Design as a policy

Whether in its products, trade fair appearances or publications, Merten understands design as the key to success. Numerous accolades are ample proof.

Mr. Lamers, how did design come to be so important for your company?
Very early on, Merten recognised that design was an important key to the success of a product. Way back in the 1950s an industrial designer was enlisted to advise on all relevant questions, and collaboration with Ralph Lysell, a Swedish designer, was given impetus. After that, Rido Busse worked for Merten until well into the 1990s as their resident designer and consultant. Two examples of his work are the extremely successful switches "Atelier" and "OctoColor", with exchangeable coloured rings for individual adaptation to the surroundings. The principle was unique and has been copied umpteen times around the world. This gave Merten the courage to continue along that path. After all, the productive collaboration with Sir Nicholas Grimshaw's industrial design team gave rise to many successful products.

Not only Merten's products, Merten's tradeshow appearances are also a source of excellent design. What are your company's main considerations when planning for a trade fair?
At last year's Light + Building, the company caused heads to turn with a tradeshow stand by the Milan designer Martino Berghinz (Studio Urquiola + Berghinz), and presented an exhibition in Frankfurt's Museum of Applied Arts curated by Stylepark on the subject of switching. "Switch - Intuition in the Room" showed visionary studies and innovative technology including contributions by Konstantin Grcic, Jürgen Mayer H., Reed Kram, Max Ratjen, Antonia Henschel, Marc Krusin/Merten and others.
In 2006 we demonstrated just how productive collaboration with an internationally acclaimed designer like Konstantin Grcic could be for Merten: The design study for a round switch which Grcic showed in 2006 at "Switch" was met with such enthusiasm that the "round switch" will be in the shops by summer 2007.
Merten is no typical "advertising brand". Close personal contact with our customers is an important aspect of our company philosophy. And trade fairs provide an ideal framework for presenting new ideas and products in a demanding setting. Our customers appreciate the relaxed atmosphere. What can be better proof of that than the large number of clients who come to us for a friendly chat at the end an exhausting trade fair day.
The invention of the dimmer brought home to us just how difficult it is to convey the experience of intelligent building technology. Brochures, advertisements, and catalogues alone are not enough to experience the fascination of the Merten world. Not so, the trade fair appearance. Light + Building at Frankfurt offered a prime opportunity to communicate and breathe life into our objective of offering our clients "solutions for intelligent buildings". Different solutions were presented in each cube. There were cubes with solutions for office buildings, for hotels, for new homes and refurbishments. Thanks not least to Martino Berghinz who was responsible for the design, images were created that actually demonstrated Merten products in action. It was obvious that something had been set in motion and that people enjoyed trying out and experimenting with solutions. We used the medium of the trade fair stand to gather experience with good products and arouse curiosity.

What is your briefing to agencies and exhibition and trade fair contractors? How much freedom do you grant them?
The division between the creative concept and perfect implementation exists in theory alone. In practical terms it is a very, very close cooperation between all those involved from the start of the project until the trade fair opens. The most important aspects of our briefing were the solution-oriented presentation of products in the various building types (office, hotel, private sphere) and embodying our corporate design throughout our trade fair stand.
The trade fair stand must reflect the brand, the company and the people who work for the company. So it is only right that the designer is given as comprehensive a picture as possible of the company. We took our time over the briefing, which has proved to be a very good investment as the result shows.
We were completely taken by the idea of the cube. It's a stroke of genius the way real and "unreal" objects merge into one world of experience when you look into the cube mirror. And look how open and inviting the trade fair stand has become. One positive side effect of the cubes: They give rise in the centre to a "Merten marketplace" for customer advice, closing off the view to the other stands. That allows you to experience Merten 100 %.

A single aesthetic characteristic of the presentation seems to run through all areas at Merten. How do you link them up to achieve your corporate identity?
We worked out our corporate identity three years ago with MetaDesign and defined a company-wide corporate design. The topic of brand management is a top priority at Merten and is taken on board by all employees who are assisted throughout the world by our online brand manager in the use of the latest and contemporary tools and design rules. The publication "Switch" is a separate case. It enjoys the greater design freedom that the complexity of the process of design demands. However, one of the contributors, Antonia Henschel, who designed the book, has very skilfully succeeded in bringing together the different design studies of the other contributors to produce a high-quality collective work. This is not least due to the comprehensive and intensive discussions that processes and projects of this kind involve - all in the name of an homogenous corporate identity.

Last summer, Merten joined the French Schneider Electric group. How will that affect the company's image and design in the future?
This question has been put to me several times since the takeover and all I can say is: Merten is not about to give up its strong and independent brand.
Interview: Anja Wagner

m+a report Nr.1 / 2007 vom 13.02.2007
m+a report vom 13. Februar 2007