Fly, drive, play

A guest article by design and technology journalist Armin Scharf

Company | Design | Products | | | | |

RECARO is strong – as a brand, as a company and as a technology driver. There are several business areas behind the brand, united under the umbrella of a holding company. And product design – functional, innovative and emotional all at the same time – plays a crucial role.

RECARO actually epitomizes sitting. Cars, planes, the world of gaming – the RECARO brand is present in them all. And the brand’s reputation? Positive across the board. When baby boomers were lowering their growling compact cars all those decades ago, sporty bucket seats were a must – preferably those from RECARO, of course, which were already considered the best and coolest even then.

A good seat is an ergonomic seat

The same is still true today – for racing seats, child seats and every bit as much for stadium seats, where VIPs and players can cheer their team on in comfort regardless of whether the football match ends in victory or defeat. You’re just as likely to encounter RECARO 10 kilometers above ground level as at zero elevation, where gamers pursue their fast-paced passion on a specially developed seat. The RECARO brand is broader-based and more differentiated than you might first think. “Everything we do revolves around ergonomic seating,” says Hartmut Schürg, Chief Brand & Design Officer RECARO Holding. “That’s the core the RECARO brand can be expanded around.” A core shaped by premium design and premium quality.

The relevance of design

Design is in fact enshrined at the executive level of the RECARO Holding – in the person of Hartmut Schürg, who previously spent 16 years in the aircraft seating division, initially as an industrial designer and later as Head of Development. That makes RECARO one of the few companies where design is the subject of discussion at the very top levels of the hierarchy. So is Hartmut Schürg the mastermind that all RECARO designers defer to? Not really: “We make sure the design is in step and that there’s an open exchange of ideas between the different business areas.” And that the consistently high design quality, the crucial “brand substance”, is upheld. Indeed, RECARO is presented with design awards on a regular basis, thanks among other things to the interaction between the disciplines involved. “RECARO,” explains Schürg, “is the only aircraft seating manufacturer whose brand enjoys broad public awareness and whose logo is consistently visible on the seats.”

Part of the RECARO design team (from left to right): Frank Beermann, Director Industrial Design RECARO Automotive Seating, Djunianto Ko, Head of Industrial Design RECARO Holding, Hartmut Schürg, Chief Brand & Design Officer RECARO Holding, Christine Bauer, former Head of Industrial Design RECARO Child Safety, Oliver Forgatsch, Head of Ergonomics, Design & Prototyping RECARO Aircraft Seating.

Guideline for design diversity

The principles for the RECARO industrial design are laid out in a special guideline. The design essentials it specifies provide guidance on functionality, ergonomics, and aesthetics. “It’s all about providing guideposts for the design work, not about defining things like the radius of curvature,” says designer Djunianto Ko. “The guideline enables us to share our mindset with new members of staff. It describes what our design should feel like.” Oliver Forgatsch adds: “At the end of the day, we have to end up with a RECARO product that satisfies our claim to Ingenious Design.” Oliver Forgatsch is Head of Ergonomics, Design & Prototyping for RECARO Aircraft Seating, while Djunianto Ko is Head of Industrial Design for the RECARO Holding. He too comes from the aircraft seating division and now works for the individual business areas on a project basis. That’s how he came to design the new Gaming Seat – as a kind of temporary designer for the recently founded gaming division. That’s all part of the plan: “The closeness between the Holding and the individual business areas is deliberate,” says Ko.

Process optimization makes for flexibility

“The RECARO Holding is important for overarching issues,” says Hartmut Schürg, referring to meetings that are held with all the brand’s designers, i.e. including those of the licensees RECARO Automotive Seating and RECARO Kids. The meetings are used for a joint brand update and as an opportunity to swap experiences. According to Hartmut Schürg, the challenge lies in not restricting the individual business areas’ independence while nevertheless establishing a unifying level. “It’s about achieving maximum flexibility combined with maximum quality.” And what about agility, the mantra of every modern-day enterprise? The leanly structured Holding is beneficial in that respect too, because it provides coordination and supports and fuels new developments. “Being agile is nothing new for us; we’ve always had to respond to change quickly,” says Oliver Forgatsch. “You can’t just deliver an aircraft seat later than agreed, for instance, because the timeframe is fixed.” Design thinking has long been common practice at RECARO too, he says, it’s just that it’s never been called that. Forgatsch, an old hand who’s been in the aircraft seating division since 2001, is evidently no great fan of the buzzwords associated with design, but he does set great store by actionable results. “We’ve spent years developing, scrutinizing and refining our processes right down to the last detail. That involved aspects that aren’t really related to design as well – like capacity planning, for instance.” But: “The development and production timetable is the dominant factor for all processes,” says Forgatsch. Hartmut Schürg adds: “That’s why it’s so important to establish design processes as a natural part of the corporate processes. That way, design can have an impact at all levels.”

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