Dina Gallo is one of the managers who have a leading role in the design of capital goods. We spoke with the Trumpf design manager about design trends, brand management and the challenges of her job.
Interview by Gerrit Terstiege.
Ms Gallo, what was the situation you encountered when you began at Trumpf in 2012? Was there already a consistent identity in the company’s machine design?
No, that did not exist yet. Different divisions organised and controlled their designs themselves. There was no common bond that linked all the technologies.
Did you have to fight to make things consistent or did the company have open ears for this approach?
While design has always had a major role at Trumpf, consistency in product design was a new topic. At the start I definitely had to explain why I thought it was useful and what it would do for us if there were one design idea for all technologies. However, the executives naturally understood that Trumpf could achieve a strong identity through consistent design and that is exactly what they wanted. This belief was not as widespread as it is now just over ten years ago.
How much did your professor at the Stuttgart State Academy, Richard Sapper, influence your attitude as a designer?
A lot. He always looked for good, new solutions that made a product better. This approach also often led to the development of a new design. For Sappler, it was always about making something better, he tinkered around in the best sense of the term. His teaching was a mixture of inventing and designing.
To my knowledge, Richard Sapper has not designed any capital goods. What do you think are the fundamental differences between designing consumer goods and designing the means of production?
I do not know at all if there really is such a fundamental difference. At the end of the day it is always about making the design in such a way that it can be used well. The aesthetic impression should support the function whilst simultaneously strengthening the brand image. This applies to all products in fact.
Do you see anything like trends in capital good design?
I sometimes get the feeling that products are overdesigned. This can definitely lead to a lack of clarity. However, there are many companies that are working on their brand identity and clearly see design as an essential element of it. Many companies no longer doubt that the design of capital goods can raise the visibility of products and therefore strongly influence their brand’s perception. It is definitely a recognisable trend.
“I sometimes get the feeling that products are overdesigned.“
— Dina Gallo
When dealing with capital goods, the time frames are completely different from consumer goods. Machines often stay in use for decades, so the design needs to be something that preserves this longevity. Short-lived trends cannot be used as a frame of reference in any case. Have you effectively defined something of a brand image for Trumpf?
I would not put it like that, I have not defined a brand image. Rather, I defined criteria for myself for what the design should be like so that it has this longevity while also emanating aspects such as robustness and precision, details like these that suit the brand as I see it. These attributes are what I have defined for the development of the design language.
Do you believe that the Trumpf brand identity and product design are in harmony today?
Yes, I believe they are. However, a company like this has many touchpoints and complex structures, of course, which means my work is always ongoing. For example, with new channels that are created, new technologies that need to be served – and they then go on to appear as designed products.
What are the particular challenges of your job?
The variety. Trumpf develops many different technologies and each one of them has special requirements. It is a constant challenge to take stock of everything and understand it at least deeply enough that I can come up with a useful design.
That means your work starts during the conception stage. Do you sit with the engineers and product developers right from the start?
Yes, that is actually how I prefer it – being able to join in at an early stage. Doing this lets me understand the requirements in the best way possible and also achieve the best in the design.
What role do digital design tools have for you? Do you design directly in different design programs or do you still occasionally pick up a lead pencil when you start out?
Both. I still often use a pencil, which is fast and easy for the first few ideas. I can use it to explore the initial options in the starting conversations with my development colleagues. We also use various different design programs as the project progresses.
How strongly is design determined by digitisation or automation? Do you also look after the machines’ interface design, for example?
There is barely any product left in production that does not have software. I think a good example is our “Track & Trace” indoor localisation system. The task for it was to conceive the hardware and software together so that everything matched each other in terms of technology and design. The physical product and associated software, with simple user guidance, together form a system that needs to be designed consistently to ensure good usability.
As a designer, how do you convey that a machine or product like Track & Trace is innovative? How do you translate this aspect formally?
From the outside, you do not necessarily see all the intelligence that is hidden inside. I do not really think that it is important to make every technical feature visible. Rather, it is more important to convey the right overall impression. Good manufacturing technology must be associated with contemporary design, and these are definitely excellent ingredients for successful design that gives an innovative product an appropriate appearance.
That also means you translate it into a cool, clean-lined product design, including by using the colours white and blue.
Yes, that is the common bond. The various products form one family, can be added together to make a system and connected with each other. This is a message that the design is intended to convey.
If the priority is on this consistency and branded design for each product, would you not sometimes prefer to have more creative freedom as a designer? It sounds like you have to stick to your own rules quite strictly.
Yes, that is true. On the other hand, though, each product is very different in the end. There are so many technical details that emerge and ultimately allow an entirely new appearance. While this maintains the common bond, each product ends up looking completely different and independent when viewed separately at the end of the day.
Individual solutions need to be found for many details.
Yes, exactly. And that is also what makes my work exciting – the many details that exist. Doing them well is what makes a successful product in the long run. There is also something tricky about this process. Finding the right design solution in each case is truly fun, as is the constant dialogue with engineers and working together for something big in many small steps. Digesting all these individual details properly and using this information to give a cohesive appearance to the final, overall product – it definitely is a fantastic task.
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