The Appearance of the Press
Eckhard Köbler and his team of nine are the ones who design
the unique appearance of Heidelberg presses. We visited
Köbler's design studio, and he explained why design is more
than just looks.
Presses do not only have to work perfectly; they also have to look
good. In a globalized world, design establishes identity. The
form, color, and material of a machine reflect the image of its
manufacturer. They allow us to perceive top quality, supremacy,
fascination, and passion-the core of Heidelberg products-with our
Mr. Köbler, again and again, Heidelberg products win awards
for their design, as did the Speedmaster XL 162 and the press
control console Prinect Press Center. Of what benefit is that to
Köbler: Print shops also have to promote their
company image. For instance, when a client visits the printing
company for print approval, the workshop becomes a showroom, and
production presses become aesthetic flagships. That is when design
immediately adds value.
In which way?
Köbler: Ultimately, design parameters such as color,
form, and material are codes we use to communicate emotional
messages. That becomes obvious when we think of car colors. Right
now, white is very popular, although it was long considered dull.
It is perceived as pure and futuristic, and certainly lifestyle
products such as the Apple iPod have contributed to that. Trend
research results also influence the design of Heidelberg presses.
Could you illustrate that by the example of Heidelberg's
Köbler: Our New_Arc-Design reflects the triangle of
tension between globalization, ergonomics, and technological
progress. The silver shades symbolize high tech. However, this high
tech is not supposed to control man, but serve him. That is
expressed by the arches-from which the name was derived-and soft
curves, for instance at the printing towers. In combination with
the geometrical surfaces which partly contrast in color, they look
noble and clear, thus creating an operator-friendly atmosphere.
We used cityscape portals as models for the design of the feeder
and delivery of the XL 162. Edifices like the Arc de Triomphe in
Paris are passageways in the true sense, but also symbols. It is
much the same with the Speedmaster XL 162: The two portals stand
for input and output. They define the beginning and the end of the
value chain. Paper goes into the press unprinted and comes out
Don't your designs get in the way of the engineers?
Köbler: No. Right from the initial product idea, we
sit at the same table as the engineers and continuously exchange
information with them. Through sketches and 3-D models, we
gradually approach the optimal form. On the computer screen, the
product often looks perfectly designed. But the foam models on a
scale of 1:10 reveal where there are still problems, for example,
where the proportions are wrong. Then we redesign the press and
build a cardboard model on a scale of 1:1. We design all visible
components. Functional criteria such as passive safety and
longevity also play a role. For example, we expose the varnish on
the press cover to various solvents in order to test the paint
abrasion. We also compare the shock resistance and other
characteristics of different materials, such as sheet steel and
plastic, so quality remains affordable in series production.
What is the role of users?
Köbler: A very important one. We want to make it as
simple and safe as possible to operate the press. Therefore, design
always follows ergonomics.
The jog wheel of the Prinect Press Center is a good example. We
included it as an additional control element, so the user can turn
the wheel instead of clicking the screen several times to regulate
Or consider the design of the printing-unit handle: to
prevent the handle from sticking into the back of the user, we have
curved its lower end. Besides, all operating points are easy to
find, because the layout is the same throughout all press formats.
That particularly helps stand-in printers operate the press
How long does it take for you to develop a new product such as
the XL 162 or the Prinect Press Center?
Köbler: It takes roughly four years to complete a
project. Normally, we handle three or four projects at the same
time, plus our day-to-day business. Sometimes, that makes you feel
like an architect at a major building site.