Interview: Martin Groschwald, Konzepthaus Founder

Martin Groschwald, CEO of Konzepthaus, will be sharing his thoughts on design industry through this interview. He will also be some of insights about Konzepthaus and how it is helping the students and Design firms. Konzepthaus is a design consultancy and recruitment agency with Focus on Mobility Design.

Where are you from and how's the car design scene there?

I grew up in a tiny town 30 minutes north of Stuttgart, but nowadays I call Munich home. The car design scene here is very vibrant with several large, traditional Companies and numerous start-up OEMs located here also. It allows us to host Designer networking evenings, small driving events and attend many of the other industry events that happen in Munich.

What is Konzepthaus and where does it operate?

Konzepthaus is a global design consultancy and recruitment agency focusing on three areas within the design sector. Firstly, our heritage is recruiting design personnel at all levels for the mobility industry on a global scale. We recruit both permanent as well as temporary support staff in all relevant areas within the design department. Secondly, our Academy division delivers bespoke training programs directly to design departments on the latest software skills. It also provides management and leadership training tailored for the challenges of design departments specifically. And thirdly, our newest team focuses on organization, administration, and process development from a consultative function, utilizing their deep understanding and experience from working in mobility creative departments. Konzepthaus Group calls Munich it's home, but just this year we have opened a second office in the heart of London.

When and How did the idea come to start a design recruitment and consultancy firm?

Konzepthaus launched in 2015 from the belief that there was a lack of focus for this specific area of recruitment. Both Daniel, my business partner & I had worked several years as head-hunters together in the automotive design field in London. We recognized that recruitment in this area was a by-product of larger recruitment businesses and often under-resourced as a result. With a strong focus on this unique recruitment process and network required, we felt we could better satisfy the needs of our partners. The consultancy idea was a long-term goal, but we had to do our homework first and firmly establish ourselves in the industry before growing too fast. This step-by-step approach combined with a clear vision has paid off for us, with our business now incorporating a consulting team, the Academy, and our second recruitment team focused on digital design (UI/UX) in mobility and beyond mobility too.

How do you meet the requirement of different Brands for recruitment?

We see our role as not just having access to people/talent, but rather that we work together with all parties involved finding the best fit to the department’s unique environment. Each department, team, and leader at Konzepthaus are different, so we can’t treat them as the same and send the same portfolio to multiple Brands. As you can imagine, this requires a deep understanding of the teams, structures, and personalities in the respective design departments of those brands we work together with. Talent in the job is one thing but, that is a given that we can supply this. Our focus lies much more on the personality and character of the individual who matches the brand and can push it to new heights. For any level of hiring, It is our job to make that distinction to help our partners to make the right decision on what is best for their brands and teams.

Is there any possibility that design recruitment will change in the future?

There is currently a lot of hype around artificial intelligence in the recruitment world. I don’t think we will see that happening anytime soon in the creative space – simply because the emotional factors of design (feel, intelligence, etc.) are still very subjective. However, I certainly believe that due to fundamental changes in the mobility industry overall, the role of the designer (whether it be cars, VTOLs, experiences, etc.) will forego a massive change. This means sketching and ideation are not what get you a job anymore. There will always be specialists, so I’m not saying these skills are no longer important, but they are becoming more of a commodity (just look at how many talented designers we can find on Instagram who shares incredible sketches and ideas). To become more relevant in designing objects physically and digitally, designers will also need to play a much bigger role within business and service design. In short: how can we as designers help to generate new income streams for the business? I’ll give you an example: in many automotive companies, the main point of the design department is still to give a product a skin. As much as we want to believe innovation comes from the design team, in many companies the innovative idea and a business case for that idea are often coming from a different department. Therefore, in many OEMs, the design department is, frankly speaking, an internal supplier to execute ideas and innovation – we can say it would be a Styling Department rather than a Design Department. That said, I believe we will see a much bigger divide between stylists and designers. As departments change and more start-ups enter the market, styling will be a very important USP to distinguish one brand from another. I do believe styling teams will decrease in size and the design teams will increase due to the increasing importance of creating new products and services with new roles that we probably cannot define properly. And maybe the Head of Design in a car company might not be an actual car designer in the next 5-10 years?

What are the advantages of recruiting through your agency? Why do brands and students should consider your firm instead of recruiting themselves?

Maybe I explain this more in a case of what we are not: We are not a recruiting team inside an OEM, Supplier, Agency, etc. This means we are not trying to get as many designers as possible interested in a position and then have a lengthy selection process. We are also not in competition with these internal teams but work together with them to ensure the best result for both the client and candidate. Our job, in the end, is to solve a problem and usually very quickly (either for permanent or temporary positions). This problem can have many origins (time constraints, own search process didn’t work and sometimes even not knowing what one wants). But it is our job to break it down, find a range of solutions (usually 2-3 profiles per position, and ideally have a quick turnaround (not always possible, as you can imagine). That doesn’t mean we are not working on something that could be a bit more speculative but are always mentioning that this is the case to not build false expectations. I think our biggest strength through our entire team is that we put a lot of emphasis on getting to know people and their characters, through phone calls, video calls, and personal meetings. It is more time-consuming than an e-mail, but we are in a people business and, to be honest, it’s much nicer to speak to someone directly rather than just e-mail. This applies to both candidates and clients.

Does the reputation of the college matter for an individual's career?

Unfortunately, it still does, but it will change in the coming 10-15 years. We still live in an age where the leadership in design comes from a few select colleges (Pforzheim, RCA, and Art Center are the main ones). You can guarantee the level of education and therefore know what to expect from these students coming from these leading colleges. But as more leadership positions on a global scale start coming from different educational backgrounds, we will see a change in the design departments, with more people from non-traditional schools making a strong impact.

How do you think Konzepthaus is helping the design community to grow?

The main thing Konzepthaus want to achieve, especially in the mobility sector, is to get the current and future generation of mobility designers to think about how their role will change. How important is it to become a great leader in a team, for example? Understanding how important design is for the entire business and how it can help drive growth. Our Gestalten Podcast tries to show a different side of the design world, away from the nice and flashy bits. We aim to challenge people’s thinking, but also share alternative views and stories from our guests. Konzepthaus was recently a presenting partner of the IAA, hosting panel talks that aimed to show how much creative thinking exists within the design department (on all levels) and how this can be implemented in larger and high-level structures. In all that we do, we hope to challenge the existing mindset of leading-edge designers everywhere, to think differently, co-collaborate, and elevate the design process to a new level.

How big is your team and can you share some insights into your Studio/Office?

We are currently 18 people between our two offices in Munich and London and we are in the process of expanding both sites now. So if anybody would like to join us on the recruitment or consulting front, don’t hold back. In Munich, we have recently moved into a new office, overlooking the English Gardens, which has completely changed how we operate for the better. Interaction between the teams has lifted to a new level, which has even improved our collaboration with our partners. But most importantly, everyone enjoys coming to work and sharing ideas with their colleagues.

What are your views on future mobility?

I could write a book about where I believe the future of mobility is heading. But I will sum it up a bit: We need to get back to human-centric design in everything we create. Many industries, the car industry included, still create products to tell the user/ consumer what they should use. We are experiencing a movement where customers are becoming more and more aware of their surroundings and what they want to spend their time on. Spending patterns change, the idea of owning a product changes. And in the middle of that is the human being. There will always be the beautiful sports car, but the general change in mobility is coming faster than we think in first world countries and what we conceive as a vehicle will be very different from what it is today. The owners of the mobility solution will change as well. I don’t see an OEM becoming the central point of mobility. I certainly see cities, states, or even countries directing the future of mobility solutions, democratizing access to new methods of travel. And no, I don’t think the idea of a toaster on wheels is the solution.

What impact does COVID have on the automotive industry?

Not as much as we think, and I see it as an accelerator that we need to start serious work on new ideas for transportation. The main thing I feel where it impacted strongly was that working from home became normal. I don’t think this will signal the end of a non-office-culture, as working together in person will always be more effective and helpful on team projects. However, one of the biggest impacts I have come across is that we need to make sure our managers are better trained and prepared to work with people in any arrangement possible. Ideas of control, flexibility, and understanding will need to be handled in a completely different manner. The old top-down attitude will be difficult to maintain in these new mixed work environments.

What advice do you have for upcoming transportation design students?

It might be a tough pill to swallow but, most of you will not get a job as a creative designer in the transportation design industry. There are just too many schools and universities catering to design now in the world that this could ever be the case. But the design industry is much bigger than just this role. 3D Modelers, Visualization Artists, Project Managers, to name a few, are just some more roles that you have access to if you want, with the same or similar career opportunities. They are all equally important but might not be as flashy. The times where one designer oversaw one vehicle are long gone anyways.