Design is All About Friendship

CMEF 2015

Somewhat lost in thought, I sit here this afternoon at our stand at the CMEF, a huge health fair in Shanghai. In the meantime Quan, our general manager of the Shanghai office, carries on tirelessly with 4 groups of Chinese visitors, while the few interested “European-looking” visitors pick me out (as I personally lack a knowledge of Chinese).

In the evenings we drank a lot of beer and ate well, often philosophizing about design. Yesterday I remembered this, and was inspired to write this story. Looking back on more than 25 years of professional work as a designer – what were actually the decisive factors behind the success of cooperation?


For the design professional, design is a service one makes FOR a customer. As a design professional, if I work for a client, I also work WITH them. It seems to me today that it takes at least two people who get along well to create something great together. This pairing comes in a variety of forms, often referred to as the relationship between entrepreneurs and designers – and if you further interpret “entrepreneurs,” you include other leaders in the company.

The two world-famous Steves know it, and Vosz and Jobs apparently joined in an extremely productive friendship, maybe even a love-hate relationship, fueled by their conflicting personalities.

While friendship may be considered inappropriately personal, it is simple: it allows plans to be made, mutual trust, forgiveness, and support to meet objectives together. Of course, it isn’t about friendship as an end in itself, but to achieve a goal. When roped together, the mountain can be climbed higher.


Design partnership


It Does Not Work Without Trust.

Business is often seen as cold and calculating, but if you look at successful examples, then one rarely finds people who stop at nothing – even when they have yet to see wealth. Rather, I see business as a game or sport, in which you have to train every day to be better. Economic success serves as an objective benchmark, but played with partners and friends.


Where Does Good Design Come From?

Very rarely does an individual come up with something groundbreaking, in which that thing alone leads to success. The hurdles and barriers that pile up along the way to a complete product are too high to tackle alone. More often, good design is produced from the relationship between two people who commit themselves to a common goal from start to finish. Complementary skills and points of view are very important and increase the chances of success, while fostering mutual respect.


You look for the right allies and set off on an adventure. Along the way friendships are made that last a project or even a lifetime. I like to think back to those I have previously climbed with in my career. Every single one is unique. It is hard to describe why great results were achieved with Paul and Thomas, when in any other configuration the project may have gone downhill.

I could proudly cite dozens of examples. But to single out just a few would be unfair to other friends – and fairness is a key principle of friendship. I think my friends Paul, Ralf, Matthias, Christian, Hans, Rolf, Gerhard, Otmar, Michael, Marc, Peter, Franz-Josef, Igor, Manfred, Oliver, Volker, Thomas, Andy, Raymond, Helena, Quan and many others are remarkable. (Notably few women here – though I think this could always change …)

Opposite of  “friendship” as a guiding principle of a successful design development, are other models of collaboration between designers and clients: for example, Author design or design as a service.


Author Design

Again, lifelong friendships can be created between the compelling designer and the entrepreneur. World-famous designers team up with well-known brands to create some of the most significant case milestones in design history. Although the partnership is taking place on equal terms, the “author” designer may receive too much attention- because the design star is passed around like a diva, and is promoted in the media. The complementary output of the entrepreneur is often excluded from consideration and from the applause.


Design as a Service

Even when it comes design is presented as a service, in most cases, the human element still plays a significant role. Processes can bring a certain level of order to design projects, but in recent years the process too was moved to the foreground by quality assurance and the certification requirements. One has the impression that you just need a good plan and things go. Far from it, people are not interchangeable- and the design team is the same. A  good mix is ​​what counts, and should be carefully put together.

So, friends: seeking friendship will work out time and time again (at least, in design). Sympathy and confidence may not be present right from the beginning, particularly when coping with crises. However, the forgiveness of slip-ups and joint travel deepens the friendship. Life doesn’t have to stop, and can continue even when some pieces break away.



Such is life!

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Markus writes about design- and innovation management, creativity methods, medical design and intercultural branding. More about...

Originally written by Markus Wild, 02. June 2015. Last updated 10. March 2019


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