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Design should breathe life into things...

CoffeeBreak visits Ronald Büttler, designer of the new Z line from JURA, at his Zurich studio.

Zurich’s 4th District. Once, it was a place where people buried horses and other animals. Towards the end of the 19th century, it offered migrants to Switzerland a home. Today, in its streets and alleyways, behind thick walls and coloured windows, Zurich’s (night) life comes into its own. Artists are as much a part of the scene as the dropouts, the freaks, the nightclubs, the bars and other establishments of varying degrees of repute. Running through it like an artery is the legendary Langstrasse, perceived by many as a den of sin and iniquity. For all that, its side streets are a hotbed of creativity. 

A haven of creativity at the heart of Zurich

A bike shoots past a row of houses sprayed with graffiti, abruptly turns to one side and is swallowed up by dark entry, at the end of which opens up a welcoming atrium. Designer Ronald Büttler removes his helmet and chains up his mount. We glance quickly around the light-flooded courtyard. Cars parked cheek by jowl. Company signs with no-frills typography frame the plain entrances. Galleries, consultants, architects and, in the midst of them, ‘Candio & Büttler, Architects and Industrial Designers’.

‘The place bears all the signs of being lived in. What you are is far more important than what you seem. We love the lively mix and the exchange we have with other people in creative professions,’ enthuses the designer. He learned his trade at Zurich’s well-known University of the Arts. Ten years ago, he teamed up with Federal Institute of Technology graduate Manuel Candio, an architect, to take the leap into self-employment. ‘Frank Bosshard joined us as a partner around two years ago. The fourth link in the chain is Olivier Sottas, product designer and interior designer.’ We sit ourselves down with an espresso on a basic wooden bench next to the entrance and bask in the powerful rays of the spring sunshine. ‘Our office has been here in this courtyard for seven years now.’ A short commute is guaranteed because they all live in the city. ‘We feel very much at home here in the 4th District. I love the urban environment.’

From the kid with a pencil to professional designer

Ronald Büttler, 47, is married and the father of a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. It became clear to him early on that he would have to pursue a creative profession. ‘Even as a kid I loved drawing, and I’ve been fascinated by cars for as long as I can remember. I’m interested in form because that’s what gives cars their character – ideally something essential.’ During his apprenticeship as a draughtsman, he worked for an architect who specialized in industrial architecture and industrial design. He’d got the bug, and his destiny was clear: he would be a designer.

Long-time cooperation with JURA

Ronald Büttler and Manuel Candio can look back on many years of working with JURA. The successful ENA line and the IMPRESSA A line are both a product of their collaboration, as is the Global Support Center, Hall III, which opened around two years ago at JURA headquarters. They were delighted to get the assignment to take the Z line to another level. They already had a close relationship with the Z5, launched in 2004. ‘Back then, I was involved with the design and development of the Z5 with Zemp and Partner Design. So I was conscious of the thinking that had gone into the design.’ Büttler was acutely aware whose footsteps he and his team were following in with the design that had successfully marked out the Z line for ten years, and approached the legacy responsibly and with a lot of respect.

 

Developing a product that remains true to itself

‘Developing it further meant understanding why the machine is so successful. In the Z line, it was the all-round harmony: the brand, the quality, the materials, the workmanship, the intuitive operation, the perfect coffee and the unique, immediately recognizable design.’ The latter was largely due to the beautifully contoured aluminium front panel. That’s why we decided to incorporate this formal element into the Z6.’ For all that, it was freshly interpreted. ‘The challenge lay in creating a new design despite the formal cues. In the Z6 the contours are tighter and appear more precise. The material on the front now extends over the top of the machine. Consequently, the focus is on the bean hopper, which has been moved towards the front, and the visible coffee beans.’

But it was not only the appearance of the ‘Z line 2.0’ that took it to another level. ‘We thought long and hard about the machine’s ergonomics and functionality. All the primary functions are directly accessible from the front. The water tank and the bean hopper, for instance. The screen design also reflects the machine’s shape. At the heart of it all are the coffee specialities. They are displayed realistically. The keys for direct preparation embody enjoyment at the touch of a button. Thanks to the large colour display, the menu design is particularly user-friendly. The entire navigation is based on images. An easily remembered pictogram was developed for every function, and the various parts of the menu are distinguished by colour, enabling fast, safe navigation.’

What makes Swiss design so different?

Our question as to whether the new Z line incorporates attributes of typically Swiss design is one Büttler does not find easy to answer. ‘I think Swiss design as a service only has limited potential as an export. Products that have the aura of being Swiss are popular worldwide. And Swiss design clearly plays a part in that success. It makes Swiss quality visible, something people can experience. But Swiss design has nothing to do with the nationality of the designer. It’s more of an attitude, a certain kind of understanding that is taught at Swiss design schools. And it’s closely related to the values that define our culture and society.’

The designer often takes inspiration from the job itself, but also from his surroundings and current events. Ronald Büttler enjoys spending time away from the studio with his family but also likes getting his hands dirty working on his own pet design projects. ‘I like tinkering around with my three old cars, which I still use to drive around in. I’ve had my DS for over 20 years. The Citroën DS and the CX are two of my favourite examples of design. When it comes to contemporary design, I’m a big fan of the Bouroullec brothers. Their work is both sensuous and innovative.’ Candio & Büttler, then, want to continue ‘breathing life into things, to ensure that people like and enjoy them for a long time to come. Things that people are proud to own and happy to use. My aim is to use simple, clear forms to make objects that are expressive and have a life of their own.’

 

Images: Kurt Pfister