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The future starts now

Since its beginnings, Porsche Design has stood for precisely designed, functional products of the highest quality. In the following interview, CEO DR. JAN BECKER and CDO ROLAND HEILER explain how this tradition is maintained while keeping up with the times and why there are no limits for the company.
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Mr. Becker, Mr. Heiler, in order to be successful as a company over decades, you have to know what values you represent. What are these at Porsche Design?

BECKER: We are certainly passionate about perfect and, above all, timeless
design. High-quality as well as innovative materials are indispensable for us. And a fine balance between design on the one hand and functionality on the other is a unique characteristic of Porsche Design.

HEILER: It was a maxim of Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche that products should contain as few purely decorative elements as possible. Our creations are meant to be companions for life and are not subject to fast-moving fashions or trends. The shapes are simple and clear, and the workmanship is very precise and of the highest standard.
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BECKER: The principle of always questioning things and looking for the best possible solution is a clear maxim and part of our daily work. That’s why I think we succeed in combining tradition and innovation. We are aware of our responsibility towards our founding values, yet we always remain open to new things.

Can you give an example of this principle?

HEILER: You can see this principle, for example, in the way F. A. Porsche thought about the design and material of watches back then. In the 1970s, stainless steel, gold or silver were the preferred materials for watches. The material determined the color scheme. However, the Chronograph I created by F. A. Porsche was black, which was completely new and unusual at the time. He chose this color precisely because it cited the dashboard of a Porsche sports car, whose displays, kept in black, remained easy to read by the driver even in extreme situations. This should also apply to the watch. In addition, he was already thinking at the time about what material would be even more suitable than stainless steel, for example. It had to be light, not react with the body, i.e. hypoallergenic, and yet resistant. And so the material titanium came into play, which was used for the first time in 1980 with the Titan Chronograph. Processing titanium was extremely difficult, however, and the tools at the time wore out quickly, but F. A. Porsche insisted on its use because of its special properties. Today, all our watches are made of titanium. At the time, it was a pioneering act.

BECKER: Incidentally, the Chronograph I is still my favorite Porsche Design object. It combines our values almost perfectly. At the time, this watch was absolutely novel in its design and it was technically innovative. Its design is still at the cutting edge today.
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To develop such a timeless design even today, you need a certain atmosphere and openness in the company. How do you enable that for your employees?

HEILER: We try to create maximum freedom in the design studio—a good example is the working hours. For designers, a certain amount of freedom for creative ideas is very important. Some designers have their best ideas in the evening, others in the morning over coffee. That’s why we tend to look at the result of the work rather than when an idea is born. The methods used to achieve the goal are also not so important at first. Until recently, we had a designer who worked with F. A. Porsche. He did little drawing, but immediately built models in the old way. Creative “chaos” reigned on his desk. Tape, wire, cardboard, paper everywhere, but he developed incredibly exciting products right up to the end.

BECKER: Of course, this freedom requires a certain amount of personal responsibility. Our employees often have to cover a broad field anyway, and are not just responsible for a small division. For example, product managers at our company are not only responsible for developing the product, but they also think about its economic viability, what customer needs it should meet, what business case it should fulfill.
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In recent years, the topic of mobile working has increased in importance. Do you think you’ll still have offices in a few years?

BECKER: We will definitely still have them. I don’t think you can continue to develop and redesign products if you can’t get together at all. You have to
physically see the model, hold it in your hand, feel it. That’s only possible to a
limited extent remotely. In addition, it is essential for collegiality, for cohesion, for marching together into the future that you see and exchange ideas in person. Discussions simply take place differently via digital channels than when people actually look each other in the face. There are often fewer requests to speak, fewer exchanges.

HEILER: Of course, you can do certain things remotely, and you can have wonderful exchanges with employees who are in other countries. But especially in the design process, you need face-toface discussion, and even all the digital tools we use can’t completely replace that. In addition, physical models still play a major role in our design quality. Nowadays, digital applications can be used to
visualize many topics well before the first prototype - yet the human eye on the real model remains the decisive criterion. Nevertheless, these tools have changed your work quite a bit and will continue to do so.

» »Our creation meant to be companions for life and are not subject to fast moving trends« «

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HEILER: That’s true, we dreamed of the tools that exist today when we were
young designers. We still had to draw the vehicles and products in three views and had no idea what the end result would really look like. The model makers
then often quickly brought us back down to earth. How nice it would have been
to be able to turn and rotate the model beforehand in the design. With today’s programs, all this is possible, and the products look absolutely realistic even at
this stage. And you can also print them with the 3D printer at an early stage in the process to experience how they feel and what dimensionality they have. The
processes have sped up incredibly. The danger is that because of this, products are no longer allowed to mature properly, that people are too quickly satisfied because they already look good. But that’s where our values come into play again, which require us to check even the smallest detail for functionality and also to question it.

With so many options, aren’t you tempted to introduce more and more product groups or expand the existing ones?

HEILER: The temptation is definitely there. But we’ve tended to take the opposite approach and have streamlined our product groups and focused on a
limited number of core products. Digitalization is changing not only how products are manufactured, but also how they are sold.
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"For a long time, it was said that you can’t sell luxury items online."

BECKER: That’s no longer the case these days. Measured in terms of total sales, our online share is fortunately rising continuously. This development was already evident before the pandemic, which of course makes us particularly happy. In addition, digitalization now offers our customers numerous opportunities. They can obtain very detailed information about products even before they buy them, they can configure some of them themselves, and they can compare prices. Digital social media channels in particular offer opportunities to present products directly in the customer’s living environment and to communicate them in a very emotional way. This creates its own challenges for us—but we see it as a great opportunity.
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How is this making itself felt?

BECKER: We reach more customers, but at the same time we have to respond to them more individually. However, we will not be doing so without our stores. In our view, digital channels are not a substitute for brick-and-mortar retailing; rather both combined in a sensible way offer an ideal range of products and services for our customers worldwide.


Because customers who want to buy a high-priced leather jacket, for example,
also want to know how it feels and whether it suits them. We want to give them the opportunity to experience our products with all their senses. So e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail are intertwined for us. In our retail stores
we create a brand experience. There, our customers receive excellent advice
and can try out products. It’s up to them which channel they then use to buy their watch, jacket, or sunglasses. We offer our customers different touchpoints and they decide which channel they use to get in touch with the brand. That is the focus. The omnichannel orientation of the company is very important to us. We will focus even more on this in the future, as we want to connect the different channels in the best possible way to provide customers with an end-to-end shopping experience. We want it to be “seamless.”
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Alongside digitalization, sustainability is an important topic, both today and in the future. What is Porsche Design’s concept in this area?

HEILER: Our products are sustainable at their core because they have a lasting
lifespan and are often used by our customers for a very long time. Timeless design plays a decisive role here. They are not disposable products. Materials such as titanium, aluminum, stainless steel and high-quality leather also make them durable at the same time. In the fashion sector, we are increasingly making sure that the material is recyclable or made from renewable raw materials.

BECKER: We are also continuously working on optimizing our logistics processes even further. On the one hand, how to calculate in advance how big a delivery will be and how much space it will take up, in order to reduce the volume and make optimum use of the transport capacity and thus reduce
C02 emissions. And secondly, in the future we would like to stop using standard
e-commerce packaging and use packaging that is precisely tailored to the delivery. This will result in less packaging waste.
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What new types of Porsche Design products that didn’t exist before will be delivered in these boxes?

HEILER: In the area of consumer electronics and gadgets, there will certainly
be some innovations. Our younger target group is particularly interested in these.

BECKER: The development of consumer electronics is of course different from
that of watches, for example. Our smartphones are very popular with younger
audiences, and we know from our customers that they keep them significantly longer than the average. We are very pleased with that because we want our
products to be a lifelong companion for our customers. Purely digital products, such as apps, are also very interesting for us in this context.

Where else could Porsche Design become a life companion?

BECKER: I think the topic of living is very attractive for us. With our reduced and functional design, we can certainly reach some people in this area. If we then combine that with digital products, the Porsche Design Smart Home is not far away. We already have experience in this area thanks to our Porsche Design Tower in Miami. However, we are proceeding very cautiously in the area of branded real estate, as the challenges and risks involved in such projects are nothing to sneeze at. We are very selective in choosing our partners and
carefully check who and what meets our requirements and philosophy. This also applies to one of our next projects.
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Last year, we announced a strategic partnership with Steigenberger Hotels & Resorts, with the aim of building a joint hotel brand in the coming years. The “Steigenberger Porsche Design Hotels” are to be built in select international metropolises. The unique hotel concept is positioned in the luxury lifestyle segment. We know that our customers love to travel and we will accompany them on these trips in the future. So this will be added to the Porsche Design experiences.

Where in the world do people still know
too little about these experiences?

BECKER: Definitely in Asia, and especially in China. We are currently working on making our brand more accessible and better known there.

And how do you do that?

BECKER: By taking the requirements of the market into account. Chinese customers sometimes prefer a more concise and aggressive branding and have other color preferences. For example, in China we offer a red model in addition to the classic black version of our smartphone, which is also only available there. Basically, our products are identical worldwide, but we still have to
think about how to adapt them to specific circumstances. For example, a watch with a diameter of 42 millimeters, which is popular in Europe and the U.S., is often not to the taste of many Chinese customers who find it too large. Some shapes of eyewear are too wide or too narrow there.
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But with such adjustments, we in no way violate the core values of our design language.

Let’s talk about your design approach

again. It’s striking that for Porsche Design there is hardly a product category that you can’t serve. You have already commissioned
Learjets, yachts, skyscrapers, washing machines …

HEILER: Even roof tiles! … in other words, many products.

How do you still manage to remain recognizable?

HEILER: In these cases, we work together with clients, for example, in the case of the roof tiles with the Wienerberger company from Austria or with Panasonic, for whom we developed an innovative washing machine. The design concept always originates with us in Zell am See, where we deal intensively with the respective products and their requirements. In the design approach
we always follow our principles and core values. Clear shapes and lines, functionality, best material, ensuring that the products are durable. This has resulted in a design philosophy that is easily recognizable. Already during the conception phase we involve our partners, especially the engineers. We discuss with them whether what we have in mind is at all feasible. We produce a realistic model, and the customer then checks whether and how it can be implemented. And we accompany them to ensure that the original design is not lost in the process. That’s sometimes backbreaking work because there’s already a certain rivalry between design or engineering, sometimes the shape doesn’t match the way the device works and vice versa. But we actually always manage to get that rivalry resolved in the end. So if you don’t forget about engineering during the design process and dive as deeply into the subject matter of the respective fields as we do, then there are no limits.
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BECKER: We cooperate with other companies when we think we complement
each other well. These partners have decades of experience in their field and
immense technical know-how; they know how to make a pair of glasses or sneakers. From our side, we bring our innovative power, our engineering mindset and, above all, our functional design. In the end, this complements each other very well and it allows us to be present in different categories. As Roland Heiler emphasized earlier, there are hardly any limits for us.

And what object would you still like to design, what absolutely still needs to be in your collection?

HEILER: We would like to design a space station. Because that brings together a lot of what Porsche Design stands for. Function comes first, space is very limited, so you have to find smart solutions, which is in our blood.

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Roland Heiler was born in 1958,near Göppingen, Germany. Followingan apprenticeship at Porsche AG inStuttgart, he studied automotive design at the Royal College of Art in London. Beginning in 1984, he worked in various functions as a designer at Porsche. After a stint at Audi in Ingolstadt, he returned to Porsche in 2000 to take on the position as head designer of the Porsche styling studio in Huntington Beach, USA. Two years later, he took on the management of the studio. Heiler has been Managing Director of the Studio F. A. Porsche in Zell am See since 2004 and a member of the Porsche Design Group Managing Board since 2007. He is a member of the Industrial Designer Society of America and the German Design Council.
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Jan Becker was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1970. After graduating from
high school, he studied Marketing and International Business Relations at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management in Koblenz, Germany. Following time studying abroad at the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Tours, France, and Texas A&M University, he earned his doctorate at WHU in 1998. Becker subsequently worked as a consultant for Prof. Homburg & Partner in Koblenz
and, following a stopover at BMW, joined Porsche AG in Stuttgart in 1999 as project manager for strategic projects. He became deputy head of the department and product manager for Cayenne in 2002, before taking on the position of project manager of marketing and sales for the Cayenne model
series in 2004. In 2008, he joined the Porsche Design Group, where he
took over as head of Product & License Management. Becker became the Group’s Chief Operating Officer in 2010 and has been its Chief Executive Officer since 2017.

Porsche 911 Edition 50 Years of Porsche Design

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