Fostering innovation for the business of the future: this was the focus of the 2019 “Kontext Annual” forum. The fully booked event that was jointly organised by Swiss Textiles and Design Prize Switzerland and held at the end of August in the Kosmos in Zurich featured a variety presentations, plus an exhibition and opportunities for exchanges. It was attended by specialists from a broad variety of fields. Everyone shared the view that innovation calls for collaboration extending well beyond the existing business sector boundaries.
“The ongoing transformation in business and society is profound. In order to overcome the challenges of the future, we have to work differently than we did in the past, think more openly and be more prepared to take risks.” This was the message of the organisers of the event: Evelyne Roth, Artistic Director of Kontext; Michel Hueter, Director and Curator of Design Prize Switzerland; and Mirjam Matti Gähwiler, Head of Communication and PR at Swiss Textiles. Their ambitious goal: to “change the mindset positively”. The title of this year’s Kontext Annual, which was moderated by Michelle Nicol, co-founder of “Neutral Zürich” strategy agency, was “The Pursuit of Happiness – Product Innovation in the Context of Self-Optimisation”.
“Kontext - the name appears to be tailor-made for us,” said Markus Freitag, proprietor of Freitag lab.ag, by way of explanation for his participation at the event. “After all, we refer to ourselves as ‘recontextualisers’. We take things out of their context and place them in a different one. This is our method, our brand value. We turn truck tarpaulins into bags, for example, or freight containers into flagship stores. Kontext Annual presents a good thematic mix that extends well beyond the textiles industry. If it is always the same people who are brought together, you cannot expect much in the way of change. It is often unplanned encounters that lead to something new. There is a strong breath of fresh air at Swiss Textiles, and this applies to the team as well as to the issues it addresses.”
This interdisciplinary mix was not only apparent among the participants. The guest speakers, too, came from a broad variety of disciplines and they each addressed the theme of the event from their own perspective.
If it is always the same people who are brought together, you cannot expect much in the way of change.
Swiss brain researcher Dr Patrik Künzler found inspiration in the Caribbean island of Jamaica and its famous “hip swing”. “The people there have a different body awareness than us, and this makes them happier,” explains Dr Künzler, who carried out research at the MIT Media Lab for a number of years. He developed a new approach to design based on neurosciences, according to which the path to a product leads from the brain via the body. The first innovation produced by his company, “Limbic Life”, is the “limbic chair”, which is about to be brought onto the market. He demonstrated how the chair’s patented suspension system and the form of its seat trigger movements that enhance the sense of happiness. “The limbic chair gives office workers their body back, so to speak. The spine is erect, but in flux, and the body is able to ‘play’ freely. Freedom of body and freedom of mind are exactly what creative people need. Furthermore, the feeling of sensory weightlessness can also reproduce the impression of freedom previously felt by elderly people. Back problems can be alleviated or even prevented altogether,” he noted, underscoring the potential of the limbic chair. He also stated that he “has ideas for many other products”.
The limbic chair was put on display at the Kontext Gallery exhibition, where everyone was invited to give it a try. “The presentations were just great – much better than I expected. And I definitely have to test the limbic chair that’s been put on show here,” said Elisa Kaufmann, a self-employed fashion designer who had previously worked as a women’s-wear designer for Stella McCartney in London.
luxury is now generally being defined in less materialistic terms.
Health, well-being, self-optimisation: for today’s consumers, these needs are right at the top of the wish-list. They are increasingly being perceived as luxuries, as Julia Riedmeier, project manager at the Munich-based consulting firm, INLUX, noted in her summary of the findings of a recent study called “Neo Luxury”. She added that “luxury is now generally being defined in less materialistic terms”. For example, having time to spend time with family and friends is increasingly being regarded as a precious asset, while traditional status symbols such as luxury cars are losing their appeal. Do providers of conventional luxury goods still have a chance? “Yes,” says Julia Riedmeier, “as long as they are prepared to change”. In this context she enthused about a top-class boutique hotel in Cambodia – Jaya House River Park – which earned her praise thanks to the cordiality of its staff and its strong social and ecological commitment. The hotel uses no plastic products and assumes responsibility for the local community in that it supports street children and their families. “When you come here for your holiday, you have the feeling you are doing good and are participating in something special.” In any case, sustainability has to be incorporated into the new luxury category, and individualisation as well as co-creation are gaining in importance as forms of exclusivity. “Consumers want to be involved,” she emphasises. She herself regards “absolute peace, for example during yoga and meditation” as a luxury.
How do the participants translate what was presented here into practice? “I came here with the aim of exposing my brain to new inputs – neuronally rewiring it so to speak,” explained Christian Harbeke, CEO of the Nose Design Experience agency. “And I was positively surprised at how tangible the presentations were. Among other things, we specialise in trains. Thanks to the presentation of the “Neo Luxury” study, with regard to the future of long-distance travel I have been strongly reminded just how important peace and quiet are for people.”
I was positively surprised at how tangible the presentations were
Similarly, Namhee Lee, Chief Trend Researcher at FaDI (Korea Research Institute for Fashion and Distribution Information) described herself as “home ludens”. She is thus well and truly in line with the trend among her compatriots, especially in Seoul, who throughout the world are regarded as early adopters of change. The term “home ludens” stands for “playing at home”. Many Koreans find socialising during their leisure time too arduous. They prefer to pursue hobbies within their own four walls – from handicraft to home training – and bring life into their home with the aid of virtual reality headsets. This means that delivery services are booming, as are products for single-person households, which account for 30 percent of all households in Korea. The hobby and pet markets are developing positively to an equal extent. Namhee Lee presented an exemplary subscription service that each month delivers new sets of toys for dogs. She pointed out that demand for sustainable products is very strong. These include micro-farms that can be used in apartments for the production of algae, which highly efficiently absorb CO2 and particulate matter. The high level of air pollution in Seoul is a matter of widespread concern. These translucent mini-aquaria filled with green algae are also decorative and can be used for designing entire walls.
What do we really need? This question preceded the creation of Qwstion, a producer of bags operating from a design office in Zurich. Five friends, including industrial designer Christian Paul Kaegi, decided to do something to counter the widespread use of plastic products on the market. Their most recent idea is called “Bananatex” and is conceived as an open source project. “We want to encourage other companies to use this robust, finely structured tissue and do away with plastic altogether,” explained Christian Paul Kaegi. Bananatex is derived from abaca, a wild banana plant that thrives without additional water, does not need any pesticides and is playing an important role in the reforestation of former palm oil plantations.
Qwestion’s head office in Reith (Austria) is also designed according to sustainable principles. “It was constructed of solid timber and produces more energy than it consumes,” explained the creative director, while showing photos of the office atmosphere. One of the photos depicts barefooted employees in shorts, seated on the floor and chatting with one another. Relaxed informality is a strategy for fostering innovation at Qwstion.
We want to encourage other companies to use this robust, finely structured tissue and do away with plastic altogether.
This brings us to the presentation by Marcel Aeschlimann. The managing partner and chairman of the board of the Biel-based innovation factory Creaholic presented his “do’s” regarding the enhancement of ideas. One of them is to have as many muses as possible. For this reason, the team at Creaholic has been deliberately composed as diversely as possible. “We employ specialists from a broad variety of sectors.” Each member of the team is able to spend 100 hours a year to come up with innovations. After an idea has been presented, a decision is taken whether it is to be followed up. One of Aeschlimann’s recommendations is “to dream and have courage”, while another is “to look behind the obvious”. This is sometimes easier to do with a lack of knowledge than with the possession of expertise, which is why both are necessary for coming up with new ideas. Prime example: a watch maker and a wood engineer at Creaholic accomplished a revolution in the field of medical technology, whereas a medical specialist would probably not have been able to come up with such a solution. When Michelle Nicol asked him what his best idea was, Marcel Aeschlimann replied: “That’s still to come.” This reflects his guiding principle, namely that one should never stop being innovative.
Vera Gail, Innovation Manager Smart Textiles at Schoeller Textil AG shares this view: “Kontext Annual provides a perfect opportunity to move outside one’s own sphere of activity. Exchanges with other industries are important when it comes to innovation. It is necessary to have access to different perspectives and come into contact with fresh ideas. And that is exactly what we are able to do here. As exhibitors at the Kontext Gallery we also hope to attract new interest groups or perhaps even partners for our development of new products. We have, for example, designed a golf shirt that functions like a trainer. The objective here is to improve the wearer’s tee shots. For this purpose, sensors have been integrated into the textile. With the aid of vibration signals on the shoulder and back, the wearer is able to find the correct tee-off stance.
Textile designer Cécile Feilchenfeldt, winner of the 2018 Swiss Grand Design Award, is a member of the Kontext Maker workshop which prepares the Kontext View events and defines its topics. “I find the concept brilliant and want to support it by participating. Innovation is essential – and Switzerland possesses plenty of potential.”