Interview with Heidi Wegener, curator of the Design Preis Schweiz founded in 1991 and organized by the Design Center in Langenthal
A great attention to details, materials, functionality, and quality that’s how I would define Swiss design
What is Swiss design known for?
The Swiss design approach is process oriented and focuses on producing a sellable, excellent product. Swiss designers are less driven by the promise of stardom and are very much down to earth. Basically, we’re not a “diva” country. I have made 22 exhibitions worldwide and even though we do not have many globally recognized star designers, people are always intrigued by Swiss design. It’s very well-known and respected abroad and associated with the highest quality standard.
For such a small country, it’s quite incredible how much design Switzerland produces.
What is the role of design in Switzerland?
Everybody has this stereotypical image of Switzerland as a being wealthy and think that as a consequence our products are expensive. In that sense, Switzerland does not produce design for the world. Being such a small country without a tradition of mass production, with an industry driven by small and medium sized enterprises that focus on smaller, high-quality productions, we naturally cover the higher price band. It pays off in the long run because the products are built to last. So, if someone is more into changeable trends, then they may not opt for Swiss design. If you think of American designers, they are asked to make products that will be on the market for 2 years or so because new products will replace them. Its far from our mentality.
Who are the prominent companies in the Swiss design field and how are they organized?
A particularity about the small to medium sized Swiss companies is that many are family run businesses, often for generations.
Take the fashion company Akris, it’s into its third generation with Albert Kriemler, whose grandmother started the company with a sewing machine. There’s also Ruckstuhl carpets, which is into its fourth generation. There are many well-established brands that produce excellent design products, such as USM, Vitra, Roethlisberger Kollektion, Dietiker, Freitag, Wogg, Christian Fischbacher, Jakob Schlaepfer, Schoeller Textiles, there are as well the many famous watch brands. However, this is just to name a few, the list is long and all these brands have their place in the global market.
Many design brands are concentrated in the Langenthal area, which is wel known in Europe and holds a special place in the Swiss design panorama with it’s Designers’ Saturday
Designers’ Saturday – an initiative created by local companies involved in the design industry and inspired by an event that started in New York where empty buildings host design exhibitions for a few days. More than 18’000 visitors came to the last edition. It’s a tremendous engagement for the local companies, who open their doors and offer their production spaces to the exhibitors for the event. Those open doors to the production sites are also what make Designers’ Saturday in Langenthal such an inspiring experience for visitors, both the professionals and the broader public.