Design from Germany The new practicality

“Flötotto-Formsitz”, Flötotto
“Flötotto-Formsitz”, Flötotto | ©

Borders are becoming blurred, national stereotypes and design languages are disappearing – and yet qualities exist that indeed characterise a country. In Germany, it is the consistent practicality that is reappearing in design, and thanks to individual love of experimentation, is resulting in new design solutions.

“Flötotto-Formsitz”, Flötotto “Flötotto-Formsitz”, Flötotto | © It is the embodiment of functionality, quality and durability: the classroom chair. Developed in the 1950’s by the eastern Westphalian family manufacturing firm Flötotto, it quickly established itself in German every-day culture and became part of the lives of generations of schoolchildren, not only in Germany, but throughout Europe. The foundation of its success is the Flötotto Formsitz, made from highly compressed synthetic resin pressed wood – so called “Pag-Holz”. The chair was patented in 1952 and since then has sold over 21 million times world-wide. The Pag-Holz has now been replaced by a polypropylene seat pan made by injection moulding, which Flötotto created in cooperation with the Munich designer Konstantin Grcic, producing an entirely new product, the chair series Pro. Starting point for this design are current studies on the theme of Active Sitting. The seat pan thus has a concise, curved form that provides unique comfort and allows different sitting positions.

Problem solutions

  • „Pro“, Konstantin Grcic, Flötotto © Toscani
    „Pro“, Konstantin Grcic, Flötotto
  • „Flötotto-Formsitz“, Flötotto ©
    „Flötotto-Formsitz“, Flötotto
  • „S533“, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Thonet ©
    „S533“, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Thonet
  • „WG 24“, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Tecnolumen ©
    „WG 24“, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Tecnolumen
  • „SK4“, Hans Gugelot + Dieter Rams, Braun ©
    „SK4“, Hans Gugelot + Dieter Rams, Braun
  • „R18 Ultra Chair“, Kram Weisshaar, Audi ©
    „R18 Ultra Chair“, Kram Weisshaar, Audi
  • Trends, Meissen ©
    Trends, Meissen
“Lufthansa”, Otl Aicher, Lufthansa “Lufthansa”, Otl Aicher, Lufthansa | © But not only school furniture, other current designs also reveal that the auteur design hype has faded and a certain practicality is back in focus that has always characterised German design. Unlike Italy, where for a long time no special training institutions existed, in Germany trade and master craftsmanship schools have a long tradition. In particular, the Deutsche Werkbund and the Bauhaus contributed to the emergence of industrial design and promoted the view that the task of design was first and foremost solving problems. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, the architect Peter Behrens took charge of the electrical firm AEG’s brand identity, and designed products, posters and factories. In the decades that followed, designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Wilhelm Wagenfeld, and companies such as Braun under Dieter Rams, Volkswagen and Lufthansa developed further models that unite practicality and formal reduction, but also technical functionality in an exemplary fashion, and have become design classics.

Process developments

“Chassis”, Stefan Diez, Wilkhahn “Chassis”, Stefan Diez, Wilkhahn | © The purist concept of Modernism lives on in current designs by many German designers, who are taking on more than the role of designing form: they are instead process developers and materials researchers working hand in hand with industry and are seeking innovative solutions in the technologies of new production methods and intelligent material solutions. In addition to Konstantin Grcic, Stefan Diez, for whom time and again material serves as the starting point of his works, belongs to this group. In cooperation with the office and contract furniture manufacturer Wilkhahn (Lower Saxony), the Munich designer developed the chair Chassis, which is produced with a modern technology from the automobile industry that is a complete novelty in the furniture sector, so-called space frame technology. Thin, high-strength steel sheeting is transformed into a hollow body by means of deep drawing, from which a light seat and back frame and four chair legs are then produced.

Materials research

“R18 Ultra Chair”, Kram Weisshaar, Audi “R18 Ultra Chair”, Kram Weisshaar, Audi | © Just as the Bauhaus wrenched the steel pipe from its context - the gas industry and bicycle manufacturing - and reinvented it for furniture manufacturing 85 years ago, the use of new materials and technologies in new contexts can be seen over and over again. Thus Clemens Weisshaar, who together with his partner Reed Kram runs studios in Munich and Stockholm, presented as part of the Milan Furniture Fair an interactive installation of a chair prototype that he developed with the Ingolstadt automobile manufacturer Audi’s in-house Light-Weight Design Centre. Visitors to the installation were invited to sit on the chair as volunteers, to test their seating behaviour. Just as with a vehicle or crash test, the measurements recorded while they did so will be evaluated after the event in order to flow into an optimised final version of the chair, which will be presented at the Design Miami/ fair at the end of 2012, but is not intended for serial production. Meanwhile, Werner Aisslinger, together with the German chemical company BASF, developed the first ecological chair made of pure natural fibres, the Hemp Chair, produced starting in 2012 by the Italian firm Moroso. It is based on a production method for lightweight components from the automobile industry – that is also new and revolutionary in the furniture sector.


“Hemp Chair”, Werner Aisslinger, Moroso “Hemp Chair”, Werner Aisslinger, Moroso | © Alessandro Paderni By contrast, there are firms that on the one hand rely on their own history and strengths but on the other strike out into completely new business lines. The Meissen firm, for instance, founded in 1710 as Europe’s first porcelain manufacturer, has undergone a restructuring that now no longer only applies its centuries-old know-how in table and dining culture, but also transports it into wall and floor coverings made of porcelain, furniture, and soon to come in lighting. In the latter case, these will not be decorative chandeliers in the classical sense. On the contrary: in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Center for Organic Materials and Electronic Devices Dresden (COMEDD) an initial porcelain lighting collection will be presented 2013 that integrates the flat organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), so that the porcelain continues to be the central focus.

Design concepts

“Pro”, Konstantin Grcic, Flötotto “Pro”, Konstantin Grcic, Flötotto | © Bösenberg It looks as though current German design would be unthinkable without the approaches it developed in the first half of the past century, according to which design is both an aesthetic process as well as one of solving problems. Objects of everyday use are investigated and brought up-to-date with other functions and other materials. Here, the details are components of a greater whole: cool and collected, functional and durable.