In A+D we talk a big game about pushing boundaries. But, is there a ‘right’ way to push the boundary? What’s the secret to ongoing innovation?
May 9th, 2017
Knowing when and where to push the boundaries is one of the hallmarks of successful design. In saying that, Gaggenau, now entering their 334th year and as the oldest kitchen appliances company in the world, might be considered to be somewhat of a gold-standard. However, what does pushing the boundary really mean, and how can it be understood across centuries of vast technological development? Can one push the boundary for the sake of boundary-pushing alone and still be considered constructive?
In truth, innovation for innovation’s sake is rarely conducive for success. The term ‘innovative’ wasn’t even given as a compliment up until 1939 or so. However, with our current understanding of the term, the best cases of innovation happen as a result of a shifting context such as new and evolving demands, or reconsidered values. Being able to recognise those changes and adapt is what defines successfully pushing boundaries.
Gaggenau was originally set up as an ironworks in a small German village of the same name in 1683, with founder Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden hoping to bring new economy to the area. Increased industrialisation throughout the 17th century saw the company expand in to the manufacture of agricultural machinery and tools before seguing into the cooking sector; the result of a burgeoning middle class requiring better cooking appliances in the domestic sphere and Gaggenau’s winning recipe for robust oven enamel.
This period saw Gaggenau become the worldwide leading luxury brand for home appliances as crowned/named by Wirtschaftswoche (the most renowned weekly business magazine in Germany).
How? By playing an integral role in rebuilding the new concept of ‘home’ and ‘domesticity’ in the 20th century. For, as Graham Crow says in The Post-war Development of the Modern Domestic Ideal “It is in this period that the modern domestic ideal of an affluent nuclear family living in a place of their own and enjoying the benefits of leisurely home life took shape.”
With Gaggenau being an early innovator in the electricity space, they were able to capitalise on this and play a significant role in what that new domestic ideal looked like. In 1948, at a time when coal and natural gas were in short supply, the company manufactured the first electric ovens with its Favorit and Futura models appearing on the market. Not long after, Georg von Blanquet took the helm at Gaggenau and the world’s first built-in appliances appeared – an innovation that propelled the brand further onto the global stage.
Today, as the world and its cuisines are drawn ever closer with faster travel and the Internet, Gaggenau continues to question how kitchen appliances can push onwards by developing appliances outside of their traditional contexts: now you can have the best in German engineering to create masterpieces of, say, Japanese gastronomy all in the comfort of your Australian home.
However, innovation is a narrow line to walk. Tread too far to either side and you risk alienating your base, or simply being forgotten. Despite that, Gaggenau has embraced the avant-garde as a design philosophy in order to lay a resilient path for ongoing innovation. In doing so, they have come to be the most widely distributed appliance brand in the world, pairing centuries of experience with a willingness to embrace technological changes as they have come (and even developing some of them on their own, such as in the case of their highly valued enamel recipe).
Their 400 Series built-in ovens expand on the developments made over the course of Gaggenau’s long history, namely their token blue enamel, which was initially developed in the 1880s, and the advent of built-in appliances in 1956. Paired with an understanding of the effect that the handle-free oven has upon the kitchen – increasingly being recognised as the centre of the home – and the consistent use of high-quality materials, the 400 Series has been built to stand the test of time in terms of both durability and design aesthetic.
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London-based Woods Bagot CEO and Indesign Luminary Nik Karalis is still that curious boy from South Australia – always looking to qualify his understanding of design’s purpose and intent, and ultimately, search for its meaning in the most unlikely of places.