Bavarian crystal glassware maker Nachtmann was founded in 1834 and has since built a reputation for producing high-quality decorative crystal glassware and tableware. In 2004, Riedel purchased Nachtmann and it became the lifestyle division of Riedel Glass Works in Austria. 

It engaged product designer Stefanie Kubanek to help it to actualise this goal. As the company is constantly looking to find new generations of talented glassware designers, Kubanek spearheaded an international program – NextGen – which is backed by strong commitment from Riedel and Nachtmann to set up a long-term program to work with talented young designers from around the world.

“We didn’t know this when we first started but it became very clear, very soon to me that this collaboration could work if a company is committed to taking the risk, is willing to share knowledge and to give time to guide students throughout a program and competition like this one,” says Kubanek.

The program was created to match Nachtmann with international young design talent from different cultural backgrounds to develop contemporary crystal table-ware for a next generation of consumers. “The aim of NextGen is to create a learning experience and knowledge exchange on both sides,” explains Kubanek. Working with the Nachtmann team, Kubanek sets the brief, facilitates glassmaking workshop tours and oversees the design and development phases of the students’ work.

The first NextGen collaboration began in 2007 at Parsons The New School for Design (New York). In 2008, the first product line, Slice, was introduced by Parsons student Victoriya Braginsky. This was followed by Pratt (New York) and then to design schools in Stockholm (Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design), Tokyo (Musashino Art University) and more recently in Prague.

Currently, there are over 20 new products in production and new product introductions are planned for later this year.

New contemporary crystal products from international emerging designers have become an important part of the Nachtmann portfolio. “I’m always interested in getting students to collaborate together with ‘real’ clients and organisations,” says Kubanek, whose own background started in craft, before completing an apprenticeship in goldsmithing and then going on to study at the RCA in London.

“In the past I developed a passion for glass and glassmaking and I was introduced to Riedel as a young child since my grandparents lived very close to the Riedel factory and we would buy the ‘seconds’ from the outlet store. Simply, I wanted to combine both my passion for craftsmanship and design and to create a ‘hands-on’ project for students. I was looking to expose my students from Parsons to a company with a very strong and long tradition in local manufacturing,” she says.

Kubanek explains that the program very much depends on finding good partners (instructors) in the universities that they are collaborating with throughout each NextGen project, which run for six to eight months. So far, every project has been different. They have worked across different disciplines and had students from product design, glass and ceramics, design management, as well as interiors. The students involved come with different skill sets and knowledge.

“The first step is to introduce the project without giving too much information and manufacturing constraints. We then invite a selected group of students to travel to Ambiente, Europe’s premier tableware trade show followed by factory tours and a design workshop with the Nachtmann design development team,” Kubanek explains. “After that we run two to three more design workshops visiting the university to review and provide feedback until the final presentation.”

Three monetary awards and royalties are granted for the products that are put into production. They continue to work with the students after the competition is finished to give them support in developing further products within their product range, as well as, in some cases, to develop new concepts.

Kubanek says the program has changed the culture within Nachtmann and a great mentorship has been established between the students and Nachtmann’s product development team. They try to introduce each new project in the autumn and then run workshops with the students in the spring, and usually invite up to 10 selected students to come to Ambiente and to visit all Nachtmann/Spiegelau and Riedel production sights to learn about the manufacturing possibilities and constraints.

“I call myself a designer, but I really see myself as an enabler – someone who makes things happen,” says Kubanek. “To me, creativity is the result of a collection of different processes complemented by different people with complementary skills. Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace collaboration and to reject barriers and borders.”

The collaboration with Nachtmann offers students an insight into designing for a commercial and very competitive realm. Visiting Ambiente introduces students to the tableware market with its design opportunities but also design challenges and constraints.

“I strongly believe that we have to introduce design students early in their studies to the professional world and the realities of today’s market place. The opportunity to visit Nachtmann and Riedel’s production facilities in Germany provides students with invaluable first-hand experiences and an introduction to the rich culture of a family-run company that is over 250 years old,” she says.

The program works as a great business model to run similar projects with other industries and services. Kubanek sees it as a great way to merge young talent with the experience and knowledge of manufacturers and to extend design education into real work with the guidance of practitioners such as herself.

“Design institutions can be a valuable source of inspiration and innovative thinking, and provide creative services to small to medium-sized companies. They can learn from each other, teach the value of design and integrate creative thinking in different product and service design areas,” she says.

With this in mind, Kubanek says she is aiming to forge collaborations with other manufacturers and students from different disciplines to create responsible, meaningful products and services for the future.

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