“The beautiful aspect goes without saying. But these days design is a must, and it involves far more than just the external appearance.”
Hansgrohe is a leading innovator in the sanitation industry. Around 30 percent of its annual turnover is generated by new products that are no more than three years old. This is called a “well-balanced vitality index”. To achieve this, the Black Forest company needs plenty of good ideas and creative minds. One of these creative minds is Jan Heisterhagen. In the interview, the Vice President Product Management at Hansgrohe SE explains how design concepts, which are shaping the future of the bathroom on a global scale, are developed. And this is achieved regardless of the age of the customer and without differentiating between the sick and the healthy.
Mr Heisterhagen – where do you actually get your inspiration and innovative ideas for new Hansgrohe products or technologies?
Jan Heisterhagen: These days, there are many different creativity techniques and sources of inspiration. To decide which of these has the potential to make a big splash, and at the same time fits in with the brand, is an intensive “kneading process”. At least, that's what we call it at Hansgrohe. Here, good innovations are the result of team work, continuous processing and a passion for creating a superior product. We develop ideas in strategy workshops and design meetings, which are made up of interdisciplinary members. They are composed of employees, external creative minds, design engineers, product managers and even sales people. All of them are professionals, who are well-informed about a lot of divisions and product fields besides the sanitation industry. Incidentally, this expertise has resulted in us having an unusually low flop quota. But sometimes, if we are truly convinced by an idea we implement it based on a gut reaction, without consulting anyone. And sometimes we just get in the shower for a brainstorming session.
Really? In the shower?
J.H.: Yes. It's one thing to stand at your workbench or to discuss the shower of the future wearing your formal attire. But it's quite another matter to experience new prototypes or jet types “in person” in our Showerworld or ShowerLab and then go on to develop them further. Perhaps that's where we differ from other sectors. Our customers are undressed. People don't wear any clothes in the bath, nor do they wear spectacles in the shower. The interaction between person and product is particularly important. No only do we need to take care of the design, we also have to ensure that showers or thermostats are comfortable against the skin, do not get too hot and are free of any sharp edges. They have to be convenient for all and sundry to operate, and work properly on a day-to-day basis.
Has Hansgrohe's design philosophy changed over time?
J.H.: The fact that our products are attractive goes without saying. Hansgrohe has been a pioneer of design in the sanitation industry since the 1970s. This has helped us to stand out from our competitors. But these days design is an absolute must, and it involves far more than just the external appearance. In reality, design is a combination of appearance, function, material, operation and experience. Nowadays we talk about design quality. Consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive with respect to product design, and not just when they are choosing a car. All of our competitors have come to realise this. These days we are focusing far more on developing new products by fitting “the product to the person” rather than the person to the product.
What does that mean?
J.H.: We are looking for conclusive benefits, greater convenience, real innovation. “Me-too” products are not a problem for us; we are aiming to set new standards. As Product Manager, I'm constantly addressing the issue of what the target group wants and needs. Ultimately the fish, not the angler, needs to love the taste of the worm! These days we are also focusing more on the international markets. We only develop products that function on a global scale, that are timeless and fit in with the sense of style of global markets.