Jan Heisterhagen, awards ceremony

“Design Plus Award” and “Bathroom Design for All” Product Award: Jan Heisterhagen accepts two awards for a new product featuring Select technology.

New ideas at the touch of a button

“The beautiful aspect goes without saying. But these days design is a must, and it involves far more than just the external appearance.”

Hansgrohe is a leading innovator in the sanitation industry. Around 30 percent of its annual turnover is generated by new products that are no more than three years old. This is called a “well-balanced vitality index”. To achieve this, the Black Forest company needs plenty of good ideas and creative minds. One of these creative minds is Jan Heisterhagen. In the interview, the Head of Hansgrohe Product Management explains how design concepts, which are shaping the future of the bathroom on a global scale, are developed. And this is achieved regardless of the age of the customer and without differentiating between the sick and the healthy.

Mr Heisterhagen – where do you actually get your inspiration and innovative ideas for new Hansgrohe products or technologies?

Jan Heisterhagen: These days, there are many different creativity techniques and sources of inspiration. To decide which of these has the potential to make a big splash, and at the same time fits in with the brand, is an intensive “kneading process”. At least, that's what we call it at Hansgrohe. Here, good innovations are the result of team work, continuous processing and a passion for creating a superior product. We develop ideas in strategy workshops and design meetings, which are made up of interdisciplinary members and are actively managed by Hansgrohe's Executive Board and brand manager Richard Grohe. They are composed of employees, external creative minds, design engineers, product managers and even sales people. All of them are professionals, who are well-informed about a lot of divisions and product fields besides the sanitation industry. Incidentally, this expertise has resulted in us having an unusually low flop quota. But sometimes, if we are truly convinced by an idea we implement it based on a gut reaction, without consulting anyone. And sometimes we just get in the shower for a brainstorming session.

Really? In the shower?

J.H.: Yes. It's one thing to stand at your workbench or to discuss the shower of the future wearing your formal attire. But it's quite another matter to experience new prototypes or jet types “in person” in our Showerworld or ShowerLab and then go on to develop them further. Perhaps that's where we differ from other sectors. Our customers are undressed. People don't wear any clothes in the bath, nor do they wear spectacles in the shower. The interaction between person and product is particularly important. No only do we need to take care of the design, we also have to ensure that showers or thermostats are comfortable against the skin, do not get too hot and are free of any sharp edges. They have to be convenient for all and sundry to operate, and work properly on a day-to-day basis.

Has Hansgrohe's design philosophy changed over time?

J.H.: The fact that our products are attractive goes without saying. Hansgrohe has been a pioneer of design in the sanitation industry since the 1970s. This has helped us to stand out from our competitors. But these days design is an absolute must, and it involves far more than just the external appearance. In reality, design is a combination of appearance, function, material, operation and experience. Nowadays we talk about design quality. Consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive with respect to product design, and not just when they are choosing a car. All of our competitors have come to realise this. These days we are focusing far more on developing new products by fitting “the product to the person” rather than the person to the product.

What does that mean?

J.H.: We are looking for conclusive benefits, greater convenience, real innovation. “Me-too” products are not a problem for us; we are aiming to set new standards. As Product Manager, I'm constantly addressing the issue of what the target group wants and needs. Ultimately the fish, not the angler, needs to love the taste of the worm! These days we are also focusing more on the international markets. We only develop products that function on a global scale, that are timeless and fit in with the sense of style of global markets.

Raindance Select Showerpipe

Hansgrohe has discovered that even cross-generation operating concepts can be attractive.

Brainstorming at Hansgrohe, using Select as an example


Unlike smartphones or sound systems, a new bathroom is not something that your customers purchase every few years. How does this affect product development?

J.H.: This is why Hansgrohe does not manufacture trendy products that are dependent on fashion, but products that will last for many years. There's an initial phase, between 30 and 40 years of age, during which people engage intensively in “nest-building”. Apartments are purchased, houses built, bathrooms designed. Customers look for customised design solutions and ultimate convenience for their families. Everything has to be just right, and needs to be extremely durable. During the second phase – between the ages of 50 and 60, once the children have left home – people look at the challenges of ageing when they are renovating or rebuilding. Parents often receive care in their own homes. Lots of younger people are already planning their “cross-generation bathroom” ahead of time. Therefore it is also important for Hansgrohe to offer products and operating concepts that are age-independent.

Cue: the cross-generation bathroom. What are the main factors involved here?

J.H.: We don't focus so much on special products for elderly people or those with limited mobility. In fact, experience has taught us that everyone ultimately wants to enjoy having a beautiful bathroom. At Hansgrohe the motto is: “There are no limits when it comes to beauty.” You should not be able to tell whether the users of the bathroom are old, disabled or in any way impaired! Elderly people don't want products for elderly people. Experienced people in particular often have high standards when it comes to quality, operation and design, and we aim to live up to these. Which is why we develop products and technologies that work for everyone. We try to understand the needs of our customers and to integrate these into our products in an elegant way.

What sort of products are these?

J.H.: The new Raindance Select products, for example. They incorporate intuitive operation at the touch of a button, which is very popular in bathroom objects of design and utility. The Select button guarantees a high degree of user comfort, for young and old alike. It's just as easy to operate for those with impaired vision as it is for those who have difficulty moving their hands, or for those who cannot raise their arms properly any more. The Select products are inscribed with large symbols on a high-contrast background. You can operate them without looking – and can even use your elbows.

The ShowerSelect concealed thermostat won an award from the ZVSHK (German Central Association for Sanitation, Heating and Air Conditioning). What is it that the jury particularly liked?

J.H.: Essentially, the jury's decision is an endorsement of our strategy. The ZVSHK aims to promote outstanding products that do not have the stigma of a “hospital room”. The Product Award recognised “Bathroom Design for All”. The jury deemed the key advantages to be: aesthetic design, user-friendliness and cross-generational product features to accommodate everyone's needs, including those with physical disabilities. By the way, we had the idea for the Select range when we were stuck in Strasbourg airport due to snowdrifts. As I mentioned: some of these ideas are simply sparked by a gut reaction …

Thank you very much for the interview.

The interview was conducted by Katja Volkmer, freelance journalist, Munich.

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