"The products of the new age need to generate enthusiasm and a meaningful relationship with their users - products that are loved and retained, rather than drastically reduced"
Interview with Stefan Diez, CEO Diez Office and Professor of Industrial Design
Stefan Diez, Copyright by Sven Juergensmeier
Author: House of Eden
Sustainability has almost become an emotional topic and also reached the world of designers. We spoke to Stefan Diez, award-winning designer and founder of Diez Office, about the potentials and challenges of sustainable design. His works are created in collaboration with internationally renowned manufacturers such as Hay, Magis, Herman Miller, Rosenthal, Thonet, e15, Wilkhahn and Wagner and are always characterised by a passion for experimentation, craftsmanship and circularity. As a professor of industrial design, he also teaches at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.
Stefan Diez has developed an interest for sustainable design early on. "I realised early on that I have to be able to explain everything I do and stand up for it. It's important to me to do things in a way that is not only commercially viable in the short term, but also socially viable in the long term." Thus, he has long based his designs on a circular concept and has continued to elaborate and develop this over the years. But to achieve holistic change there are still some obstacles to overcome.
COSTUME Collection Stefan Diez for Magis, Copyright by Robert Brembeck
Standardised and efficient vs. new and sustainable
For Stefan Diez it is very clear: "Design is sustainable if it lasts a long time, is flexible in use and if you can return it at the end, in order to create a new product." But unfortunately this is often easier said than done. Above all, the transformation of optimised and efficient production processes is not only time-consuming but also associated with high costs. "This becomes expensive as soon as processes are no longer standardised and new ones have to be created," explains Stefan Diez.
The industry needs a certain planning security. For a change, visions and investments are necessary to redesign processes. In addition, it requires demand from customers, e.g. customers who are willing to pay more for a sustainable product. Stefan Diez is convinced, “as long as the old models and products are allowed on the market, nothing will happen. What harms our environment and future generations must be successively removed from the market."
Products of the new age need to generate enthusiasm
“Sustainability cannot be achieved through appeals to morality and frugality, as these requests are probably understood as impossible and unreasonable. In addition, the fun of life will soon be lost”. Instead, Stefan Diez calls for a new mix of intelligent product design and product environment with the aid of modern technical possibilities. By this way, acceptance for the new products can be increased and at the same time future prospects can be offered to the young generation of designers:
HOUDINI chair for E15 Copyright by Ingmar Kurth
"The products of the new age need to generate enthusiasm. They need to fascinate people and build a meaningful relationship. Products that are loved and sustained, rather than drastically reduced. "For today's avant-garde, we therefore refrain from particularly ascetic ingredients. We design products with a value add for the customer without any sacrifice," says Stefan Diez.
"Up until now, we as designers have only thought about how to push a new product onto the market. But hardly anyone has also thought about how to get it out again," Stefan Diez criticises the way of thinking within the industry. Circularity is also an important topic to him. Just recently, he published his 10 Principles for Circular Design. "At the moment we are in the phase where we as designers have to provide good examples and show visions for the future. I hope that this will charge a movement from within and then inspire others to follow."
Systematic rethinking through control of politics
“As consumers, we are only a small economic entity with our own income and expenses. As long as it is legally possible to buy environmentally harmful products for very little money that meet people's basic demand, change will be impossible." This behavior is not reprehensible either, because everyone has the right to set their own priorities. Stefan Diez sees politics primarily responsible for creating targeted incentives that encourage people to switch to new products.
"Above all, this has to happen regardless of legislative periods, otherwise long-term developments will always be passed on to the next government." This requires a social redistribution and a systematic rethink. In addition, one should not underestimate the political influence in terms of consumer education.
Stefan Diez believes that this is the only way to achieve holistic change: "New regulations must come into force with a certain lead time. For example, from a certain day onwards, the production or incineration of waste should no longer be permitted. If such things are set by law, then new business models and service will emerge that adapt to this change and take over recycling." For this to happen, however, we need politics to actively steer the conditions of market economy.
MOD for SAMMODE, Modular Spotlighting System
A lot is happening at the moment, especially in the recycling and packaging industry. “With new technologies, you can separate materials more and more precisely. Agricultural waste, for example, is a great hope for developing new materials from high-quality plant waste. Such changes will be much more possible in the future. That's why we have to start taxing harmful components of old methods now, so that they don't compete with innovations, which are usually more expensive than conventional ones, because new processes entail new investments and also uncertainties."
Designers in the relay race with the next generation
"Of course I want to address a broad target group, but it makes me even happier when I manage to inspire the younger generation. What I would like to advocate is to rethink value creation. To decouple value creation from material consumption and, for example, to turn the supply chains of the old industry upside down through alternative and intelligent service models."
As a professor of industrial design, Stefan Diez regularly experiences this challenge at the forefront. He still learned on the basis of old ways of thinking, while the next generation of designers, on the other hand, are much more critical. “Back then we celebrated our teachers as heroes from an ideal, hard-to-reach world. There is much more questioning today."
But that is precisely what is so important. Because making new demands and requirements only from the outside does not help. Stefan Diez has clear words on this: "We don't need to be surprised if we always link the value creation of a society to material goods and then find it difficult to get away from that. It is very easy to see critical questions as a threat. But shouldn't we rather listen and create an interesting future out of that?"
AYNO for MIDGARD, Copyright by Studio Stefan Diez
Inclusion of everyone involved for sustainable change
When it comes to sustainability, the keyword “transparency” is also regularly mentioned. Stefan Diez is divided on this: "Of course, this is important and a prerequisite for understanding the sustainability of a product. With regard to the international treaties, the EU obviously finds it difficult to formulate weighty things in the direction of community morals and values and then, in the final analysis, to act accordingly."
Transparency also includes disclosure and reporting. According to Stefan Diez, the peer review process can help here: “In collaboration with competitors, the product is evaluated from their perspective. That is evaluation and coaching at the same time.” However, this is quite time-consuming. On the other hand, standardised evaluations (e.g. labels, seals) are a big bureaucratic burden, especially for small organisations.
“Instead, I would advocate a kind of codex with a blacklist. Companies could then commit to this Codex in order to receive the label. Similar to the Iso 9001 certification or the organic certification of farms, you could also receive a certificate for your farm whose products can already be recycled to a very high degree. "
A designer with a vision for the future
Currently, Stefan Diez is working on some promising projects, for example the design for a temporary architecture and exhibitions. "We are currently building furniture systems out of cardboard and working on fully recyclable office furniture as well as a plastic chair made from old plastic. So far, recycling for this has not been possible." Evaluation is also an important theme throughout, he said. We are excited to see what we can expect from Stefan Diez in the future.