Why Luxury Brands Will Fail Without A Clear Design Philosophy

Managing Director of Porsche Design Studio says without a clear product framework there is a great danger of becoming arbitrary and exchangeable.

Roland Heiler leads Porsche Design Studio in their collaborations with brands like Johnnie Walker and Research in Motion by applying the design principles established by Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. In this interview Roland discusses the role of “design driven innovation” for both luxury and mainstream brand experiences.

Tell us about some of the milestones in your career that you feel particularly proud of.

The most recent one would be the “Best of the Best 2012′ Red Dot award for the Porsche Design P1140 RawTec Blazer. Not only has it been more than a decade since a clothing item has received this prestigeous award, it also confirms that we are on the right path with our fashion collection. This recognition will be a nice addition to our collection of more than 140 national and international design awards.  In my earlier life as a designer I was working for the car design studio of Porsche. During that time the responsibility for the Carrera GT showcar design program was definitely one of the highlights.

Some might see the work your studio is doing and think of you as an agency servicing brands. Why are you doing this? What do you do better than others?

Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche founded the Porsche Design Studio and the Porsche Design luxury brand in 1972. So we do have a 40 year tradition not only in creating iconc luxury items for our own brand but we also have a heritage in partnering with internationally renowned companies and in supporting them with our specific design approach. However, in every single case we thoroughly assess the brand fit of such collaborations. Johnnie Walker Blue Label and the Porsche Design Studio have partnered to create a range of exclusive gifts to celebrate the perfect serve,  the pinnacle of Blended Scotch Whisky from the House of Johnnie Walker. This partnership brings together two brands with a vision for craft, heritage and modernity.

We both share a singular commitment to excellence.  We are both rooted in heritage.  We are both creating works of rare quality today.  And we are both iconic luxury brands sought after by men the world over to celebrate their own achievements with a statement of genuine style and substance. No Private Bar has ever been designed like this before and its ground-breaking design represents the latest remarkable achievement from the Porsche Design Studio.  Only 50 will ever be made, meaning that to own one is to join an exclusive group of people that will be able to enjoy this stunning piece for years to come.

What’s your perspective on the role and importance of design in luxury and premium products?

A luxury product without design is difficult to imagine. Luxury or even premium means superiority in every respect, it means best in class. If the design is not right, that level cannot be achieved. However, design can give a luxury product different characters. It can add to the opulent appearance or it can create a minimalistic look. As you glance across the different luxury brands you will  find all shades of design expressions.

Some make more of a show-off statement, which, by the way is less en vogue nowadays, others are more stealthy and display their qualities only if you look closer. After having gone through the recent financial crises many people still want to enjoy luxury products but at the same time they don’t have the desire to show-off their wealth as much. That is why luxury brands today need to focus on fulfilling core values. It’s all about quality and an improved life. Today companies have to concentrate on offering a certain lifestyle which people can buy into. People care more about where materials come from and about quality and design as well as their individual style.

The economy has changed people’s expectations of design. How would you describe its effects on your field?

For Porsche Design not much has changed at all as our brand always had a very special approach to luxury. Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, designer of the 911 and founder of Porsche Design, has always been mindful rather than conspicuous. Look at our very first product: the Chronograph 1.

It was the first completely black watch on the market, at a time when watches were made from gold or silver by definition. A revolution! But the black colour was not chosen to provoke, rather for a particular reason: For F. A. Porsche a watch was not jewellery but an instrument of precision with uncompromised functional quality. Inspired by the non-reflective black dashboard of a race car with high contrast instruments he decided to design the watch in the same manner: only the time information was of importance, everything else was black. So, simplicity, functionality and intelligence – it was there right from the beginning.

Is good and smart design becoming an expectation among consumers across the board? In some ways, the product and retail design of companies like Starbucks and Apple has pushed the bar up for other companies, so do you believe that the expectation has now moved to mass market?

You picked two great examples of companies who really made a very successful effort in understanding the desires of their customers. This is not to be mistaken with the concept of asking your customer what you should do next – they will not be able to give you that answer. Customer driven innovation has been replaced by design driven innovation. As a result, its all about knowing your customer but also about being highly creative in order to be successful.  This principle goes for niche markets as well as for the mass market.

In addition, it is important to know why you do what you are doing. Without a design philosophy there is a great danger of becoming arbitrary and exchangeable. Character and style are the result of a certain mindset.

Thanks to the clear design philosophy of our founder the Porsche Design Studio and the Porsche Design luxury brand have a characteristic and definied profile since 1972.

Thanks Roland!

Porsche Studio Design

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