“We are digitising fire”

We humans like it cosy and warm. The industrial designer, Wenke Förster, and her team are re-inventing that fireplace feeling.

We like to sit by a camp fire, in front of the fireplace or in the kitchen by a warm oven. The climate is centrally controlled in modern buildings. Warmth has become an abstract quantity that no longer has any form. At VC/O, 30-year-old Wenke Förster is working on giving it a face again. “We want to make warmth something you can experience again and are working on various models to do this. The task is to make warmth atmospheric, to give it a location and make it tangible. Heat that I can feel directly on my skin. We are re-interpreting the old fireplace and bringing the fire back into our digital world.”

“It is important for me to design things that can also in fact be realised”

VC/O is a subsidiary of Viessmann, the air-conditioning technology producer. This is where pioneers work, who develop new products for our networked world and develop new areas of business for Viessmann. In keeping with the start-up atmosphere, the design team works near the VC/O office, in the “Mindspace” co-working space in Friedrichstraße. Colourfully designed offices, brightly-glazed meeting rooms, and comfortable seating areas with antique-effect leather armchairs where co-workers from all over the world can relax. “It is great to be able to work in such a creative environment in the drawing-up phases.” For discussions and presentations, Wenke goes to the VC/O office or she also works with the engineers at the Viessmann headquarters in Allendorf in North Hesse.

These are always really exciting meetings for her. “As a designer in an agency, you usually only draft ideas for pitches. The product is either never made or you are no longer personally involved in the product development process. It is important for me not just to work for the filing cabinet, but to design things that are actually realised”, said Wenke. She has studied mechanical engineering and industrial design in Hamburg and Berlin and gained experience in a Berlin-based agency. In the family-run Viessmann company with its industrial tradition she feels that she is in a much better place. “We work on the entire process – from the first sketches and the prototype right through to the finished device – together with the engineers who build our products.”

“The feedback from the users is very important.”

It’s a give and take process. A well-designed draft must be attainable – and the best technical solution must also meet aesthetic requirements. The design and engineer teams must be in constant communication with each other until a first prototype is finished for testing by customers. “The feedback from the users is very important”, said Wenke. “We travel to the production companies for the user tests to evaluate prototypes with our customers on site.”

In general, Wenke and her team strive to evaluate their products from the users’ point of view. The key question here is “how do people want to experience warmth today?” Preferably neutral in the office. Not too cold, not too warm. But is there perhaps a need for a kind of “fireplace mark 2” in our homes? The coal range has disappeared from our kitchens and we don’t see any radiators in modern buildings. That is why Wenke is involved in a project to decide what appearance heat should have today.

User feedback is critical, particularly for totally new products like a home fireplace. The prototype which Wenke is currently working on is to be presented to the public at the 2019 ISH trade fair in Frankfurt. “We first see fireplaces in a public context, such as in a hotel lobby or the entrance area of a museum, but we also want to realise it as part of our digital smart home portfolio. We are particularly keen to see the reactions from the new customer market here”, said Wenke. “We ask ourselves where people want to have a warming element. In the kitchen, in the bathroom or next to the wardrobe in the bedroom? I can’t wait to see how this will develop.” 

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Industrial Designer Wenke Förster in front of her notebook

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