The second German Design Graduates programme, taking place this year, is a non-commercial initiative that aims to distinguish graduates of German colleges and universities each year and in doing so offer these up-and-coming designers a platform for their work, making them visible to a wide and professional audience. The exhibited work consists of thesis projects by graduates of bachelor’s, master’s and other advanced degrees in product and industrial design.

New: an award for new talent in design research

This year’s German Design Graduates initiative will see the presentation of the already familiar special awards for culture and sustainability. Complementing them will be the first-ever award for new talent in design research: the Design Research Award. The award comes with EUR 1,000 in prize money and is organised by the Institute for Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA), which was established as part of the German Design Council at the beginning of the year and is led by Stephan Ott. The IfDRA went through all the submitted work and composed a shortlist of six outstanding design projects that are situated at the intersection of theory and practice and produce exceptional results thanks to their combination as well as integration with the design process. Following this preselection, the public will now vote to decide which of the nominees should receive the award.

In this second article, we present to you three more projects from the shortlist and the up-and-coming designers behind them. If you have not yet read the first article, you can take a look at the other nominated projects here.


Project Black Liquor

Part 2: the power of collaboration

Designers have always worked with other disciplines and immersed themselves in new subjects and issues to develop new products. While the public is increasingly aware of the ability of designers to join such projects and operate at an interface with various different crafts, glean relevant findings from them and combine the findings into new products, this is not at all yet common knowledge. As a result, design continues to vie for due recognition of its own skill and for a more comprehensive understanding of design and the value of it.

The three thesis projects below are an impressive display of what collaboration across industries and occupations can mean when it comes to developing innovative problem-solving approaches. Collaboration here does not only happen in order to resolve specific questions with experts (from other disciplines) or to gain individual findings that close gaps (in knowledge), but rather also aims to transfer and convey knowledge between academic partners of equal standing.

At the same time, the nominated designers approach their work from different perspectives.

At a glance …

  • With Black Liquor, Esther Kaya Stögerer, in cooperation with product designer Jannis Kempkens, has developed sustainable and biodegradable materials from unused by-products from the paper industry.
  • SwarmLab, by Simon von Schmude, is a virtual environment that makes it possible to design and examine swarms, much like CAD applications enable the virtual creation of geometric designs.
  • Felix Rasehorn came up with Digital Twin, an applied research project on the representation and perception of brain matter in neurosurgery procedures. It aims to use the operation-planning process as an opportunity to mentally rehearse actions during surgery.

All three projects clearly show how necessary it is to integrate design skills as well as an extensive analysis of not only the subject at hand but also a further discipline previously unfamiliar to the designers. The spectrum for the latter ranges from medicine to material sciences and even physics. In addition to the fundamental subject knowledge and the findings relevant for the project, the specific communication of the respective experts and academics in these new disciplines must also always be learned in order to enable a successful dialogue in the first place.


Black Liquor: a biodegradable alternative

When designing her products in the past, Esther Kaya Stögerer often used to ask herself what materials are truly sustainable. The basis for her Black Liquor thesis project was the finding that 98% of the black-liquor by-product from German paper production (roughly 50 million tonnes per year) is currently incinerated. Black Liquor now uses the lignin in this by-product to develop biodegradable materials that provide an alternative to ecologically unsound plastics.

Translating the results that Esther Kaya Stögerer was able to gain and in future wishes to provide to the design discipline through various formats, for example through a materials library, is an important step towards releasing new findings to the public.


Simulation environment SwarmLab

SwarmLab: swarm intelligence for design

Simon von Schmude also sought to make his findings useful for other designers. When he developed a simulation environment for artificial swarms, SwarmLab, he primarily pursued the goal of transferring the potential of swarms – a technology with special qualities – to design processes. Swarms have already proven their potential as a solution to a range of multifaceted problems in nature.

Simon von Schmude therefore took on an extremely complicated topic. Not only did he transfer scientific knowledge from another field to design, but he devised an application that seeks to enable other designers to try out these new methods and profit from the creative development of new problem-solving approaches.


Digital Twin: neurosurgery at the intersection of design and medicine

This knowledge transfer also takes place in a figurative sense with Digital Twin, from the preparation and planning of surgery to the operation itself. Alongside the foundational medical knowledge of examinations and the appliances already used to portray the brain’s functional regions, Felix Rasehorn also had to acquire an understanding of the ways that surgeons think and work and incorporate them into the design.

Felix Rasehorn’s work at the intersection of design and medicine fills an essential role in the transfer and communication of knowledge. He uses his design skills to help develop new processes for complex surgical workflows. The visualisation of information and scenarios makes a significant contribution to the forward-looking use and integration of tried-and-tested technologies.


Weissensee Academy of Art Berlin

It is striking that all three students completed their design education at the Weissensee Academy of Art Berlin. The institution clearly aims to impart design competence to its students with collaboration between different disciplines. Students are expected to be able to oversee complex development work and create stimulation, with even mobility and interaction representing explicit focus areas alongside design and experimentation.

Furthermore, a major emphasis is put on interdisciplinary exchange with other subject areas, which is supported and promoted through physical proximity and dialogue in joint projects and cooperation with partners in research and practice.

Design research: today and in the future

The above is therefore entirely consistent with designer Esther Kaya Stögerer’s belief that the academy motivates students to go into research right from the start. The instruction places particular emphasis on documenting and archiving processes, unsuccessful attempts and outcomes. She herself was also constantly encouraged by her teachers to intensively examine socioecological issues and, where possible, incorporate them into her design.

Esther Kaya Stögerer also sees the future potential of design research being primarily in the initiation of innovation and revision of conventional processes. As she sees it, the issue of sustainability should be given a primary role that designers can only achieve through close collaboration with scientists, academics and industry partners.

Using design research to make problems visible

Simon von Schmude also learned to see the research element as an integral component of design. The way he sees it, no project can come about without a context – and research provides a good opportunity to better understand existing as well as potential contexts and make it possible to grasp them. Accordingly, for this designer, every design process is associated with the creation of knowledge and therefore amounts to research in and of itself.

Design research will be an indispensable factor for him in the future when it comes to increasing the visibility of problems. For these reasons, he believes that design research should in any case form a fundamental part of any innovation process.

Making progress through interdisciplinary perspectives

For designer Felix Rasehorn, the experimentation outlined above played a special role during his education. Exchanging ideas with other research disciplines was particularly relevant to his master’s project. Now, carrying out research through design is second nature to him. In doing this, he also came to the realisation that interdisciplinary research questions always involve an especially cooperative and communicative process. All disciplines involved in this process carry the responsibility of generously sharing their knowledge – in order to benefit from each other.

With this in mind, he sees design research above all as a constructive means for questioning processes and methods that will continue to exist, now and in the future, from ethical as well as environmental perspectives. Simultaneously, it is his goal to consider the subject of innovation even more conscientiously and integrate it into his work.

The projects offer an excellent foundation for the future of design as a discipline, displaying how the idea of design research can be integrated into our everyday (design) work. This is the only way to ensure focused product development in the long term that leads to innovative problem-solving approaches, with a capacity to respond to complex project structures and diverse target markets.


Public Voting: choose your favourite

The German Design Graduates website is already open and offers you the possibility to view all six projects and cast your vote for one of them. The winner of the public vote will then be announced at the German Design Graduates awards ceremony, which will form part of the exhibition opening in early October.


Further information:

German Design Graduates

Institute for Design Research and Appliance

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