Red Dot founder Prof. Dr. Peter Zec has led the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, Germany
Since its founding in 1954, the organisation had largely been active at a regional level and held design competitions focused on German products. Peter Zec saw the opportunity to develop global recognition for an organisation that had, until then, not been well known. Twenty-five years on, the Design Zentrum boasts international branch offices and has achieved world renown with the coveted Red Dot award. The organisation’s head has become one of the best known personalities in the design world whose stars he regularly entices to visit Essen.
Before joining the Design Zentrum, Peter Zec was managing director of the Bund Deutscher Graphik-Designer (BDG), the German Association of Graphic Designers, and the Verband Deutscher Industrie-Designer (VDID), the German Society of Industrial designers. In Essen, he quickly raised fundamental questions concerning the essence of the organisation. For example, he asked how a design centre could solve the challenges of an era shaped by microelectronics, new communications and a more open attitude to the Far East? The fundamental new beginning also became apparent in the title of the first large congress organised at the behest of the EU Commission and led by Peter Zec: “Design quo vadis” attracted more than 700 participants from all over Europe to Essen.
Two life-time achievements are inextricably linked with Peter Zec’s name. One is the internationalisation of the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, which in turn made Essen a design location of international standing. Every year, the most successful designers come to the city in the Ruhr region from all four corners of the world to witness the Red Dot jury adjudication process or to attend the award ceremony. Nowadays, more than 70 nations take part in the Red Dot Award. Peter Zec’s other great achievement is the launch of the Red Dot brand in 2000. Red Dot has given its name to major global design competitions, and has led to the creation of Red Dot Design Museums, numerous Red Dot book publications, a Red Dot app and several online portals.
But how did the name and the Red Dot award come about? Up until 1991, the logo of the Design Zentrum contained a black dot. Peter Zec decided it should be red in order to make it look like a distinction: galleries identify paintings that have sold with a red dot, for instance. This association has created a symbolism which is just as beneficial for a product. When opening the competition up to entries from around the world, the organisation needed a name that would be recognisable all around the world. Peter Zec found the solution by opting for “Red Dot” in English, a name which has become the umbrella term for an entire world of design. In accordance with this global aspiration, the logo resembles a sphere more than it does a dot.
In 2005, Peter Zec was named president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, Icsid. He was the first person from a German organisation to hold the highest office the design world has to offer. In accepting this position, he strengthened the international reputation of the Design Zentrum NRW even further. When he created the “World Design Capital” city programme he established an award that is among the most important tasks the world design association has. To this day it is bestowed on cities that have made an outstanding contribution to good design.
Early on, Professor Dr Peter Zec had signalled his commitment to the Zollverein site in Essen. Back in 1995, he put together a comprehensive future utilisation plan for the erstwhile colliery site and declared that he and the Design Zentrum would be the first anchor tenant to move to the location. Today, the Red Dot Design Museum and its 2,000 award-winning objects represent the world’s largest exhibition of contemporary design.
Peter Zec leaves no doubt that the Zollverein UNESCO world heritage site will continue to be the perfect location for the Red Dot head office and the award organisation, as well as the successful design museum for many years to come. Nonetheless, he is also an outspoken critic, pointing out missed opportunities such as locating international design studios on the site and noting the general difficulty the city of Essen appears to have in seizing and promoting real success stories.
After 25 years at the head of the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, Prof. Dr. Peter Zec is more actively involved in the design world than ever – as CEO, author, publisher and host of the Red Dot galas. He is also much in demand as a consultant and speaker around the world, in which role he constantly emphasises, acknowledges and pays tribute to the value of good design. On 12 May 2016 he will be honoured as “Kopf des Jahres” (Brain of the Year) by the Marketing Club Ruhr for his services to the region.
In order to be able to judge the diversity of the design world in a professional way, the Red Dot Design Award is divided into three distinct disciplines; Red Dot Award: Product Design, Red Dot Award: Communication Design and Red Dot Award: Design Concept. The Red Dot Award is organised by the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen. With more than 17,000 entries in 2015 alone, it is one of the largest design competitions in the world. In 2015 the competition celebrates its 60th anniversary. Its jury met for the first time in 1955 in order to judge the best designs of the time. Red Dot CEO Professor Dr Peter Zec developed the award name and brand in the 1990s. The coveted award, the Red Dot, has since become an internationally highly-respected mark of outstanding design quality.