In the past five years alone, Hilti has been honoured twenty-nine times in the red dot design award program, and twice honoured with the red dot: best of the best award.

The manufacturer of products for the construction trade has a superior lead in its category of the red dot design ranking and, at 2.3 billion euros, the highest design value ranking in its category as calculated by the red dot institute in 2008.

At its headquarters in Schaan, Liechtenstein, 2000 employees from sixty nations work together.

“We are delighted that our consistent, clear and expressive design language has been recognised by an external expert jury. Receiving the red dot: design team of the year award is a great honour and shows appreciation for everyone involved in the design of our products,” said Bo Risberg, Hilti CEO.

Hilti will be exhibiting their design work in celebration of their win at the red dot design museum at the ‘Zeche Zollverein’ World Cultural Heritage site in Essen.

When Stephan Niehaus joined the company as its chief designer in 2003, product design at Hilti was still very much dominated by the underlying technology. Designs were conceived individually without any overarching design framework.

“A systematic design concept was needed if the strengths of consistent product design were to be exploited,” says Niehaus. Together with his team Niehaus drew up a master design guideline that applies to all future products of the company and defines the processes needed to realise this guideline in practice.

We spoke to Niehaus about the important role of design at Hilti -

You have been the chief designer at Hilti since 2003. What prompted Hilti to create a chief of design position in 2003? Was it a new position?

I was appointed the first chief designer at Hilti after the company decided to rethink its brand identity when the brand’s visual appearance was being globally defined for the first time. Based on my activity as an external product designer for Hilti I had developed a close relationship with the company over many years.

I continued to point out the possibilities that would result from the introduction of a comprehensive design line. In 2003 the time was ideal for me to join the company and to implement the ideas I had. Before my arrival, design at Hilti was exclusively carried out in cooperation with external agencies.

What changes have you made to the way design is managed at Hilti?

The most significant step that my design team and I have taken was developing, if you will, a holistic-oriented design line. Today this design line is threaded throughout the entire brand identity. In the product area we have designed elements of style as well as processes that make it possible to consistently implement this line.

The key to what we do is observing customers on real construction sites. We repeatedly ask ourselves how we can simplify the working processes of our customers and how each movement can be quickly and simply executed. Observing customers and talking to them are central points.

Even more important, however, is correctly interpreting the results of these observations and discussions.

You are quoted as saying: “The aim is that customers perceive the passion that is in our machines and tools with different senses.” What do you mean by this?

We want to generate enthusiasm with our products. This enthusiasm is largely characterised by how customers perceive Hilti with all their senses. The visual design, how a tool feels, the motor sound or the snap made by the switch can express the performance and quality of a product as well as its technical properties.

This generates enthusiasm – or it doesn’t. As product designers, it’s our job to communicate to customers the values of our company and the characteristics of our products in non-verbal terms, through what they see, feel, hear and perceive of Hilti products.

Is the market for Hilti products today purely trade focused?

Yes. We focus on the needs of construction professionals in clearly segmented sectors.

How has the Hilti brand been emotionalised by design?

Through a function-related, customer-oriented design that appeals to the customer and generates a ‘wow-effect’. When we speak of design it’s not about style, but touching the customer emotionally.

We want them to notice the performance, robustness and working comfort of a product at first glance. The customer should see the product as an optimal solution that is tailored to their needs. All the more so, once they have used the product.

What new technologies have been integrated into the design of Hilti products in the last few years?

Hilti product design goes hand-in-hand with technological developments in all areas. We use design to make product technology tangible or real to the customer, thereby giving a face to the technical properties.

How many research and development staff (designers, engineers, etc.) do Hilti employ?

In a narrow sense, there are about twelve people concerned with industrial design. But at Hilti, design is linked with other disciplines from the very beginning. These include engineering, ergonomics or marketing. All in all, our project teams are therefore much larger.

Where is the majority of Hilti’s manufacturing now based?

Hilti has production facilities in Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Mexico and China.

What are your future plans or directions for design at Hilti?

I want to prepare the topic of design at Hilti for the future, and further develop design strategies. As you can imagine, the content is very sensitive as it contains future elements of both our brand and our company. I can’t really say anything further. You’ll just have to wait and see!

The red dot awards night celebrated the world’s most promising and rising stars in product design. The atmospheric Aalto Theatre and the red dot team played host to a packed audience of designers and representatives of the world’s leading lights in manufacturing and product development.

Based on this year’s red dot judging panel observations and awards trend report for 2010 there was a more definite trend shift than in previous years. The report revealed that in almost all categories designers are looking back in order to move forward.

This was demonstrated in the way product designs were integrating existing and established style elements into a design context for 2010. There seemed to be a strong desire for stability in style and design, emerging in the products presented for judging.

In furniture for living rooms and bedrooms there was strong referencing to 1960s design. Wellness was a strong driver for bathroom product design.

Products in the household and kitchen sector were seen as already mature, with little room for groundbreaking innovations or experimentation. Lighting demonstrated the increasing market presence of LED technology and intelligent control systems.

The design of products for sport showed a focus on the use of high-quality materials, down to the smallest details. Fashion and accessories featured the use of resource-saving materials and sustainable production methods.

Only a few products in watches and jewellery stood out from the crowd for the judges, with a strong trend towards keeping with tradition and established design solutions. “Perhaps in the future, and in less conservative times, designers will dare to do something really new in this category,” said the judges.

In life science and medical products, clear forms and a pleasing feel to the touch was observed, with high hygiene standards and ergonomics to make devices more user friendly for today’s more informed medical patient.

In products for entertainment, the times of daring experiments were evidently over. Flat screens showed consistent good quality, with little design variations, making products look very similar. There was increasing use of ceramic, glass, metal and wood to raise the value and aesthetic quality of these products.

The camera sector presented more innovative ideas, with concepts addressing new and different target groups. Communication products such as large touch-screen displays showed an aim for these products to remain in the background as much as possible, to allow the communication experience to be optimised.

Computer design continued to show more emphasis on compact dimensions, robust yet light materials and intelligent user interfaces – proof that the dividing line between computers and other communication tools is becoming increasingly blurred.

Overall, design concepts showed a consistent high quality, but lacked the spectacular innovations or experimental approaches of previous years.  

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