Icsid interviews promotional member, iF, in celebration of its 60th anniversary.

Q: Congratulations to iF on 60 years! Tell us a bit about iF’s humble beginnings and how this compares to what it is today?

In the very beginning, there was an idea but neither money nor employees. iF was run by the Hannover Fair Authority and supported by founding members, Philip Rosenthal and Wilhelm Wagenfeld and some of the advisory engineers. Today, the three teams in Germany (Hannover, Hamburg and Munich) comprise most of our staff with 20 employees. Additionally in our branch representative offices in Taiwan, Korea, Poland, Turkey and Brazil there are eight (8) additional staff.

During iF’s earlier days, only exhibitors of the Hannover Fair were invited to apply. After World War II this was one of the rare places where the remaining German industry could show off new projects. In 1954, the first iF design award was given to 221 products from product categories such as: household, industry, office business and consumer electronics. The addition of categories such as packaging and communication were created in 2004, which mirrored the development of design, as well as answered to the requests of our clients.

According to the information in our archives, a Swiss oil burner and oil-burning unit, a service from the Netherlands, a scale from Austria and a hearing instrument from Great Britain were among the first international winners in 1957. In 2013, the iF design award garnered 4352 entries from 51 countries.

Q: When did iF start to expand internationally, beyond German design?

iF’s international development was facilitated by the fact that iF was the only design institution founded and located on an exhibition ground. The more internationally recognised the Hannover Fair became, the greater the international attendance and awareness was granted to iF. In 1995, as the iF team started to build, one of our first decisions was to focus our energy on the international scene, to attract more overseas and European companies and designers to set up an international network. With my background as an exhibition manager, it was clear to me that Germany or Europe would not be sufficient to really promote, support and evaluate excellent design. As a next logical step, we founded the first branch office in Taiwan in 2007.

Q: With 60 years of winners of the iF Design Awards, are there commonalities amongst those that constantly rank at the top? Have you seen any patterns emerge?

Companies that are most successful in the iF design competition are very conscious of how design is evaluated. They do not simply follow the waves of the market. Instead, they closely analyse the needs of potential users and adapt their design accordingly. Such companies produce universal design that can stand the test of time and generate cross-cultural appeal. Of course, there are cultural differences and influences, but innovation plus technology perpetually opens new doors for designers.

Q: iF design awards is an international and highly regarded prize that recognises the ‘highest level of design’. What would say defines this standard? What do your experts look for?

The iF jurors evaluate based on a wide range of criteria. Professor Herbert Lindinger defined these criteria in 1975. The rules are regarded as the archetype for reliable design awards and were quickly adopted internationally. Amongst the most important are the quality of the design, the degree of innovation, the environmental impact, the functionality and the ergonomics.

Q: How often do these standards get re-evaluated?

After every competition, iF gathers comments from the jurors about the judging process. Using their feedback, we look at how they assessed design and what they were looking for. We then re-evaluate whether the appropriate criteria are being rated. If necessary, we amend our standards for the following year. For example, branding was not a part of the criteria 30 years ago, and environmental criteria was not in play before the mid-1990s.

Q: Looking at the iF design awards night, the structure has changed recently, whereby all design winners are awarded at one large gala. Why was one big celebration decided as the new direction?

There were several reasons for this change. The design disciplines are much more interwoven with each other than in previous years and no longer strictly separated. We wanted to create THE design event for our international target groups. Last but not least, we wanted to hold it at the beginning of the year, as our award winners should be able to make use of the award label for the longest period possible. Munich has an international airport and is easy to reach from all regions of the world. After welcoming 1700 guests for the premiere, we expect about 2000 guests on 22 February 2013.

Longevity & Design

Q: What are the largest challenges that iF has faced since it began in 1953? How can an organisation, private company or design award strive to stay relevant for such a long period of time?

In the past 60 years, design has risen to a higher standard within society. Products are becoming increasingly more complex. Parallel to this development, iF has grown larger and more international in order to keep up with the globalisation of the world. iF has also had to find a way to address the intercultural differences seen in products nowadays. To do so, we now rely on experts in design who are not just from Germany or Europe but also from around the world. Furthermore, iF has taken the initiative to create and maintain one of the world’s largest web archives of award-winning design. This enables design enthusiasts to view the iF design exhibition no matter where they are.

Q: iF has a long history in industrial design, what would you say is the most important change in industrial design since the 1950s? Where do you see the profession heading?

Certainly one of the most important changes would be how much more attention is being paid to the manufacturing process, especially in relation to the topic of sustainability. More and more, companies have been asking themselves: what will happen when the product reaches the end of its lifecycle? Designers now undertake the challenge of finding an environmentally friendly way to use materials so that products leave behind a smaller carbon footprint when they are disposed of. At the same time, design is becoming more ubiquitous. It is seen in more and more places – especially in places where design has typically been neglected such as in industrial machinery. The omnipresence of design has caused more people to be aware of it and try to make improvements. I also have to mention that usability has become a key factor for success. Making complex technology easy and intuitive to use is one of the future challenges for in-house and independent designers.

Q: You also run a successful ‘iF Design Talents’ programme which promotes young design talent and is dedicated to initiating international exchanges. Why do you think international collaboration/exchange is so important and how can other organisations harness this?

Nowadays, so many successful design teams are international so it is important to encourage and build connections with others around the globe. International co-operations also enable the exchange of ideas. This way, designers can profit from a fresh and culturally different perspective and do not have to feel confined to the design standards of their respective culture. We have to prepare current students for what they can expect later: international competition! People move easily when enticed by an attractive career opportunity. The fact that we educate so many designers worldwide makes it more and more difficult for companies to find the best talents – and for students and young designers to prove their capabilities. As an iF concept design award winner, these young designers can show that they think competitively. That’s one of the reasons we offer everything for students without any costs. We see it as an obligation, not as a business model!

Q: iF has been a member of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) for a number of years. What does collaboration among industrial designers and expanding that community mean for iF?

iF is excited about the possibilities that collaborations among industrial designers signifies. Over the years, we have seen a lot of creativity come from internationally oriented design teams and we hope to see more of that in the coming years. In the design world, there is a lot of give-and-take of ideas and we want to promote this as the community grows larger.

For long term members, like iF, Icsid is more than a network. It creates opportunities to meet friends, exchange on specific items and keep the global network going.

Q: Icsid is always aiming to strengthen public awareness of industrial design. For this reason, 29 June has been proclaimed World Industrial Design Day. How does iF continue to promote industrial design to non-designers? What does ‘industrial design’ mean to iF?

Through our exhibitions in Germany and Eastern Asia (China and Korea) as well as our online exhibition, we hope to reach design enthusiasts as well as to awaken an interest in design among laypeople. These exhibits showcase winners of the iF design award and provide a sampling of the best design of yesterday and today. The exhibits should also elucidate to viewers what qualities are most important to iF’s understanding of industrial design: ergonomics, functionality, sustainability, aesthetics, etc. Today, the term “industrial design” is mostly used by insiders; “design” is the word people use and we try to help understanding it correctly through all of our activities: exhibitions, conferences, workshops, discussions, PR, press activities etc.

Q: On the eve of iF’s 60th birthday, what is your wish for the future of your organisation?

I would very much like to pause and use this time to think about our development over the last 60 years. What has iF driven? Did we perform well enough? Are our services dedicated to the industry, are the designs successful and provide added value? Based on our own experiences and client feedback, I would further develop future plans for iF, start conversations, get buy-in from staff and stakeholders before implementing a new plan. The focus of our organisation remains based in the expectations of our target groups and a desire to keep moving forward.


About iF
For sixty years, iF International Design Forum GmbH has had its roots at the Hannover Exhibition Grounds. Launched in 1953 as the “Special Show for Well-designed Industrial Goods”, the registered association – as indicated by its German abbreviation “e.V.” – was expanded in 2002 to include a new operating arm, iF international Forum Design GmbH, now responsible for all iF business areas.

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