Flower power

Grohe designer Paul Flowers launches a spa range in Beirut and talks about a student design competition where the winner gets to spend a year at its HeadQuarters in Germany

Paul Flowers graduated from The University of Northumbria in Newcastle, UK, with a first class honours degree in industrial product design. He was recognised for his creative talents in the prestigious ‘40 under 40’ list by the European Centre of Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies, in 2008 and won the Red Dot Design Team of the Year 2011.

During his career he has worked for IBM in the UK, Electrolux in Italy and Philips in the Netherlands. He joined Grohe in November 2005 as the vice president of design.

Since 2008, the sanitary fittings manufacturer has climbed 104 places in the iF (International Forum Design) “Company” ranking to make it to the top 40 list. The ranking is based on the number of iF awards won in the past three years.

In 2010, Grohe won awards for the Euphoria, Grohtherm 1000 Cosmopolitan, Veris, Europlus and Rainshower lines to the latest actuation plates and the Grohe Blue kitchen system. With a total of 13 iF product design awards and two iF communication design awards in the past three years, it reached 36th place in the iF ranking.

How did it feel to win the Red Dot Design Team of the Year 2011?
Being the first sanitary manufacturer to be named Red Dot Design Team of the Year 2011 is testament to what we are trying to do. To achieve simple values. Everything we design has to be easy to use, with simple touch points.Design isn’t about styling, it’s about the aesthetics of the product.

For me, companies who make designs and products make them to serve people. Productivity is about how long the product lasts but it should also feel good. It should last five years from when you bought it because the longer you keep it, the more sustainable it is.

How many people do you have in your design team?
I work with a team of 17, in an office in a building designed by the architect Richard Meier, in Düsseldorf, Germany.Our design studio is top secret. No-one is allowed to enter because we are designing products three to five years ahead of time. We lock it off from the rest of the company. We hold briefing sessions and have a full product library.

My office is floor to ceiling glass, very open, accessible and transparent, which we try to emulate in the psychology of our products.

The lay-out of the building means you have to walk past the design team, which in turn leads to constant dialogue and interaction. All our design is in-house. Everything we do, we learn from it, and take it forward to make it better.

We launched 350 products in one year last year, which is amazing when you compare it to four in 2004. We are a small team compared to other brands.

There is a trend now to invite star designers, such as Philippe Starck at Duravit, to design sanitaryware. Like anything, it’s all a part of the branding. They are good designers but it’s a branding concept where some brands have a name linked to them and there are those that do not. It works well for both. Our company is similar to Apple, where it has an in-house design team including Jonathan Ive, senior VP industrial design. Apple do it very differently to other brands.

Having an in-house design team is much more thorough. If I am designing a chair next week I don’t have the insight and knowledge to do it myself, but working in a team creates competence.

There are thousands of products in our portfolio but we have an area of key products, from the best selling, such as our Eurolines fittings to the most iconic, which we keep in the studio to look at their significant details. It is important to maintain that balance of design and practicality and to see what elements we have to fix to make it better.

What was the purpose of your trip to Beirut in Lebanon?
We launched a bathroom concept called Grohe Spa to the Lebanese, East Mediterranean, Middle East and African countries. Beirut was geographically the best place to do it. We want to create the bathroom as more than just a functional space but a personal haven because people are investing more money and making more effort to create a relaxing bathroom experience.

The concept is about evolving a traditionally rational space for cleaning and grooming into an emotional one that enhances well being. When we look at lifestyle trends where consumers are working more and becoming more stressed, we realise people need time alone to explore their emotional well being. We got our inspiration from this idea of a cocoon.

We see it more in designs of home theatres and cinemas with audio surround sound systems, gyms, moving from the collective to the individual. We want to clean up our offering and make it very simple. To separate it from other standard ranges.

The bathroom space has evolved relatively slowly over time. Touch will play a huge role in bathroom technology. In the future we will look into taking away unnecessary noise in the bathroom, creating spa showers that enhance mood, introduce sound audio therapy and introduce more light and steam modules giving people more flexibility.

The spa collection is available in three designs; Ondus, Allure and Atrio, using three simple geometric forms: lozenges, squares and circles. We will also be adding a selection of accessories including lotions, soaps, room sprays and aromatic candles.

While in Beirut, I was excited to take part in a Grohe workshop competition at ALBA University (Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts), working with a group of students to educate them about the cultural relevance of our brand and how it can be realised in the future. We wanted to see how popular a Euro brand is in the region and what can we learn here.

We put the students into five groups with three people in each one from a different major; ie interior design, marketing/advertising and product design. We wanted to bring them all together because that’s how people work in the real world. We carried out a briefing and brainstorming session and asked them to create a cultural environment around a piece from the new spa collection.

We deliberately made the brief difficult because it takes a lot of hard work to be good at something and we wanted them to realise this. They were extremely energetic and creative and super confident so it will be interesting to see what they come up with. The deadline is April 30 where the winner will get an internship at our HQ in Germany for one year.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I have a creative mind where I make references to certain things in my designs and can make links and synergies to something that a non-creative person can’t make links to. It could be the places I’ve been to or people I meet. I don’t articulate it in one certain way.

For example, with the Grohe spa collection, we wanted to create a signature element that is easily recognisable, like Christian Louboutin shoes which have a red sole, so we created the 7degree signature to engage the customer with a product that leans in towards them.

I am also inspired by the British sculptor Henry Moore, who was influenced by the relationship between people. We go to all the design shows like 100% design in London and we trace trends in architecture and the automotive industry to keep an eye on what’s happening.

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