Jan Heisterhagen, awards ceremony

“Design Plus Award” and “Bathroom Comfort for Generations”: Jan Heisterhagen accepts two awards for a new product with Select technology.

New ideas at the touch of a button

“Creating the aesthetically appealing has always been a matter of pride to us. However, having an attractive design – far more than just a matter of what you immediately see – is now an absolute must.”

Hansgrohe is one of the innovation leaders in the sanitation industry. Around 30 percent of annual sales are generated by new products that are less than three years old. This is what’s known as a “well-balanced vitality index”. To reach these standards, the professionals from the Black Forest need a lot of good ideas and creative minds. One of these is Jan Heisterhagen. In an interview, the head of product management at Hansgrohe explains how design concepts that help shape the global bathroom of the future are developed – irrespective of the age or health of the customer.

Mr Heisterhagen – where do the impulses and bright ideas for new products and technologies at Hansgrohe come from?

Jan Heisterhagen: Nowadays, we have a range of creative methods and sources of inspiration at our disposal. The decision as to which ideas have real potential and also fit in with the brand itself is an intensive “kneading” process – as we call it at Hansgrohe. Good innovations at the company are a result of teamwork, continuous processes and the passion to create a better product. We develop ideas in strategic workshops and design meetings, all of which are interdisciplinary and held under the active leadership of Richard Grohe, brand manager and member of the executive board at Hansgrohe. The meetings are attended by employees, creative minds from outside the company, designers, product managers and also salespersons. All of these professionals are familiar with many different branches and product fields in addition to the sanitation industry. Due to this expertise, we also have an unusually low flop rate. However, if we are truly convinced about an idea, then we may also implement it based on gut feeling from time to time – without consulting others. Sometimes, we simply take a shower for a brainstorming session.

Really? You take a shower?

J.H.: Yes. It’s one thing to stand at a workbench or discuss the shower of tomorrow in a suit and tie. But it’s another entirely to test out new prototypes or jet types up close and personal in our Showerworld or in the ShowerLab before we develop them further. Maybe this is what sets us apart from other branches. After all, our customers are naked. In the bathroom and under the shower, a person wears neither clothes nor glasses. This means that interaction between the person and product is particularly important. We not only have to make sure the design is suitable, but also ensure that showers and thermostats have a pleasant feeling on the skin, do not get too hot and have no sharp edges. They must be convenient for anyone to operate and work perfectly in everyday use.

Has the Hansgrohe design philosophy changed over time?

J.H.: Creating aesthetically appealing products has always been a matter of pride to us. Since the 1970s, Hansgrohe has been the design pioneer in the sanitation industry. This helped us to stand out from our competitors. However, having an attractive design – far more than just a matter of what you immediately see – is now an absolute must. Rather, design is the sum of aesthetics, functionality, materials, operation and experience. It is now all about design quality. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of product design – and not only when choosing a car. This is something that all of our competitors have now recognized. In developing new products, we now start more from the person and work towards the product, and not the other way around.

What does this mean exactly?

J.H.: We look for impressive benefits, improved comfort and true innovation. Products that go along with the crowd are not for us – we want to set new accents. As product manager, I always have to deal with what our target group wants and needs. After all, the worm has to be tasty for the fish, and not the angler! We are also much more focused on international markets nowadays. We only develop products that work around the world, are timeless and meet the style requirements of global markets.

Finding ideas at Hansgrohe – in this case, Select technology

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In contrast to smartphones and stereo systems, your customers don’t buy a new bathroom every couple of years. How does this affect product development?

J.H.: This is why Hansgrohe manufactures products that endure for years, and not trendy products that are dictated by current fashions. There is a first phase between the ages of 30 and 40 where people focus on building a nest for themselves. Apartments are bought, houses are built and bathrooms are designed in this phase. Here, customers are on the lookout for individual design solutions and the highest level of comfort for the family. Everything has to fit together and work perfectly for many years. In the second phase after the children have flown the nest – roughly between the ages of 50 and 60 – renovations or new bathrooms then focus on the challenges of older age. Parents are often taken care of at home. The “cross-generation bathroom” is something that is already being planned in advance by a lot of younger people, which is why it is also important for Hansgrohe to offer products and operating concepts that do not depend on age.

Let’s talk about cross-generation bathrooms. What does this concept mean?

J.H.: We do not focus so much on special products for seniors or people with reduced mobility. Instead, experience has told us that everyone wants an attractive bathroom. Hansgrohe’s motto here is: “If it can be done at all, it should be done beautifully!” After all, the bathroom shouldn’t show that the user is old, disabled or has anything “wrong” with them! Seniors don’t want senior products. In contrast, customers with a few more years on the clock often have high demands in terms of quality, operation and design – which is something we want to meet. We therefore develop products and technologies that work for all ages. We try to understand the requirements of our customers and integrate these beautifully into our products.

Which products are these?

J.H.: The new Raindance Select products are a perfect example. They take intuitive operation at the touch of a button – a popular feature of everyday products and modern design – and incorporate it into the bathroom. The Select button is extremely comfortable for both young and old alike. Operation is easy for all – whether for those with visual impairments or those who are unable to lift their arms or move their hands as well as before. Select products are labeled with large symbols on a contrasting background. They can be operated without even looking – you can also even use your elbows.

The ShowerSelect concealed thermostat has received an award from the German Sanitation, Heating and Air-Conditioning Federation (ZVSHK). What won over the jury in particular?

J.H.: Fundamentally, the decision of the jury confirms that our strategy is working. The ZVSHK wants to promote outstanding products that don’t have the stigma of a “hospital room”. We took home the award in the “Bathroom Comfort for Generations” category. The decisive plus points for the jury were aesthetic design, user friendliness and cross-generation product characteristics that meet the needs of people both with and without physical disabilities. Incidentally, the idea for the Select series came while we were stuck in a snowstorm at Strasbourg airport. As I said, there are bright ideas that simply come from gut feeling...

Thank you very much for the interview.

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

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