»Is ‘Move your Life’ important to me? Absolutely! We’re industrial designers so we’re always looking at movement; the world changes quickly. Just take office architecture. It’s changed fundamentally. Doing away with all those monolithic server racks has given us more freedom and options in the design of workstations – of course with an exquisite interior design to match. So quite conceivably, in the future an office chair could have more than one function. It can adapt to the situations it’s used in. Here design doesn’t pre-empt change. It reacts to movements triggered by technical development in the IT industry. On a personal level I’m glad that we change through our work in the studio and workshop. As a father of two children it’s not easy to reconcile my work and private life, but we’ve struck a good balance. I’m particularly proud of the fact that we only have to take on the projects we want to. That’s something I certainly don’t want to change!
»Actually, I was never really interested in chairs.« Stefan Diez is sitting in the upper level of his studio in the Munich suburb of Glockenbach, recalling how he got into chairs. »After studying, I was given the opportunity to work for the product designer Konstantin Grcic. In a way, the profession just came back to me.« Came back because there had already been carpenters in the Diez family – for 170 years. »In terms of my career, I was quick to experiment with things,« recalls Diez. »Movement was central from the very beginning.« Timeline: Year 1. The young Diez goes to Grcic, a time of adventure for furniture designers. The internet was beginning to unravel its magnetic appeal. Young designers dared to be different. To the older generation, digital production and rapid prototyping were double Dutch. Suddenly, anything seemed possible. And Diez decided to go it alone. One of his first projects was a chair, with legs and backrest merging into a knot under the seat – in a complete departure from tradition.
»When the order came in, the first thing we did was study 200 years of chair history.« Sitting in his studio with the hustle and bustle of his colleagues rushing to and fro, Diez is like an affable oasis of calm in all the noise. »Good companies have always designed products that are not just amazing to look at, they are actually something new – for example by bending wood differenty.« An industrial designer by background, Diez also considers this his tradition. He's not a chef, interested in the most exquisite ingredients and exclusive cuisine. He's the sort who spends time thinking about how to cook things. The eyes of the 43-year-old light up. His sentences grow longer. »One thing that interests me about the chairs from Wagner is that they don't just express themselves through their design, but especially their function – with the Dondola joint.« Diez believes the time has come for giant office chairs – that nobody can afford anymore – to become a thing of the past. »Heightening education is making the concept of ›he's in workman's overalls, I'm a white collar worker‹ totally ridiculous. Democratisation is a major issue.« For this reason, chairs that unite several functions and are not only suitable for the boss but also for their employees – or in other words express ›no hierarchies‹ – are in keeping with the times. Most furniture companies haven't worked this out yet – they're living in the 1980s, when people tried to impress with expensive design and not so much with good ideas. Diez is a man of ideas. This is clear from his studio. It's a workshop, an experimental laboratory and an adventure playground in one. All around, work is underway for major companies, reflecting the passion that goes into each object – chairs, cutlery, pots, wardrobes, shelves, bags and jewellery. »We like movement, provisional progress, transition. I think you can see that from our workshop.«
His inventor's workshop in the picturesque suburb of Glockenbach, his multi award-winning work, not forgetting his marriage to the jewellery designer Saskia Diez – all have made Stefan Diez a shooting star of the German designer scene. When you sit opposite him, you see a friendly, unpretentious person. His role as a professor of product design at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design is noticeable in every sentence he utters. What else does Diez like about Wagner? Since Moritz Wagner invented the pub chair, each generation has pursued their theme at the company, he explains. »Movement is one thing that the current generation can identify strongly with.« Identifying with such themes is important in general: »It's been a long time since Germany or Europe was at ground zero. There've been no major wars, nothing's been eradicated. Of course that's a good thing. But at the same time it means we have everything. As a result, a new product has to vindicate itself; as a rule, it's replacing an old one. Something has to be discarded. This creates a responsibility, a realistion: you need a good argument for a new product – an argument which is the origin of identification.«
Diez looks down, mischievously. On his desk lie three Dondola joints – the only things until now to vouch for the collaboration with Wagner. »At Wagner, everything revolves around the concept of sitting on a round ball, a way of sitting that results in movement in the hip. They've managed to translate this into a chair typology – a great invention.« Diez believes that old offices were like battery cage farming; fortunately those daysare over. »For a start, the equipment that held memory devices and which used to influence the office architecture – that's gone. Then people started to see open-plan offices as a general principle that fostered informal ways of working. And finally the desktops also changed. The concept of the simple kitchen table has evolved into a typology for the office desk.« Sitting is also no longer so strongly influenced by people sitting the whole day in one and the same position in front of office equipment. »It's become easier to stand up at work and change your seat. This is also a reason why chairs are becoming more simple again; movable sitting is becoming unbelievably relevant.«
»Design performs the role of an ambassador. I show the role I see myself in with respect to my environment in the ways I use furniture. I'd like to position myself as a modern person,« concludes Diez, drawing the interview to a close. But what is modern? »It's not a longing for status, for expensive things. Sure, we'd all like to earn money. But for us, self-determined work is much more important than how much we earn. What counts for us is the concept behind the things.« Diez is happy to grow with his good concepts – in all the years, he's only ever taken on jobs that he was actually also interested in. Finally, the designer says a polite farewell, puts on a welding helmet and sets a few shapes and materials in motion, allowing them to transform into a new, meaningful product. Under the helmet, his smile lights up one last time before it dims for many hours in the light of a gradually fading summer's day.