Interview with Porsche Design

I met Roland Heiler from Porsche Design at the London Superyacht Design Week and spoke with him about his work, product design and life in general.

Roland Heiler from Porsche Design

How did you get started?

I graduated as Master of Design from the Royal College of Art in London in 1982. Since I already had a scholarship from Porsche at that time, joining [their team] was a natural next step. When the shareholders of Porsche Design were looking for a new Managing Director of the Porsche Design Studio in 2004, I was working for [them] in Huntington Beach, California. From there, I moved to Austria to take the new job.

What are your most notable design projects?

The measurement for success is directly related with the qualities of the team. I am proud, today, to have established a team that can handle design tasks ranging from small items such as a writing instrument all the way to designing a mega yacht. It is difficult to point out one moment in your career, but a few years ago my team and I got the chance to make a design statement for the home town of our design studio: we designed the cable car that takes 43 people up to the peak of our local mountain, Schmittenhoehe. The launch was a very emotional moment for all of us.

What is important when designing a high-end product?

Again, no matter how talented or good an individual is, everything depends on surrounding yourself with the best people. This will have a direct influence on your and the company's success. That is one big lesson I learned. Another one is that not every product that wins a design award is necessarily going to be commercially successful.

What is a challenge you have in your work?

Even though we all know that the courage to innovate is one of the key drivers for success, there is still a remarkable number of companies out there who believe they can do without - or at least they don't take the necessary steps. From a designer's perspective this can be quite frustrating. There is still too much belief in superficial styling rather than product innovation.

What does your typical day look like?

The beauty of my job is that no day is like any other. Projects change, new customers come on board, we have locations in Zell am See, Stuttgart, Berlin and Singapore. As a result, I travel a lot. I work in airport lounges, taxis and planes. Luckily, I also get the occasional day in my office in Zell am See.

Porsche Design - watch and phone

How many designers work for Porsche Design Studio?

At our studio in Zell am See, there are 20 people. The Berlin office accommodates product designers as well as the whole fashion design team and in Singapore, we have two additional designers at this time.

Who are your customers?

Two of our most important customers are set: the luxury brand of Porsche Design and the car company's accessory line, Porsche Driver's Selection. Other than that, we work for companies around the world. Our services range from classical product design to brand and product strategy projects. We work with companies from small European specialty manufacturers to the largest consumer electronic corporations in Asia.

What is the design process? How do you collaborate with partners?

If it is a pure product design job, then the process usually starts with a research part followed by brainstorming sessions of people with multiple backgrounds. Once the content direction is determined the actual design process starts with sketching and the use of 3D modeling programs. We then go through different phases from concept design to a very detailed final design. Product engineering is usually done by our partners, there is typically a very close cooperation between design and engineering. The timing of individual programs can vary a lot. Small projects such as a toothbrush are done in less than three months, others such as a new business class for an airline extend over several years.

Porsche Design - cable car

What design tools and software do you use?

We typically use Alias, SolidWorks and Rhino for 3D modeling. We use KeyShot for renderings.

What does it take to create timeless design?

“If you analyse the function of an object, its form often becomes obvious.” That’s what Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the founder of our studio and luxury brand, once said. And, up to the present day, we follow his design philosophy. In our ideal Porsche Design world, form and function are equal. One doesn’t work without the other, but also: one doesn’t follow the other. A truly good product has to fulfill both aspects in order to be a long-term success. Porsche Design has remained true to this idea with great success as we have been recognized with more than 170 national and international awards. The biggest challenge of creating timeless design is to do as little design as possible.

What are you working on at the moment?

We work on multiple projects at all times. Big ones and small ones. However, I am afraid that I can't talk about most of them. There will be new watches and innovative sunglasses coming out in the near future from Porsche Design and... Well, just stay excited and watch out.

 All images copyright Porsche Design.

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