Herbert H. Schultes in an interview A Master of the Old School

Herbert H. Schultes has had a great influence on German design history. Several examples of his work are on display in museums. He has received may honours and awards. On 31 October 2013 Schultes will be celebrating his 75th birthday – a perfect reason to visit his studio in Munich.

Herbert H. Schultes Herbert H. Schultes | Photo: Sigi Hengstenberg Born in1938 Schultes is an industrial designer belonging to the generation of Richard Sapper and Dieter Rams. After studying engineering and design in Munich he founded a studio with Norbert Schlagheck in 1967 and worked for companies such as Agfa, Atomic, Bulthaup, Classicon, Osram. From 1985 he was chief designer at Siemens up until 1999 when the department was separated off from the company. This led to the development of the designafairs agency. Herbert H. Schultes established a strong commitment to the promotion of design.

Mr. Schultes, which one of your designs do you particularly enjoy looking back on?

In my first studio, Schlagheck Schultes Design, the one I ran with Norbert Schlagheck, we did “sport” for ten years: the Marker ski bindings M40, for example. This binding featured a white body that had many facets and bold black letters, like those on US football shirts.

What was so special about it?

The M40 was in fact the very first ski binding to be designed by an industrial design studio. The previous binding models rather resembled a vice clamp. And although we tended toward minimalist design in our work we thought the big black letters were really good, they had a psychological function.

Ski binding Marker, Schlagheck Schultes Design Ski binding Marker, Schlagheck Schultes Design | Photo: Helga Fössel In which way?

They generate a distinctive, sportsman-like flair because the association with American football players creates a specific atmosphere. Our design put the company Marker back onto the forefront – and brought us a host of new contracts: surfboards and surf accessories for HiFly, skis, shoes and cross-country ski sticks for Trak, ski boots for Dynafit, tennis rackets for Kneissl. Even kids’ rubber boots for the brand Elefanten, that already anticipated the form of today’s jogging shoes.

A wide range of products.

We never addressed furniture or cars – it was our mission to push classic industrial design forward. We were interested in series production, in mass production.

Surfboard, HiFly, Schlagheck Schultes Design Surfboard, HiFly, Schlagheck Schultes Design | © What was behind the idea of becoming an industrial designer: was it a democratic thought, and wanting to create good design for the many?

Yes it was, although in hindsight this sounds rather glorified. Our profession started with the period of industrialisation in Britain, with the development of machines. After all, these had to be designed as well, and to begin with people were quite helpless. For example, architects were asked if they could design connecting rods for steam-powered machines. The products then made rather resembled Greek columns. Later, John Ruskin and William Morrison addressed this new discipline. They are considered the pioneers of industrial design.

Telephone studies, design developed under the direction of H. Schultes as head of design of the Siemens AG Telephone studies, design developed under the direction of H. Schultes as head of design of the Siemens AG | Photo: Thomas Koller In industrial design the debate was then: right or wrong, attractive or ugly.

I stopped answering those questions. To be quite honest, I am not so sure whether there is such a thing as right or wrong in this connection. But there is such a thing as good quality and poor quality, and you can indeed argue about that. Sometimes good design becomes even better through a deliberate breach.

For example?

When we developed the camera Optima 1035 for Agfa-Gevaert in 1978 – approximately one million of these cameras were produced – we designed a completely black body in which just the shutter release stood out in the shape of a large red dot, the sensor. This was clearly a breach in minimalistic design. And it also represented an early form of today’s intuitive menu prompting.
Optima 1035 Agfa, Schlagheck Schultes Design Optima 1035 Agfa, Schlagheck Schultes Design | Photo: Tom Vack You gave up your studio in 1985 and went on to shape the face of Siemens for 15 years. What was your field of responsibility at Siemens?

The main issue was to create a new corporate identity for one to the world’s largest companies and to redesign the brand visually to bring it up to date. Siemens originally had six large corporate divisions that later became 16 business units. In the time of my predecessor, Edwin Schricker, there were still over 240 company colours. These he reduced in a harmonisation process to a few main and combination colours. However, this meant that different products like a telephone, dental treatment unit or a coffee machine were of the same colour. To enhance the individual image of the business units we developed segment-specific colours and form elements. The different products were to have their own individual character, but also underscore the association with the Siemens family. This was a very complex design task and it continued for more than three years.

ICE3 Cockpit, design developed under the direction of H. Schultes as head of design of the Siemens AG ICE3 Cockpit, design developed under the direction of H. Schultes as head of design of the Siemens AG | © Your philosophy draws on the teaching of the Ulm School of Design where the attitude to life is more important than aesthetics. This stands in contrast to today’s widespread self-marketing approach and branding.

Earlier, designers were seldom mentioned by name. In large companies they were practically anonymous. The main issue was the good design.

Also the use of the term design is experiencing an inflationary trend.

Yes it is, I regret to say. Today we have nail, food and floristic design, designer jeans, designer furniture, designer glasses. I prefer to use the traditional German term Gestaltung that corresponds more to form design. It is the word used in the past. And it is the one of the future!

System 20, bulthaup, designed under H.Schultes, 1997 System 20, bulthaup, designed under H.Schultes, 1997 | Photo: Rudi Schmutz jr. What are today’s design challenges?

First and foremost we have to consider the ecological aspect. It was exactly for this purpose that I developed the concept “Design light” back in 1996. This approach stretches from a reduction in weight and transport costs, to the saving of resources. It also encourages products to remain on the market for a long time before being disregarded as refuse.

What do you recommend young designers of today?

If you want to be good in design you have to take an active interest in the visual world: cinema, theatre, opera, architecture, fashion, sculpture and painting.

“Korpus” chairs, bulthaup, design H. Schultes “Korpus” chairs, bulthaup, design H. Schultes | Photo: Rudi Schmutz jr. What was the last film you went to see?

I haven’t seen any. But I used to go a lot, originally I wanted to make films. Because this is where it is important to tell good stories – just like good design.