is entirely separate from industry and politics safeguards its independence even further. The competition does not receive any funding from sponsors or subsidies, so that no external parties can influence it. These characteristics have enabled the huge success of the Red Dot Award.

Q: Tell us more about the joint exhibition between Red Dot Design Museum Essen and neighbouring Ruhr Museum, both located at the Zeche Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

A: As neighbours on the grounds of Zollverein World Heritage, Red Dot has had a close relationship with the Ruhr Museum for many years. We are therefore all the more delighted that this year brings a wonderful occasion to combine these competencies to curate the joint “Enduring, not ultimate form” exhibition, presented from 29 June until 23 August 2015. The exhibition is a journey into the past, back to the roots of the Red Dot, and thus something very special and extremely exciting. It deals with the rich history of the competition and its exhibitions and will show current as well as historical exhibits, reconstruct highlights from past presentations and document eyewitness accounts alongside posters and photographs from 60 years of design history.

Q: What is the Red Dot’s greatest contribution to the world of industrial design?

A: From the very beginning, the focus of the Red Dot Award was, and still is, the search for excellence in design. The Red Dot aims to qualify designers, companies and also consumers for the understanding of good design. This can be realised by selecting only the best products and presenting the results via different channels such as yearbooks, online presentations or in the Red Dot Design Museums. In the various fields of industrial design, we have recognised a constant improvement of quality. This is because the competition allows for comparison and thus provides both designers and manufacturers with standards by which to evaluate where they stand in relation to their peers. Design is an integral part of economic and entrepreneurial success. Therefore, the Red Dot Award contributes to the striving for – and the development of – innovation.

Q: Over 60 years, the Red Dot Award has grown considerably in scope to include not only additional award categories, but also three museums, touring exhibits, lectures, shops and even an app! Can you tell me about another new project that you are excited about?

A: The Red Dot Award is not only a design competition – it is all about the promotion of high quality. That’s why we carry the idea of good design around the globe, be it physically or virtually. Today’s information technology offers vast possibilities to reach more and more people and to get them enthusiastic about comparisons. The global design directory Red Dot 21, for example, is a major step. Since 2013, it presents an exciting platform for those who are involved or interested in design. Agencies, manufacturers and designers can showcase themselves and demonstrate their design know-how, regardless of whether they participate in the competition.

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