#campustour Interview: Florian Petri, Professor for Industrial Design, Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften München

It is arguably just us, but we firmly believe that there are ever more design students studying ever more design degrees in ever more design schools, which (potentially) means ever more designers. In itself no bad thing: assuming that is that what they learn is relevant for the ever evolving nature of not only the design profession, but the society they will/should serve.

To better gauge the current situation of design education in Europe we embarked in 2017 on our #campustour, an ongoing exercise which involves not only visiting design schools but for all speaking to some of those responsible for teaching the coming generation of designers.

Among them Professor Florian Petri from the Department of Design at the Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften München.

Florian Petri, Professor for Industrial Design Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften München

Florian Petri, Professor for Industrial Design Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften München

A graduate of the Design Department at the Hochschule Darmstadt, Florian Petri established his own design studio, FPID, in 2002 and over the intervening years has worked on a wide range of industrial, product and furniture design projects for a roster of international clients, including the development of the IdeaPad notebook collection with and for Lenovo and cooperating with Berlin based Studio 7.5 on the development of the Mirra and Setu office chairs for Herman Miller.

In 2005 Florian Petri took up a teaching position at the Universität der Küntse, UdK, Berlin before in 2010 being appointed Professor for Industrial Design at the Hochschule München.

As part of our 2017 #campustour we met up with Florian Petri to discuss the Design Faculty at the Hochschule München and contemporary design education in general, but began, as ever, by asking what led him to follow a career in design…….

Florian Petri: I’ve always been fascinated by well made, functional, objects of all types, and from an early age I wanted to contribute to the forming, the shaping, of the world which surrounds us. I was accepted to study architecture in Cologne, but then decided to also take the Industrial Design entrance exam at the Hochschule Darmstadt, largely because in addition to my fascination for buildings and spaces, I was also very interested in everyday objects. I was accepted to Darmstadt, took up the offer and that, thankfully, has proved to be the correct decision.

smow Blog: And was the decision for design over architecture based on the differing scales or….?

Florian Petri: It wasn’t such a fundamental decision, more an inner feeling, and for me there are a lot of similarities between architecture and industrial design, the processes and tools are essentially very similar: the context is explored, human needs charted, the general and technical possibilities explored, and then everything is brought together.

smow Blog: You’re first teaching post was 2005 at the UdK Berlin, how did that come about and what, for you, was the motivation?

Florian Petri: After graduating I established my own studio and freelanced, including, for example, with Studio 7.5 in Berlin. At that time two teaching positions were available at the UdK, one teaching the Basics of Design, the other Technology, Prof Burkhard Schmitz, one of the co-founders of Studio 7.5, asked me if I would be interested, which I was, not least because I was curious about the realities of working with students. And through that post I not only discovered a passion for working with students but also came to appreciate having a framework in which to deal fundamentally with design issues, to able to regularly question what exactly design can be, what it should be and where the discipline could go and could take us, which are the type of questions there is simply never enough time for in the day to day life of a professional designer.

smow Blog: And what was then impetus/motivation for the move to München?

Florian Petri: I had been working for several years on the development of notebooks in cooperation with Lenovo’s Innovation Design Centre, a cooperation which included spending a year on-site in China, but the passion for the work with the students had firmly established itself with me, and was something I wanted to deepen. A Professorship for Industrial Design was offered by the Hochschule München, one which passed to my field of activity, the Hochschule München is a very large institution with a very good reputation, but more importantly for me, at that time the Design Faculty was in a state of renewal, lots of new Professors were being appointed, new departments established and it was clear to me that that development was going to continue, that something interesting was happening here, and I wanted to be part of that development.

smow Blog: In terms of the studies here in Munich is that a pure project based course or…..?

Florian Petri: Every lecturer is responsible for his or her area of expertise, I teach Technical Industrial Design, which is primarily concerned with construction, manufacturing processes, materials, prototype and model making; in addition every semester each member of the teaching staff organises a wide-ranging project, and there we are completely free in terms of content and direction. Whereby for us it is important that the projects have a social relevance, so consider, for example future human needs, social developments, the changing nature of work and also the relevance in context of the students’ future working environment, the future of design, the question where design is going, such themes are discussed and explored, we want to tackle difficult subjects!

smow Blog: And are the projects generally cooperations and if so with external partners, or…..?

Florian Petri: Not only cooperations, but the majority are because the nature of working in cooperation is so relevant, so much so that the projects increasingly develop naturally as cooperations, in that one finds oneself automatically dealing with several areas of specialisation, these days there is no alternative. And not only external cooperations but also internal, for example, this past semester I ran the project Health and Technology in cooperation with the Department of Applied Social Sciences, which was half Nursing Studies students and half Design students, which meant the students from the different disciplines had to learn to cooperate. The majority of the projects however are cooperations with external partners, and projects of all types, for example, I have had the furniture project for the Bellevue Refugee Project here in Munich, but also with BMW looking at urban planning in context of autonomous vehicles, or one with the Munich Fishing Association and Munich City Council looking at improving the coexistence of various groups of users of the city’s Isar River.

smow Blog: Which doesn’t sound like a classic Technical Industrial Design theme………?

Florian Petri: No, and that for me is one of the good things about the Hochschule, that I am free to organise projects I consider interesting and relevant. In the summer it very quickly gets very, very busy on the Isar, on a beautiful day everyone wants to go there, and that, inevitably, leads to problems and conflicts between different groups who are going for differing reasons, and so we were asked to develop ideas which allowed for a better coexistence between these groups. At first the students just looked blankly at me, but when I explained that it is about problem solving, if in an area of activity that may not normally be stamped as design, but that as designers we must have the competence to contribute to such considerations, to improve situations, then they were very open for it, and we developed for example, a new litter bin concept, a new signage system, and ultimately it was one of our better projects. And such projects are very valuable because through them the students realise that outside of this normal design cosmos, there is a lot more to discovered. And so for me it is irrelevant if we develop litter bins for Munich, chairs for a cafe or vehicles for a car manufacturer, it is all equally as relevant and important.

smow Blog: And a situation which neatly underscores the changing nature of the design profession, but must, should, design education change as the nature of the design profession changes?

Florian Petri: As with the whole discipline, the teaching of design is constantly changing, albeit more through evolution than revolution. Naturally our graduates must continue to be specialists in numerous, very specific, design areas; however what is becoming increasingly important is to train generalists, not least because after graduating our students have to find their way in a wide variety of constantly evolving fields of activity, you have to be able to work interdisciplinary with all the challenges that can bring. It isn’t, for example, always so easy when a computer scientist and a designer need to cooperate, or a sociologist and a designer, but they must be able to cooperate and students must learn how best to bring in their capabilities, to contribute to projects from the very beginning, and that is what we try to achieve, for all through organising complex interdisciplinary semester projects.

smow Blog: In which context, how do you seen your role in the process, simply to teach the students, or…..

Florian Petri: Aside from the classic teaching a very important part of my job is an advisor and guide. For design students their studies are increasingly about gaining experience, and this happens above all in the context of the extensive semester projects and students need several big projects where they come into contact with a range of themes and working methods, and also differing positions on and opinions about design. Whereby ultimately it is up to every student to decide what is important, what is relevant, they must try things out themselves, must make mistakes and then try again. And so I have to guide, advise and accompany. In addition, it is important to get to know the students very well, they are individuals with different talents and it is important to recognise and promote them, and that takes time.

smow Blog: Changing tact slightly, viewing the recent annual exhibition, there was no ignoring the large number of vehicle design projects, and you yourself have worked on projects involving autonomous vehicles, are autonomous vehicles inevitable? And for all are they a positive development?

Florian Petri: As so often in design, new developments will never completely replace existing ones, but rather complement them, allowing new, enhanced possibilities. Autonomous vehicles will not completely replace our conventional vehicles, but they will become part of the reality of our everyday lives, where I am convinced that they can help us to solve a whole host of problems. Not least, they can help us develop individual solutions for the different requirements in different areas of our lives, there are, for example, big differences in mobility needs when comparing rural areas with urban space. Autonomous driving can be very useful when travelling on long journeys, when transporting goods by road, but also in terms of mobility in our narrow inner cities, while there will also potentially be niche solutions for very specific requirements we have not yet fully considered. Autonomous driving will definitely enrich our lives.

smow Blog: And briefly to end, if you had one piece of advice for a new graduate?

Florian Petri: Design is a constantly evolving and increasingly complex discipline. Design is never quick and easy and it takes great effort to successfully realise a project, consequently it is important to find an area within the discipline that fascinates you and in which you can and want to contribute 100 percent. Due to the increasing diversity in the discipline it can however take a while for a graduates to find the right area, therefore I would recommend to quickly start this process of searching and trying out, to work in different areas with different people and to get to know different ways of working, and thereby slowly but surely develop your own personal understanding of design.

Full details on the Department of Design at the Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften München can be found at www.design.hm.edu

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