Nowadays the word “design” is on everyone’s lips. But what sets truly perfect design apart from just good design? Good design often means it’s in fashion, so it is not built to last. But “good” is not good enough for Christoph Behling, designer of luxury watches, solar-powered boats and Geberit products.
A design product must be absolutely perfect. It has to be durable and appealing over its entire life cycle. No sooner said than done. When designing all Geberit products – from shower toilets and actuator plates to solutions in the Geberit ONE product range – Christoph Behling has done just that. Below, he tells us all about life as a designer.
Mr Behling, what does your work as a designer involve?
It’s my job to design products so that they stand the test of time over their entire life cycle. As part of that, it’s important to strike a balance between something tried and tested, and something brand new. If I don’t manage to do that, I feel like I have failed and done a bad job. So I don’t just see myself as a designer who sticks rigidly to turning their vision into reality – I feel much more like a link in the chain of the development process. I don’t force my own signature look on everything; instead, I try to carve out what was always there, hidden under the surface. That’s why it’s so important for me to work closely with my customers.
As head designer at TAG Heuer, you design luxury watches, but you also count Geberit, manufacturer of sanitary products, among your long-standing customers. Do these two really go together?
I design premium Swiss watches for TAG Heuer and premium Swiss WCs for Geberit, so they are both linked by their quest for perfection – a fundamental philosophy in Switzerland. It’s virtually treason to manufacture a product of inferior quality there!
What’s it like working with Geberit?
Geberit is one of the largest manufacturers of sanitary products in the world. At the same time, I have seen for myself that this company is deeply modest. Perfection, durability, quality without compromise and innovation are extremely important to Geberit. That’s why it still guarantees availability of spare parts for 10 or 20 years after purchase, which is something almost no other company does. This company is a partner with a passion for detail – a characteristic I can certainly relate to. Designing products for Geberit means that you don’t have to follow short-lived trends. Many products are truly excellent in terms of how environmentally friendly they are.
You yourself also go out of your way to champion sustainable products. But as a designer, you are constantly having to come up with new products. How does this affect your design process?
For me as a designer, it means that I want to get the best out of a product in order to meet this demand for both quality and sustainability. Design must never be fashionable. It has to be timeless. Our problem nowadays is that most products are thrown away because they quickly start to look outdated. But it would be a crime to design toilets that go out of fashion after five years and then have to be ripped from the wall because people no longer like them.
One of the products you have designed for Geberit is the AquaClean Mera shower toilet. What does this product mean to you?
Ten years ago, I was renovating my house in London and I wanted to install a shower toilet, but my wife was dead set against it because she thought they looked ugly. The problem with shower toilets in the past was that they worked brilliantly but they all looked like medical devices. When Geberit approached me five years ago to ask whether I would design not just a shower toilet, but the best toilet in the world, I was delighted.
So you have been swayed by the advantages of cleaning with water?
Cleaning with water is just better in every way. Cleaning with paper is a very silly idea – I wouldn’t clean myself after going mountain biking just with paper. Water is much more pleasant, more hygienic and more sustainable. I am convinced that anyone who uses a shower toilet for a few weeks will never want to go back to using paper – they just won’t feel clean any more. It’s like leaving the house in the morning when you know you need a shower.
Shower toilets are very popular in Asia. Do you think shower toilets will also catch on in Europe?
Virtually all the top hotels in London that I know have installed shower toilets in their rooms over the last three years. And the same is happening all over Europe at the moment, because everyone wants to cater to tourists from Asia who expect the same standards of hygiene that they have back home. Japanese airlines have even installed shower toilets in their aeroplanes. In the next five years, the shower toilet is going become the standard in most five-star hotels. So for me, it’s not a question of whether 50 percent of all European households are going to own shower toilets; it’s merely a question of when. I think that it will take less than 20 years to reach this figure.
Which trends do you think will have an impact on bathroom design?
The bathroom is the room in the house that is going to change the most over the next few years. The bathroom has a lot to catch up on, particularly when it comes to technical innovation. New products have always been developed for other rooms in the house, like the kitchen. You name it – dishwashers, microwaves, induction hobs – they’ve all made kitchen tasks and everyday life easier. I think it’s appalling that there have been so few new patents for bathroom products up to now. I am convinced that products like Geberit AquaClean shower toilets will kick-start development in this area and start new trends because innovative functions such as the shower nozzle, warm air dryer, odour extraction unit and WC seat ring heating make your hygiene routine easier. Shower toilets have what it takes to make a sea change in the bathroom!
Born in Geneva in Switzerland and raised in Germany, Christoph Behling studied industrial design at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design under Richard Sapper. He began developing solar-powered boats while still in Stuttgart and later made a name for himself as a designer of sustainable products. He founded the London-based Christoph Behling Design Studio in 2004 and SolarLab Research & Design in 2006. In 2004, he began working as head designer at Swiss watch specialist TAG Heuer.
He has also been designing products for Geberit since 2006. Nowadays, Behling is one of the most prestigious industrial designers in Europe. He has won international prizes for his work on multiple occasions.