Design events

Prof. Dr Peter Zec: ‘Good design is and will always be more than an aesthetic appearance’

Interview with Professor Dr Peter Zec, Founder and CEO of the Red Dot Design Award

I have been collaborating with the Red Dot Award for several years and I have to admit that it always offers me plenty of food for thought.

I consider this award a yardstick for the Design world as a whole. Not just a source of inspiration, therefore, but of continuous learning.

The place of choice to ‘touch’ the innovation and trends of the industry, but, above all, the impact that Design is increasingly having on the business of many companies. 

In this regard, I also point out to you the reading of a very interesting article published by the consulting firm McKinsey Design ‘The Business Value of Design‘.

By now, it is clear that Design is much more than a product.

Companies like PepsiCo, for instance, have specifically created the position for a Chief Design Officer several years ago, a role that they did not previously have in the company. 

However, some of the greatest designers of all time have already shown the importance of their work by changing the fate not only of their respective businesses, but even of the society in which we live.

Design Thinking is a method, it is a transversal approach that is taking the reins of many realities and, in some cases, has also acquired more importance than traditional marketing.

For this reason, I wanted to interview Professor Dr. Peter Zec, Founder & CEO of the Red Dot Award as we know it today.

I tried to gather ideas, facts and suggestions from one of the most influential personalities in the Design world.

In 1991, he took over at the helm of Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, which had been hosting a design competition since as early as 1955.

Peter Zec developed what had until then been a national competition, transforming it into an international platform for the evaluation of design. He established its global gearing and expanded the Red Dot brand.


Have the criteria that define ‘good design’ changed with the technological developments of recent years? For example, I think of IoT and AI. What impact did they have on designers’ work?

Good design is and will always be more than an aesthetic appearance. It is characterised by four qualities: the quality of function, seduction, use and responsibility.

The relevance of each quality changes, depending on the type of product.

For jewellery, for example, seduction is most important, while function and use are the decisive factors for products like tools.

Of course, designers should always keep an eye on emerging technologies to shape the future.

Against the backdrop of the digitisation, function, purpose and use of products are more and more determined and controlled by sensors and user data.

Consequently, designers’ focus should be on the optimisation of the interaction between systems as well as between humans and systems.

At the same time, it is especially challenging to make the complex products appear simple.

Although they are equipped with the newest technology, they should be easy to understand and highly functional.

The Red Dot Award grows year after year. What are the geographical markets in which you would like to grow more? Are there any other award categories that you plan to launch in the future?

When I took over the lead of the competition in 1991, I could have never imagined that it would become one of the largest design awards worldwide.

This is why I am all the more proud of what we have achieved in the past years.

Today, designers and manufacturers from more than 55 countries hand in their objects to the Red Dot Award: Product Design.

For me personally, but especially for the jury, assessing the products with all their wide-ranging facets is a very inspiring experience. So, we appreciate submissions from every country because the diversity is what makes up the award.

Nevertheless, I would be happy to see more designers and manufacturers from Brazil, Mexico, Chile or Argentina take part in the competition.

From everyday to unusual, participants can this year choose between 48 product categories for their submission.

They can send in entries for everything from consumer electronics to aircraft, medical devices, robotics and furniture.

To grow, you always have to work on yourself.

This is why we constantly adapt our categories to new requirements.

Last year, for example, we added the category “Motorhomes and caravans” as more and more holidaymakers want to travel the world without forgoing the luxury of their own four walls.

Which categories will be added in the years to come is not clear yet, but I’m excited to get to know what the future brings.

Which countries do you think will express the best design in the coming years? And, more than anything else, can we still talk about a country-level design system?

This is a difficult question.

Of course, you can notice parallels between the design of products which come from the same country.

German design, for example, is and will be characterised by an unparalleled interplay of material usage and processing, resulting in high quality products.

The companies in the USA will be the main engine of innovation. Also, Chinese design is on the rise.

Manufacturers increasingly recognise the importance of excellent product design.

While designers primarily learned from their role models and adapted the successful western concepts in the past, autonomous design has now become essential for Chinese companies.

But although they begin to look for own solutions, they still need help from their western colleagues. So, similarities in the form language of products from the same country exist, but they are now subtler than in the past. Design has become an international discipline where national borders blur.

Given the growing competition, thanks to the digital world, what suggestions can you give to a young designer who aspires to win the Red Dot: Best of the Best?

I would recommend young designers to be courageous and to try out new things.

They have to be experts in the field of digital technologies as the IT specialist will more and more be the counterpart of the designer.

Furthermore, they need a good sense for new materials.

Do you always agree with the selection of judges or have there been times when you would have chosen someone else? If yes, why?

Not everyone has the same taste when it comes to design.

In certain cases, my personal opinion differs from the one of the jury. But their decision is entirely democratic and thereby objective.

For more than 60 years now, experienced experts from different specialist fields have been coming together to search out the best designs of the year.

Over the course of the evaluation process, they try out and discuss every product individually to finally reach a well-founded decision on the design quality of the submissions.