Born in 1940 in Stuttgart, Germany, Design Ideas® Product Designer Hans Maier-Aichen studied product design, architecture and the fine arts in Wuppertal and in Munich before receiving a Fulbright Fellowship to study fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago in the United States. Upon receiving his master's degree, Hans went on to teach at the Institute as well as at various universities throughout Europe.
1.) How would you describe your first few years studying in the United States?
As a young student of fine arts I was curious to see the artistic level in the ”New world” in the late sixties. My US studies were highly confronted with art history and independent post graduate studies. To my big surprise the students at the Chicago Art Institute were very international. For my young career the time at the art school in the States became important being less academic and more experimental at that time.
2.) When did you become a Design Ideas® Product Designer and why did you decide to join the Design Ideas® team?
With my artistic background I was sure that designing functional items correlated with my basic interest in distinctive materials and technologies. After a long experience with the development of the AUTHENTICS concept in Europe I was pleased to have the opportunity to design products for Design Ideas® mainly in Asian countries. It fascinates me to exchange all kind of product ideas “online” and “on stage” with Chinese, Thai and other Asian manufacturers and to built up a communication bridge between the Far East and the United States, involving European brain work as a ”transmitter.” It is a great pleasure to communicate with the DI design team in USA and in China today.
3.) What have you found are the major differences in American versus European design? Do your designs reflect both of these styles?
The US does have great examples of contemporary architecture, graphic design and arts+crafts but to my surprise very little product design. The design activities in the States are directly linked with the European design tradition. Most of the known young American designer generation have been trained in mainly Italian design schools (like Constantin Boym or Karim Rashid). So in my opinion we still cannot speak of a typical American design scene yet.
4.) You did intensive travelling for workshops in Africa, Asia and Latin America for the European Community. How did these experiences impact your work as a designer? What did you learn from them?
I associated travelling always with learning about other basic cultures and behaviour. Whether moving in Africa, Asia or Latin America I was in permanent contact with creative people who used various available materials, manufactured in different methods and created their own functional products. I learned a lot about “BASICS,” about “archetypes,” about sensitive handling of materials, functionality and aesthetics. “LESS IS MORE,” this wonderful Bauhaus expression, came into my mind when observing and admiring those mainly native craftspeople during my many trips.
5.) How has the design world changed in the last decade? What new developments do you look for in the next ten years?
First of all, design became much more transparent in the last years through easy travelling, international communication, digital media networking, etc. While travelling, exchanging design students, organizing international workshops, etc. we get in contact with foreign cultures. Unfortunately, commercial design activites connected with a high potential of worldwide mainstream trends created a strong but fateful mentality of adapting and mainly copying complete product lines. This global development led to anonymous and interchangeable designs which are distributed worldwide but in most cases completely lack authenticity. “Global versus local,” this confrontation will be the key for recognizable design solutions in the coming years. As designers we will have to concentrate on research in materials and innovative technologies but we have to look into old techniques and natural materials as well. A new “manufacturing mentality” could create a glorious come back to counterpoint activities of commercial global players.
6.) Do you agree with the statement that design is predominantly driven by the development of new materials? Why or why not?
Innovative design ideas are always driven and inspired by new materials and technologies. But also the revival of old techniques and materials is part of the game. When touching mass market product lines with design perspectives one has to consider techniques of multiplication. Prices and daily consumer needs will be defined by production capacity, adequate technologies and economic distribution systems.
7.) Other than EcoGen, which new materials most excite you right now?
I am especially interested in juxtaposing high tech materials with natural materials. It is not anymore a specific material which fascinates me but the polarisation of two or more materials as a basic concept for new products. There are of course exciting developments of new plastics which will ameliorate fine mass production qualities as well as distinguished natural fibres which I found during my last stays in Thailand. The material story is a story of a permanent direct process and creates surprises whenever you are travelling in different countries of the world.
8.) Design Ideas® is famous for its ability to span vast categories of product. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the job of designing many different types of products, as opposed to one in particular?
The worst case for a designer in the long run is to end as a specialist for limited product lines. A good designer today has to train himself to act as a generalist, i.e. to open his mind towards global design operations and a rich product diversification.
9.) In your biography you note your extensive work in the late 1980s with development and technology research for the material plastic. How have you contributed to what you call the “new dignity” of this material?
When I rediscovered plastic as a unique combination of “material + technology” for mass production for carefully designed consuming goods, this material showed little attraction. What we could see in the market was mainly high glossy, easy to scratch and cheap looking polystyrene or polypropylene products. I was impressed by the technique of injection moulding, enabling thin wall items in a large variety of colors and surfaces. One of my main interests was catching the light and I concentrated on studying a special kind of translucency with various plastic manufacturers at the very beginning. By reaching translucent plastic bodies and special surface treatments it was possible to present a completely new look of a more valuable plastic material. Translucency and light, eroded/ frosted surfaces, a new “tactility” and thin walls as an ecological contribution made those first new products very charismatic and fascinated the consumer. We created a distinctive character of plastic, a medium which was well accepted and presented in the shops and museums as a modern contemporary material. Plastic reached a “new dignity” for designed product lines in mass production.
10.) You’ve received countless awards and recognition for your work over the past 40 years. Is that the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It is most attractive to get awards which honor your design work and the way of approaching something extraordinary. But for me it is more important being in a position to create new ideas with different kinds of people from all over the world and all the time. This process of acting and communicating is the real challenge in a designer´s life.
Hans Maier-Aichen Key Achievements
|1965 - 71 ---- ||Studied Product Design and Architecture at the University of Applied Arts, Wuppertal, Germany|
Studied Fine Art (painting) at the University of Fine Arts, Munich, Germany
Received various scholarships in Europe
Received Fulbright fellowship in USA
|1965 - 66 ---- ||Studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, USA|
|1970 ---- ||Received MFA degree, Art Institute of Chicago, USA. |
|1967 - 74 ---- ||Held various teaching positions:|
Art Institute of Chicago
University of Applied Arts Muenster,Westfalia
University of Fine Arts, Karslruhe
Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London
University of Fine Arts, Stuttgart
|Since 1968 ---- ||Received National and International Art Awards:|
Deutscher Kunstpreis für Bildhauerei (German art award for Sculpture) (1968)
Bremer Kunstpreis (National art award, Bremen) (1969)
Villa Romana Price, Florence, Italy (1972)
"Romeprice" Villa Massimo, Rome, Italy (1973)
|1974 ---- ||Served as Managing Director of Artipresent GmbH, Germany.|
Created various design collections
Developed product in Japan, China and other Asian countries for the European market and USA
|1978 - 85 ---- ||Performed consulting for design and marketing activities for the European Community|
|1980 ---- ||Founded of the AUTHENTICS trademark.|
|Since 1986 ---- ||Performed design development and technology research for mass market items within the field of the material PLASTIC (new surfaces and material approaches in connection with economical and ecological objectives).
Researched materials and technologies for a new and innovative revaluation of plastic. |
The "poetry of the material" defined a new dignity of plastic.
Developed young international designer teams.
Developed product with a high claim for "unmistakebility" and identification within a growing global market.
|Since 1990 ---- ||Gave lectures and workshops at various Universities,Design Institutes, Museums and other Institutions in Europe, Asia and USA.|
Had various design products selected for the permanent collection of the Modern Art Museum in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, Koeln, and Munich.
|1997 ---- ||Received European Design Award (1997-98) in Paris.|
Participated in various design exhibitions at European art and design
|Since 1997 ---- ||Served as Member of the Board of Directors of the German Design Council|
|1998 ---- ||Received title of Professor from The London Institute, Central Saint Martins College of Art& Design, London.|
|1999 ---- ||Member of the Board of Directors of the Design Labor Bremen, Germany.|
|Since 2001 ---- ||Design consultant for various European and American companies.|
Jury member of various Design Awards within Europe.
|2002 ---- ||Professor for Product Design at the
Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe
(State University for Arts and Media Karlsruhe).|
Curator of SPOON,
100 international designers 10 curators, 10 design classics, Phaidon Press, London.
|2003 ---- ||"Ideafactory" - inauguration lecture for the academic year 2003/04 at EINA,
Escola de Disseny i Art Barcelona, Spain.|
|2004 ---- ||"Masterclasses" lecture during the experimentadesign Biennal ´03
|2004 -05 ---- ||Design consultant for the Thai government. |
"Design and Industries" - various workshops and lectures in Thailand.