Project: Exclusive collaboration with Prof. Thomas Gerlach - "Making of" the knife lines.
1. Mr. Gerlach, You have designed the three new knife lines - profession, perfection and passion - for Fissler. Do you actually cook yourself?
Yes and no. My parents had a restaurant on the Möhnesee and employed about ten cooks. I loved to spend time in the kitchen as a child and was sometimes even allowed to help out. I noticed that most of the cooks handled their knives as if they were sacred. Many of them even had their very own set of knives. As an adult, however, I have never gotten around to cooking very much, which makes me more of a cooking theoretician (laughs). But my wife is a fantastic cook, and when we are on the road, we are not likely to skip a good restaurant we are near.
2. In practice, however, you are a renowned designer. How did your collaboration with Fissler come about?
I’ve been working with Fissler for some time now. Our first joint project was the magic line cookware, and the most recent was the re-launch of the entire pan range. It was based on the idea that not every pan is suited for every cooking method. We wanted to give the consumer a visual orientation guide based on clear design elements. The idea was to make it easy to recognize which pan was meant to be used for what purpose.
3. Was the development of knife design new to you?
Yes. I was a total novice in regard to knife design - just as Fissler was a newcomer to knife design in the current scope. The fact that we were entering unknown territory together made me all the more excited about the project.
4. What is particularly important in designing a knife?
Well, first we develop a story for the product and its design. Ours was: We wanted to make sharpness visible, easily visible. So we set out to identify the characteristics of a knife that would be relevant for our story - and found sharpness, visual impression and balance. A Fissler knife needed to be more than sharp - after all, the consumer expects any knife to be sharp. It had to look sharp, too, and rest nicely in the hand.
Only after that do we define the target groups and determine design priorities for each target group. A knife in the profession line, with its functional and graphic elements, has become almost an object, one that appeals to professional chefs. We have presented the knives in the passion line, with their calm, organic forms, as candidates to become the most popular of knives for daily use. For the perfection knives, innovation is key. The rotated tang in the handle is almost a bit of art. Anyone who likes lifestyle will love perfection.
5. Does the designer begin his work with a specific type of knife?
If you are designing an entire knife line, you begin with the core products - which means a large chef’s knife and a small paring knife. The other items fall into line between them. The important thing is for you to already have defined the design concept and the target group at this point, so that you know the direction you want to take.
6. How does an expert recognize a premium knife?
Key here are the balance of the knife and the elasticity of the blade. How well does the knife lie in your hand? The way professionals hold a knife is totally different from the way an amateur cook does - much farther to the front, more in the center of balance. The pro can literally "feel" a premium knife. The blade of a carving knife, for example, is so flexible that it can easily slide past the bone.
7. And how can the consumer recognize a premium knife?
The secret lies in the knife’s overall aura and, as mentioned above, in its balance. A knife’s aura results from its unique combination of brand, product quality, and sales communication. It is all intertwined. If the consumer trusts the brand, he will have a positive attitude toward the product. If the quality of the product is good, this will have a positive impact on the brand. If the salesperson is well informed and convinced that the product is a good one, he will certainly be able to rouse the consumer’s enthusiasm, etc. The overall package must be a good one.
In regard to product quality, Fissler clearly has the highest of standards. In the final analysis this is, of course, good for both the product and the customer. In Fissler’s profession line, for example, the square rivets not only enhance the look, but add to the quality. Since they are not only inserted, but completely cast, they do not start to wobble, but ensure that the tangs hold much better. Consumers often associate complex ideas with an item. They might think, for example, "It is elaborately manufactured, expensive, and high-quality - thus a premium product." Fissler takes advantage of this very line of thought to differentiate its products from others.
Today’s consumers are well-informed. They are well aware that not every product that is labeled premium is truly premium. This is why consumers like to test a product themselves before they buy it. With knives, for example, they can inspect their sharpness. (This is relative, however. Before buying a knife, a potential buyer must consider whether he wants a sharp knife that will stay sharp without any special care, or whether he wants a knife that has the ultimate show sharpness, but will soon have to be sharpened again.)
8. How do the design concepts of the three knife lines differ from one another?
Without a doubt, they all have one thing in common: They are all in the premium segment.
In the upper end of the premium segment, total belief in the product is key: "Love it or leave it." The two lines - profession and perfection - polarize, and they are intended to do so.
Profession is for the intrinsically creative individuals, who care about having fine things in their life andexamine the product very carefully. A profession knife comes very close to an archetypal knife. It is unconventional, always present in the user’s hand, very striking due to its high material density, and can be more precisely controlled when cutting. Its subtle aesthetics paired with the highest of quality appeal especially to purists and, of course, professionals.
People to whom prestige is important like to be surrounded with products that demonstrate an upscale lifestyle. They want everything to be as "perfect" as possible. The perfection line with its pure aesthetics is thus perfect for them.
We see the passion line at the other end of the premium segment. Its knives also have a unique design, but they have a more organic look and therefore greater charm. Passion knives do not polarize like the profession or perfection knives, but people generally identify with them.
9. Did you take the target groups for the various knife lines into account while developing their designs, or were they allocated to these groups afterwards?
In line with the conceptual approach of my company, via4 Design, we begin by analyzing the positioning. The overall positioning of the brand is key, and the products’ individual positionings are found within it. In collaboration with the client, we visualize each individual target group as precisely as possible. At the product level, we then need to find out what features will help us to win over which target group. Of course, we must always make sure that our ideas are in line with the overall image of the Fissler brand. In a word, target group definition and corporate positioning go hand in hand.
One thing must be absolutely clear for every new product development: The product must be perfect, otherwise we are in danger of damaging the brand - in the case of Fissler, a very valuable brand - as a whole. An additional prerequisite for Fissler was that the design concept of the knife lines had to work all over the world.