ADN Design is an industrial design studio co-founded in Bilbao in 1990 by Carlos San José, Brigitte Sauvage and Carlos Alonso Pascual. It describes itself as a multidisciplinary studio which believes designing means improving people’s daily lives by creating useful, practical objects. Yet their products also aim to seduce and thrill. The team designs products, services and systems capable of giving meaning to people’s experiences and forging strong emotional bonds between consumers and brands.
The studio has designed over 350 products manufactured by such leading brands as ABB Niessen, AEG, Black & Decker, Bosch, Carrefour International, Hitachi, Kenwood, Moulinex, Russell Hobbs, Siemens, Singer, Solac, Swan, Tefal, Uralita and Westinghouse, among others. Notable among its creations – for their relevance and contemporary appeal – are Cyrcle, a decorative object connected to the internet, which, via movements, lights and sounds, communicates what’s happening in the user’s social network or fields of interests, and its Sensor Evolution compact ironing system manufactured by Solac, the only ironing device that generates constant steam at a low temperature. This product has received the Special Mention in the Great Design and Innovation Prize of the III Bienal Iberoamericana de Diseño BID 12. (This is given at a biennial that promotes Latin-American design.)
Sauvage and Pascual talked to us about their career and experiences in the Asian market, specifically the Chinese one, which has enriched their understanding of the creative process and of design.
Interiors From Spain: How has ADN Design evolved since it was founded in 1990?
ADN Design: Throughout our company’s history we’ve had to overcome several challenges. The Berlin Wall fell only a few months before ADN Design was founded. This led to several important changes that radically transformed our understanding of the world. In 2002, we initiated a very enriching process of close collaboration with Chinese companies, which has given us a profound understanding of its business culture and technological and manufacturing methods.
IFS: What’s the current state of design in China?
ADN Design: China is now the world’s most important manufacturer of goods, and however the world’s economy evolves in the next few years, the importance of the country’s design sector will become increasingly crucial. Design education has developed spectacularly there, too: various universities in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai have seen their design courses become among the most renowned and prestigious ones in the world in a very short space of time. And Asia’s leading companies are making an intelligent, intensive use of their ability to research and of their creative resources.
In this interesting arena, our collaboration with Chinese companies has increased our capacity to adapt to highly dynamic, competitive environments far from Europe, and at a growth rate that requires that we be hugely flexible as we adapt to all the changes that occur on a daily basis.
IFS: What has your experience of the Asian market been like?
ADN Design: In all our business dealings, we never believe in monologues: instead actively listening to companies is one of our hallmarks. This means we form a strong bond with them and allows us to offer unique, complete design solutions that combine creativity, relevance and efficiency, three key qualities needed to develop business opportunities in the global arena.
In the case of the Asian market, this ability has proved particularly relevant and has led us to adapt our approach to a totally different cultural and social environment. European culture tends to impose its values on the landscape, to want to control its environment. And yet, in Chinese culture, flexibility and an ability to adapt quickly to complex, changing environments are seen as the preconditions for achieving equilibrium and harmony. Our recognition of this has given us the opportunity to rethink the criteria, actions and stages of our creative approach completely. This approach is based on people that tends to go beyond the search for solutions to concrete, resolved problems and to focus on creating more flexible visions capable of truly transforming life.
IFS: What are European design’s strengths in China and what opportunities await it there?
ADN Design: Many analysts describe life today using the acronym VUCA, meaning volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. In this challenging environment, European designers need to have a profound understanding of people’s emotions, desires and dreams.
Probably the most significant milestone in our company’s 22-year history has been the discovery of our emotional intelligence.
IFS: What are the consequences of this discovery and how does it affect the products you design?
ADN Design: For a long time, it had been assumed that we made all our decisions based only on rational considerations, without emotional ones ever playing any part. Nevertheless, today we know that reason and emotion are not only closely interrelated but that emotions are the primary source of reason. People don’t buy things but values or ideas. The reasons they favour objects are hugely varied: emotional, psychological, sociocultural and practical.
Today, our knowledge of the emotions, mental images and meanings people associate with products, services and systems is crucially important when it comes to setting up radically innovative and competitive organizations.
IFS: Are we moving increasingly towards an emotional economy?
ADN Design: Definitely. Designing is always about establishing a dialogue, appealing to empathy in order to forge strong links between objects and their users and so create high-quality experiences. Design is a mediator – based on an understanding of what people’s needs and aspirations are and of the evolution of trends in society – that proposes strategic approaches capable of giving meaning to personal experiences and creating strong emotional connections with brands.
IFS: How do you see the future of the design of these new emotional products?
ADN Design: Very recently companies which had traditionally based their approach simply on the functionality, features and practicality of their products and services have shifted their focus onto the emotional impact and pleasure consumers derive from buying, owning and using items. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, objects and systems have become far more able to communicate ideas, and now engage with people in an entirely new, expressive, metaphysical way. Objects now speak to us, and designers not only give objects forms, functions and meanings but also take a fresh new approach based on recent observations, and this will inevitably make our lives richer.