A Q and A with Reinhard Renner

Not many people can say that they’ve seen a company start from humble beginnings in a local garage and then grow to over 100 employees with worldwide locations. Even more – starting in the design industry in an era where the word “industrial design” carried little resonance with big and small companies alike. With a beautiful tower office overlooking the historic city of Esslingen, Germany, Reinhard Renner has already seen a wealth in his lifetime. In addition, he has since moved up. Six floors.

Q: When did you first get started in the design industry?

Reinhard: In 1978. Slany came to my school in Pforzheim, Germany. As a young designer, I was star-struck when he came to visit. Hearing about him in the newspapers and by word-of-mouth made a big impression on me. After his visit, we got connected and I started right away Slany Design with a full-time position. At that time, there were five people working under him. I was shown to the basement office with little access to professional tools.

As soon as I began at Slany Design, I realized that I had learned very little about design during my studies. At that time, it wasn’t taught very well in the schools. I remember that during my first few weeks, I saw a senior level designer drawing sketches with a magic marker. He could do it with such precision. My jaw dropped every time I saw him drawing. It was incredible to see this as a young man. I was just a nervous beginner looking at everything with wide eyes.

Q: What was the landscape like at that time?

Reinhard: At that time, no one understood industrial design and that it was needed. The times were different. Computers didn’t exist – there was not the kind of technology that we have today. Even if there was something cutting edge – Slany didn’t believe in investing his money at that time. Even without the technology that we have today, Slany always made drafts that worked. He continued to remind us time and time again, “It shouldn’t only look nice; it has to work.” And that was a big advantage of working under Slany. Everything that he did, whether that be drafts and prototypes – it always worked! Today, TEAMS is still working like Slany did. We make things that look nice – but we also make sure that they work flawlessly.

Q: What was it like working for Slany?

Reinhard: Slany was devoted to his profession and worked under a high set of standards. He gave me many opportunities and helped me along. I will always be thankful.

Q: What are some of the biggest moments of your career to-date?

Reinhard: There are many moments that I look back on fondly. In the beginning, it was gaining that trust with Slany – that was very moving for me. Following that, it was the time I took ownership of TEAMS in 1987.

Another big moment for me was when we finally moved the studio into the DICK Center in Esslingen. Before that, I was confronted by a dark and limited basement environment in a small house in Esslingen. At that time, I started to think more about design and how a designer could – or should be inspired by their environment. “It should be a creative place,” I remember thinking. As I sat on top of the vineyards in Esslingen and looked down on the city I noticed a stylish, industrial-style loft and imagined what a dream it would be if TEAMS could call it home. Fate has a way of working out. An architect got in touch to let me know that a space was opening up there. I remember walking through the space – feeling that it was the right environment for TEAMS. Together, I worked with the architect and Klaus Schoen to mold the space into a ‘designer’s paradise’ – something I always wanted to do. Today it seems remarkable that I began my career in a dark basement and moved my office into a historic tower.

But moving beyond the tangible, there are smaller moments for example, when I get a call from a client that wants to say thank you. I find this very moving when someone takes the time to thank you for good work.

It is also the relationships I have developed during my career. I see many of them as good friends. It gives me a great feeling.

Q: Under your direction, TEAMS grew internationally to include the USA, China and Serbia. What was the development like?

Reinhard: Yes, in 1998, Klaus Schoen and I opened the Chicago studio under the director of Paul Hatch. We were growing quickly and had already identified many opportunities in the United States. After we moved, it just so happened that Bosch purchased Skil (near Chicago) which opened up many more doors for us. In 2002, Hans-Peter Aglassinger, Klaus Baumgartner and I decided we were ready for a more rapid expansion and we moved to Hamburg under the direction of Ulrich Warth and now Ulrich Schweig. In 2005, we opened our 4th studio in Belgrade to explore more possibilities with our engineering. In 2006, we expanded to Shanghai and sent our An Luo and Jonas Vollmer to begin operations. Now Martin Rauch is there. I have always been proud that we send our homegrown talent from Esslingen to manage our global studios. In this way, our culture has stayed intact and everyone can relate back to the headquarters as their starting point. It has made our culture as team-oriented and rich as it has become today. I am very proud of all of our studios.

Q: You said previously that Shanghai left a great impression on you and changed your perspective. Why is this city so fascinating?

Reinhard: Yes, indeed. Shanghai operates under a totally different beat. It’s very hard to put it into words – something hard to describe. I am deeply fascinated by the people, by the culture – nearly everything there. You can’t compare it to anything else in the world. The working culture and mentality is something different. The way that they work takes time to be understood. It is simply fascinating.

As a frequent visitor, you notice that entire streets and skyscrapers have been built in a matter of months – that weren’t there a few months ago. Everything is happening swiftly, quickly and with precision. In the meantime, we are still squabbling in Germany about introducing a new building or street – quite possibly due to property rights or some other kind of opposition. While we are discussing in Germany, China is already making.

In walking through so many parts of Shanghai, including ghettos, wealthy areas and in the oddest of places, I never once felt that I wasn’t safe. I always felt safe in Shanghai.

The Chinese are more brand-oriented than ever before. They are seeking western high-end brands and showing their market power to the rest of the world. The wealthy are becoming wealthier and the middle classes have more discretionary income. Chinese consumers will continue to make a bigger impact on the rest of the world.

Q: Do you think that TEAMS will grow beyond its 5 studios? If so, where?

Reinhard: I am sure that we will grow beyond 5 studios. I’ve thought about India and possibly somewhere in Africa. Maybe Russia. Shanghai was very important to us. Everything is made in China – there is so much development there. You always need a good reason to open in a global location. For me, it is not clear as to where we’ll go next. But the advantages of being global are clear to me. When you are there, you can guide the process, check the quality, and make sure that everything is running according to plan. Being global certainly has its advantages.

Q: How does a designer find creative ideas? Every designer has a different way of doing this. How do you find your personal creative ideas?

Reinhard: Going against the tide. First, think about doing everything differently than it has been done in the past. Step away from the thought of redesign. Think about why the product has been this way before – and wonder how it can be different. I use my eyes and ears – my senses. Many people will have a hard time with this concept.

The world is full of inspiration. Our daily lives go by in a blur – but we are not always present. We have to seek presence. What’s special is – observing my surroundings carefully and enjoying the present moment. When we enjoy the present moment, we start to see things that we have never seen before.

I enjoy looking at the world more closely with my twin granddaughters. For example, we’ll see a snail crossing the sidewalk and we’ll bend down to watch it move slowly. We’ll see it retract its antennas, watch its shell move back-and-forth, see exactly how it moves. I think this is where we experience life and find inspiration.

Photo taken by Reinhard Renner

Q: What was the most creative idea you ever had for a client?

Reinhard:  One of my favorite creative projects was the cubeXX for Still. It was a follow-up to the first concept car that we developed – the RXX. The cubeXX is the newest generation and a logical next step following the success of the RXX. It was a very important project and showed just how design can help a company grow bigger than life. Designing something that was so special gave Still a competitive advantage and made them a market leader overnight. At the trade show, hundreds of people gathered around the cubeXX wanting to see it live. It produced so much excitement and fanfare. People went wild. It still thrills me that TEAMS was behind this.

Q: Is there such a thing as German design?

Reinhard: Typically and throughout the past, German designers were always known as being rather plain, functional and minimalist in their work. German design is more of a ‘commercial art.’ The high level of functionality and quality is what makes it so successful.

If I look at an example of an Italian design – I might see a big bowl with a colorful bird extending out of the center. What in the world is that bird doing in the center!? What in the hell is that good for?! A German designer might say that it doesn’t make much sense. But you have to hand it to the Italians – it sure does look nice!

Q: Baden-Württemberg is an economic powerhouse and Germany’s number one export state. Do you see TEAMS as prospering from this, or pushing this?

Reinhard: Bosch, Kärcher, Leitz and many of our other clients are here in this region. I’m sure our contributions carry over in these big companies. They make up a big part of this region – and we stand behind their designs. I’m proud that Germany – and Europe – has become so well-known and reputed for design. In the end, it all comes down to if the design brings a company economic success. Beauty and aesthetic are important, but economic success is better.

Q: What can we expect from design in the next 50 years? What are the trends?

Reinhard: In the next 50 years, designers will be thinking less about the product itself, and more about processes and other influencers. For example, a designer will start to ask questions more along the lines of, “What takes me from Point A to Point B,” rather than focusing solely on a car. I find it extremely important that people continue to imagine what the future might look like. We can expect that there will be less overall products – with one product carrying several functions to accommodate. 

It is looking at the association and connectivity of different aspects.

Q: Where did the name TEAMS come from?

Reinhard: In the past, many design firms decided to use someone’s name – maybe the founder or another person. Take Slany, for example. He named us Slany Design in the beginning which eventually became Slany Design GmbH in 1987. When Slany retired, he asked that his name be dropped and so we decided to call ourselves TEAMS Design in 1998. At first, we called ourselves TEAM Design. This is because we wanted to be known for working together as a team and delivering this teamwork approach to our clients. We decided to add the ‘s’ shortly after, in honor of Slany and to show the plurality of our many teams across the world. Today we are TEAMS.

And really, everyone is a part of this team. Our upper-management works on the floor with our up-and-coming designers. Our interns are integrated and help to support important projects. Even our cleaning lady – who worked for us for over 30 years was always invited to our annual Christmas party.  Everyone is important. This is what makes us TEAMS.