Interview with Reimund Neugebauer, President of Fraunhofer
15 April, 2017

Joachim Schirrmacher in conversation with Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Photo: © Bernhard Ludewig

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  Professor Reimund Neugebauer, president of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, talks about the dormant potential of collaboration between engineers and designers.

Interview: Joachim Schirrmacher

Why did you initiate the Form Follows Future ideas competition?
As president, my primary goal was to create stimuli for research. I’m convinced that innovation processes can improve if we collaborate more closely with designers.

Industry is increasingly demanding turnkey solutions from you. How can design be better integrated in this area?
The industry’ demand for a one-stop shop wasn’t why we started the competition. The designer is the gateway to the customer and has a major impact on product acceptance. The collaboration showed me how just how much potential is out there today – and we’re not using it.

Does a T-shaped profile, i.e. collaboration between generalists and specialists, give rise to a dream team?
Collectively, we’ll come up with brand new ways of working. Designers, for example, work with methods that we aren’t so familiar with. I’m talking about participatory design in the form of crowdsourcing or big data. In my view, open design systems are an incredible opportunity.

Integrating design at an early stage is beneficial in a whole host of ways. Research results can be put sales markets can be identified, greater functionality, quality and competitiveness are achieved.
It’s the back-and-forth between engineers and designers that brings about all the many advantages. Therefore, designers must be an integral part of the development team from the outset. If designers aren’t involved until the very end of the process, it’s only natural for them to have a deep aversion.

When you became president you demanded quantum leaps in research. How can design help to achieve that?
I’m interested in the social dimension of design, just like the self-sufficient Lifesource pump drive from our competition. We need products that help improve people’s living conditions – in African countries for example – by giving them opportunities to create their own added value. This is where design has a big role to play.

But nevertheless, design still isn’t anchored in the innovation system.
There is a pragmatic explanation: design isn’t enshrined in research’s defined process steps as a driving force.

Despite the fact that there are over 100 German design schools, nobody at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is in charge of design.
Designers don’t have a strong lobby in political circles, they’re too weak in terms of economic clout and voter numbers. It’s companies that benefit most from their work. I think this is where design needs to start: it has to spell out the advantages of integrating design into research processes more clearly.

There have been plenty of projects like this with obvious potential: In addition to your competition, for example the Design Reaktor Berlin, the hybrid platform or the symposium “Design as an Innovation Catalyst” of your Cerri institute. But they were never sustained. Everybody spends an inordinate amount of time starting again from scratch. How can the power of collaborations be put to consistently good use?
You can’t order researchers to join forces with designers. The only solution is to make a concerted effort to identify common ground. It only becomes sustainable if each party can see how it stands to gain. At the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft we can provide support by forming a pool of experts who offer to act as moderators
and contribute their experience and advice. And we can encourage joint projects where engineers can try out collaboration in an uncomplicated manner and come to realise that the last three stages of their success stories would have been impossible without the designers.

Design Report, 2 / 2017
, page 82 – 83


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