How to communicate in design with Germany

Hi everyone,

Our business is starting up in Germany where we before had very little or no market before. In order to do this sucessfully I would like to know more of German design language. There is always codes of conduct, do’s and do not’s etc in every culture and country.
So I am asking if anyone knows of any good resource sites for this, articles or other sources of design etc. that have a good reputation.
I could fumble in the dark for days surfing German websites trying to find inspiration but that can be a hazardrous activity.

So does anyone here care to comment, maybe you are a German designer and wish to share some comments or do you know of good resources for me to study.

Best regards


d’ont mention ze war - seriously, they are REALLY sensitive about that (holocaust etc…). germans are very punctual, if they say they will have it at a certain time, make no mistake, they will (and conversely, will expect the same of you). can be a bit dry and reserverd at first, let them crack the jokes and study the angle of their humour. go out and have some beers with them !

Being half German and partly raised there, my suggestion would be to examine the ways people use the word “teutonic”. Most often it’s used to communicate rigid behavior - cold and somewhat emotionless.

As the above guest indicates, when a German (at least an older German) says something will happen at a certain time, there is very very good likelihood it WILL happen at that time. German’s traditionally love precision (any wonder that the clock-making Swiss share their language?) and that applies to most everything.

There’s a good reason why the Bauhaus originated in Germany. Form defined by function is a very teutonic idea. Additionally, the forms are somewhat representative of German/teutonic behavior. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as a group, Germans are probably the most engineering-minded people in the world (and responsible for some of the greatest innovations; NASA is built on German rocket science for example). I’d expect they would be perhaps the most demanding group for whom to design. So don’t take it personally when they rip you up. Just go in there realizing that they are perhaps the most demanding perfectionists you’ll ever encounter.

re “they are REALLY sensitive about that” … dont you think you should be…


What some people don’t realize is that many Germans did not support Hitler or his ideas.

My own family was threatened by the Nazi’s and lost their wealth and land during both wars. They were also forced into the German army at gunpoint - as were many of their friends. If the Bush NSA showed up on most American doorsteps today saying “join the army or we send your family to Gitmo”, most Americans would join. My grandfather was subsequently captured by the Russians and suffered as a result. And he hated Hitler and everything he stood for from day one. If he were alive today he wouldn’t want to discuss the war, even though he has nothing to be ashamed of. But in no way “should” he or many others be sensitive about discussing it as if they had something to do with the atrocities commited (certainly far less than many, many American companies who did clandestine business with the Nazi’s).

The problem is that too often poor opinions are formed by stereotypes. Designers should be able to think outside the stereotype.

you may have missed the point, i was suggesting that if the poster thought that ‘one’ should be sensitive to this issue perhaps they should be too.

of course not all german supported this movement as your post correctly identifies but why on earth would anyone want to bring this subject up in casual converstaion… phew …thanks to them for alerting me to this.

My family is originally from Dresden and my girlfriend is Austrian so I think I can give you some insight into the culture.

As stated earlier, Germans are very punctual unlike many other places around the world. Things may have become more relaxed over the years but it used to be that if the sign at the train station said the train would arrive at 10:05 AM, the train would stop and the doors would open at 10:05 AM. Being late is not good. Being early is OK, but not too early.

Germans are also very concious of physical space and like to keep comfortable distances from others. I think one study I once saw showed Germans as liking to keep a 6’ minimum distance from others when talking. This is one of the largest personal space distances in the world. Close intimate spaces make them uncomfortable. However, shaking hands is done often in business settings so step in shake hands, and step back.

Hierarchy is extremely important and people take work very seriously. If you walk into a meeting and are anything less than professional and totally prepared you will immediately be looked at like some kind of idiot and trust will go right out the window. Instead of trying to be funny and “creative” you should do your best to demonstrate your professional skills and technical abilities. The German way is that if you are going to do something, you should do it right. They also hold the belief that you should never start something that you can’t finish or don’t intend to follow through on.

As far as design language I would do your best to be technical and precise. The German language is very suited to being direct and they are famous for making long words to do just that. One thing you might want to do is look at the German mottos of current companies to see what they say. German language versions of website are also a good source. Audi’s motto of “Vorsprung durch Technik” is a good example.

Also avoid making cultural comments if you really don’t know what the story is. Avoid talking about “The War”, avoid talking about “typical” German culture. Most people think of Germany and the image is men with beer steins and lederhosen. This is really Bavarian culture and NOT consistent with German culture as a whole. This is a sure-fire way to piss people off and get yourself thrown face first into the street.

Then I did miss the point. My apologies.

what would core be without the nags.

I would suggest to hire a German to run your Business there. That seems to me a lot more effective than to surf the internet looking for answers to a very complex and multilayered Issue.

what would core be without the nags.

a paradise for us anonymus pussies!

Thanks again for all the answers although I think I should be a bit more precise in the problem I am posing since the answers have been a bit diverse in adressing he point.

We have german account managers here that handle actual business, but I wouldn’t ask them about good, effective design as little as I would ask my dad advice about what is good form in Sweden (we are based in Sweden btw). My point being if you ask people who have little or no schooling/talent/gift in design you answers will be colored by what that person personally thinks about design which will give you a completely different answer if you ask yet another person who has another job/background/passion etc.

Here in Sweden for example I would say that most advertising is made simple and effective. Not simple as in underdeveloped and banal but “nordic” as the expression goes. Low key, calm but not rigid. Fewer colors in balance. In the US (partly guessing here) more expressionate, more vocal, direct, lots of colors etc. etc.

So what I am looking for is more hard core guidelines, one poster was talking about Bauhaus and form defined by function which is helpful and I would like more of this.

Hope I am making myself a little clearer :smiley:

Thanks again


avoid going to germany!

more like stifling

good at engineering and precision and technology,
but totally missing the…

go to holland instead

avoid germany like the plague.

hmmm … that was very … helpful … thanks :astonished:



Having lived here in Munich for two years (prior to that in the US) I can say that most of what you have heard so far is generally true - punctuality, engineering-mindedness etc. And Germany as a whole is indeed a large and complex society. As someone alluded to above, Bavaria is quite different from Nieder Saxony and so on.

Much of German design however is still identifiable as German - highly engineered, clean, simple, a certain amount of heft in things etc. Some of my German collegues sometimes even criticise their own design culture as being “over-built” or “over-fortified.” I noticed this a little bit on a trip I took to Copenhagen. While there were also a lot of minimal, beautifully engineered objects, the Danes often used a tad less material on things like say, public seating, than what I have become accustomed to in Germany. Maybe this observation is useful in comparing Swedish design with German design, I am not sure.

I would also say that there is a great romantization here about Mediterranian culture, something which dates back to Goethe, but can also be found in any average German kitchen: people here have been eating more Italian food than “German” food for years. And if you go to Italy (or Mallorca for that matter) during the spring and summer, you will hear more German spoken than Italian or Spanish. This is pretty much because the weather is miserable here most of the time.

Hope this helps.

also suggest you post the question to Ralf Beukar

Guten tag!

Some good points above. Definitely agree on being mum about anything Nazi. They don’t like to talk about it and REALLY don’t appreciate any attempts at humor regarding it.

Design wise, industrial/tech look is still very in. Glass elevators with exposed mechanics are all over the place. Although I recently stayed in a brand new hotel in Nurnberg (Dec 2005) and it was all marble and earthtones which suprised me. Dark walnut wood and sandstone colored marble everywhere. Modern glass door on shower and stark decor. It coudl easily have been a hotel in New York or any other major city anywhere in the world.

Office furniture seems stuck in a wafer thin euro look for the last 6years or more. Thinner is better.

Graphics on bilboards had colorful and bold type. WHite background, bold lettering and simple photo’s on white background. Not unlike US advertising. One day we will have the white world that we have been seeing in ads for the last 10 years. Then it will all make sense.

Hope that helps.

Oh, and when offered a beer, never turn it down.

Thank you all, some really good pointers in the end.
Will carry these ideas into my work.