For two years, Prof. Dr. Peter Zec held the highest office in the industrial design world as president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid). At the Council's general assembly in San Francisco, he handed over the presidency to his new successor Carlos Hinrichsen from Chile. Looking back on eight years of dedicated work on the Icsid executive board, including the two years as president, Zec drew positive conclusions: "It was both a very work-intensive and interesting time filled with many challenges. On a more personal note, I also learned quite a bit such as what it means to manage different cultures. The job of Icsid president also requires reticence and diplomacy in many situations, compared to the role of board members, who are more free to express their opinions. The president always has to have an eye on the overall picture and try to consider and respect all opinions and positions."
Responding to the question of what he achieved during his term, Zec mentioned the securing of the Council's financial situation and the strengthening of the network in design education and in the Arab world. Among the biggest challenges was the development of the International Design Alliance (IDA), which constitutes the project-oriented venture between Icsid and Icograda, Icsid's corollary from the communication design sector. He noted, "All of us, industrial as well as graphic designers, had to learn how to deal with one another. The opportunity for learning how to do that was given to us by the projects we developed together, such as the World Design Report, implemented by Icograda, and the World Design Capital project. With Torino as pilot project city, we found an excellent partner to give the project a real boost and to ensure that World Design Capital will venture into its next round."
As a former Icsid president, Zec enters the ranks of Icsid senators comprised of past presidents. The title "Icsid Senator" was created to ensure that the wealth of experience and knowledge of Icsid presidents remains available to the organisation. Senators form a type of "Council of the Wise", meaning that they must be consulted and give consent in all important matters. In this way they retain a major influence on the Council and the design world.
Prof. Dr. Zec was also elected, by the Icsid executive board, for a six-year term as head of the World Design Capital, thereby ensuring his continuous participation as a former president in this project.
Though emotional about leaving the office of Icsid president, Prof. Dr. Zec looks forward to being able to devote more time to red dot and the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen: "red dot is facing numerous new challenges. New locations are being set up and the association wants to become active in new sectors and go beyond organising the mere competition as such. These tasks will surely keep me busy."
Interview with Professor Dr. Peter Zec
Professor Zec, your two-year term in office as President of the international umbrella organisation of industrial designers is over. How would you sum up these two years?
It was a very busy, but also very interesting time; a time with numerous challenges. One of these challenges was the development of the International Design Alliance - all of us, industrial as well as graphic designers, first had to learn to deal with one other. However, we had the opportunity to do this in the projects which we developed together - the World Design Report, which was implemented under the overall control of Icograda, and the World Design Capital project, which we initiated during my presidency. In conclusion I can say that it was a very successful period for the association - with large projects, but also large challenges.
I have also personally learned a lot during this time, for example what it means to manage different cultures. As the chairman of a committee such as the Icsid board, you have to inevitably restrain yourself strongly in many situations. You cannot just speak your mind and argue your position like a normal board member. Instead it is always about integration, about trying to give due consideration to all views and positions. This was a special challenge - from time to time I really had to pull myself together.
In one sentence - how was it?
It was lots of work, very instructive and interesting - just great.
In one sentence - what happens next?
As far as the association is concerned, I am sure that it will have a great future, once the IDA projects that we have initiated will be developed further. Moreover, I am happy about still being involved in the World Design Capital project in a leading role.
As far as I am concerned personally, despite all melancholy I am also looking forward to having time to fully dedicate myself to the red dot and the Design Zentrum again. At red dot we are facing some new challenges, new locations are waiting, the company has to be developed further in other areas which go beyond the competition - and this will certainly require my full attention.
What did you achieve during your presidency? Were there any big changes?
I think the biggest change took place with regards to the financial position of the association. Icsid had been in a rather shaky financial position in recent years. We have now managed - not least thanks to the relocation of the Icsid Secretariat to Montreal and the resulting support from the city of Montreal, but also an overall more professional management - to enforce a stricter budget policy, thus putting the association in such a good position it has never been in before. We also managed to see the World Design Capital project off to a flying start. With Turin as the pilot project city we have found an excellent partner to push the project forward, so that we can be sure that the project will enter the next round.
Another point is that we have also further extended our network in the training sector, we have sensitised completely new regions to design, such as for example the Arab world. Thanks to an Icsid board meeting and several contacts in the Arab business world, we have managed to be present with the Icsid as a knowledge partner at the first International Design Forum in Dubai, thus creating a completely new co-operation, which will certainly bear a lot of fruit in future.
In the end, we have made the activities of the association much more transparent for its members and overall professionalised Icsid.
Icsid is celebrating its 50th anniversary - that is also 50 years of design history. Has the association been able to achieve something? Is it still in keeping with the times?
50 years of Icsid and design history show above all that the association has managed to survive for 50 years - which is in itself an achievement, because not many organisations manage that. The roots of the association lie in Europe and America and the association was of course extremely important in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s and maybe even still in the 1970s, because it strengthened the self-image of designers in a cross-national context. With the development of the industry in this area, design automatically received more significance, so that the international lobbying work in this part of the world was maybe no longer that necessary in the following decades. With the development of the Asian economy, design has more and more become the centre of interest in the Asian world and here it becomes apparent that Icsid has an enormously high status in the development of design. Icsid offers orientation and is a kind of contact partner, an organisation, which conveys authority and competence and acts as a facilitator, and which everyone likes to have at their side, when attempting to establish themselves in the international design world. This can be clearly deducted from the interest of Asian countries to organise events together with Icsid and to get endorsements. The latest example is the Gwangju Design Biennale, where I had the honour as the President of Icsid to meet the winner of the Peace Nobel Prize and former President of South Korea, Kim Dae-Jung. The interesting point was that he read a memorandum on the topic "Peace and Design", thus sacrificing half a day of his time to raise public awareness of design on Korean television - the whole event took place, as I mentioned before, in co-operation with the international organisation Icsid.
There have been many events of this kind in the 50-year history of Icsid. The association has achieved a lot and is still perfectly appropriate today, because there are still many countries and regions, which require a lot of development with regards to design, such as for example many areas in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Moreover, design development is still taking place mostly in terms of industrial and economic development, while cultural and social aspects, which play an almost equally important role, are neglected to a large extent. This means that Icsid's vision and mission to get involved particularly in the socio-cultural field are perfectly appropriate today.
For two years you held the highest office in the design world. How can you top that? What future goals do you have?
To be a little more precise: I do not believe that I will ever hold a higher office in the design sector in future, but there are of course other successes, one can aim for. red dot, for instance, can be developed further and in the field of business communication, this regards my professorship, I still have many plans. In all the projects I want to tackle next sustainability plays an important role.
These two years with Icsid, the constant travelling, the several new acquaintances, and the large network that has been created as a result, have also changed me personally again, and I can bring this to the company - and managing this successfully will be a big challenge.
Mr Zec, in your inauguration speech in Copenhagen two years ago you said that the world association was facing enormous tasks, since it has previously focused on design promotion in industrial nations, but in future has to not just act internationally but also globally. What did you mean by that and what has happened in that respect over the last two years?
It is about the fact that design should not only focus on industrial and economic development, on the profit seeking of companies and nations, but that it is important that a society develops at the same time, that design consciousness within companies must also have a social component. A company should care how its employees live - and exactly this is also a question of design.
It is important to develop a sensibility for the design of urban living environments. The fact that more and more urban living environments are being created and existing cities are constantly growing, thus attracting more and more people, poses huge challenges and can only be solved with sensible design concepts.
Moreover, we have got strongly involved in the Arab world and fought hard so that this part of the world can catch up with the international design society. By doing this, we can promote a completely different understanding of design, so that the quality of life will also be improved there with the help of design. This includes, for example, the situation in the training area - previously there has only been one university of design which women can attend, which is in Qatar. If, for instance, a new design school was founded in Dubai, to which internationally renowned teachers would be appointed, a strong degree course could be created, which would support developments in design and the society at the same time. I am convinced that there is still great potential which an association like Icsid could tap in future.
In order to advance the concerns of design you entered into a close co-operation with the Association of Graphic Designers, Icograda. Beforehand, however, you had spoken against a merger of both associations, with the hint that similar to the goal of a well-functioning choir it is not about having one strong voice, but as many voices as possible which are singing the same song. How is the joint concert developing? Does it sound like caterwauling, school choir, or opera?
The co-operation with Icograda works well, even though it has become apparent that there are considerable differences in the work culture and the understanding regarding the organisation of an association on an international scale. Icsid has, not least thanks to is closeness to the industry, a very rational organisation, while the communication designers are approaching concerns much more emotionally. This has not exactly made it any easier to make fast joint decisions and then advance them further. It is probably thanks to the good relationship between the President of Icograda, Jacques Lange, and me that we managed to also overcome what first appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, and reach a consensus. This has shown that it is possible to spur on a joint alliance, but also how important it is to keep the separate identities of the institutions. Therefore I am still against the idea of turning the IDA into a single, higher-level association, under which all other associations can be subsumed. My credo has been and still is to "Sing the joint song together with more voices", because then we will most likely also overcome the initial problems. I believe in this development and hope that one day we will manage to perform a design opera.
You initiated the creation of the World Design Capital project. In the coming year, Turin will be the first city in the world celebrating this title. What can we expect in 2008?
Turin has emerged as a very good pilot project. The project is directly overseen by the mayor, who is highly involved in advancing and supporting it. The celebrations about the title of the World Design Capital will start with a large party on New Year's Eve and over the whole year different events with a variety of subjects will be held. There will be, among others, a large architectural congress, expecting thousands of architects. Moreover, there will be several exhibitions and the complete event will be supported by a worldwide PR campaign. Not only does Turin take this title seriously, but it also makes it its very own concern and will thus set high standards right at the beginning of the project.
Why is the title "World Design Capital" so interesting for cities?
Against the background of cities presently facing immense structural changes, urbanity is playing an increasingly important role. Many cities are the result of industrialisation; the decline of the latter in some parts of the world will obviously change the structure of cities. This in turn means that cities need to successfully manage to give themselves a new profile, a new future, in order to retain existing creative potential. Furthermore, they need to attract people who may have not lived there previously. In the creation of attractive living environments design of course plays a major role. In addition to that, cities are in immediate competition with one another, and if one can stand out from its competitors thanks to a special distinction then this can be of advantage. The title "World Design Capital" is such a unique distinction. For the duration of one year the city will be the focus of the design world, thus receiving great visibility. I believe that this competition for the title of the World Design Capital will attract a huge number of applicants in future.
How will you be involved in Icsid in future?
I will continue my involvement with Icsid as a senator in future, because the extensive experience I have gathered as president of the association as well as in my six years as member of the managing committee beforehand must not just be withdrawn from the association; it needs to be available. Therefore I have assured our Secretary General Dilki De Silva of my future co-operation. I am particularly happy that the board has elected me for another six years as the person in charge of the World Design Capital so that I can continue to actively contribute to the further development of this project.
Over the last two years you have travelled a lot and have gotten to know many different people. Is there an experience or a meeting with a particular person which has impressed you in particular?
I was particularly impressed when I met the former Korean Leader of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-Jung. Being face to face with a Nobel Peace Prize winner, talking to him and having a meal together was an amazing experience. A companion of this man reminded me of the life story of Kim Dae-Jung, an 87-year-old, who had already fought for peace and freedom as a young man, and for democracy in Korea, and as a result was sent to prison and sentenced to death; who had only stayed alive thanks to American intervention, who was in American exile for three years and continued his fight once he had returned to Korea; who was then kidnapped from his hotel room in Tokyo when travelling overseas and returned to Korea after being freed in a spectacular campaign and finally became president of this country and launched a new policy of peace with North Korea - and then this man stands up and talks off the cuff for 20 minutes without notes in front of the TV cameras about peace and design, about the relationship of North Korea and South Korea - these are experiences and encounters that leave a lasting impression.