Where it all began 1987

Each story has its origins. The idea for “Phoenix Design” has its roots not in a Silicon Valley garage, but on a yacht in the Caribbean. We all know the situation: a couple of drinks among friends, and all of a sudden, everything’s possible. You talk about your dreams, you philosophize, you make plans for the future. That’s how we primary Phoenix-ians put the seal on our plan of a joint studio 30 years ago. Today, Phoenix Design is a successful design studio, the result of ambitious goals, dedicated employees and fantastic clients.

But let’s begin at the beginning. After completing his design studies at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste [State Academy of Visual Arts] in Stuttgart, Andreas becomes co-owner of frogdesign (1972 to 1987) and leaves the Swabian capital for Altensteig in the Black Forest. While supervising Tom’s diploma thesis, who also studied at the same Academy, we get to know each other. His career also led him to frogdesign (1982 to 1987), where he at first co-designed projects as a freelancer and worked in the same team as Andreas. Both of them share the same attitude towards their craft, and this proves a connecting force. frogdesign founded its Silicon Valley affiliate as early as 1982, and has developed to date to become another big player in the design world. But we had set their sights on “Design Made in Germany”. That’s why it didn’t take long for us to realize our own design studio.

The dream of the joint design studio kindled euphoria, but it also meant taking risks and making compromises. When we scribbled a cost estimate for our company on a server’s pad in a pub, one cost item stuck out because of its amount: the model makers’ workshop, as important as it was expensive. So each of us took out a six-digit amount – Tom’s credit was even vouched for by his beloved parents who pledged their home, a house still owned today by the family. This courage was to be rewarded.

The next step meant finding the right premises, the figurehead of the young company in more ways than one. Although we did not like the architecture at all, we still decided quickly on our first studio in the Stuttgart-Vaihingen business park, complete with wooden panelling, round arches and an aesthetically questionable space motif wallpaper. The decisive reason wasn’t the pre-installed bar; it was the welcome surprise we found during our first visit to the location: behind one of the doors, there was a completely equipped and fully functional model makers’ workshop left by the previous tenant. Coincidence or destiny? Discerning claim. To this date, model making constitutes a definite element in our design process in order to provide a real look-and-feel sensation of both functionality and materiality.

Phoenix Design’s hour of birth also marks the beginning of a client relationship that has lasted through the years. Klaus Grohe from the renowned sanitary company Hansgrohe was present on-site himself when the decision was taken in the Caribbean – after all, he owned the yacht “Sweet Mama”. Up to this day, both companies have been working closely together, collecting coveted design awards in the process. Kaldewei and Loewe completed the initial client trio.

A long history consists of many unique memories. Like Tom, still in his days with frogdesign, co-designing the first portable Apple computer and meeting Steve Jobs. At that time, nobody could foresee how iconic Steve Jobs was to become later, but with his way of thinking and acting, he stood out from the crowd even then. His visions of simple operation, reduced looks and the impossibility to copy his Mac made him so unique. Steve Jobs even spent one week in the Black Forest in order to fine-tune the “Snow White” design. And not even the intern could stop him who picked him up and the airport and ended up driving him nearly all the way down to Lake Constance…

The design of the 1980’s was characterised by Memphis style, a protest movement against the elitist, purely functional design of its time. It gave the starting shot for more colour, more emotionality, more ignorance about function. That’s why it’s fun even today to dig the products of that era out of the archives.

Today, we advocate a new, less rigorous understanding of functionality – the classic formula “form follows function” has continually lost its binding character. Today, we work with a kind of functionalism that also includes emotions, which combines the heart and the mind. With our claim of “Logic, Morals, and Magic”, we have chosen a motto for our studio which integrates functionalism into the term Logic. While Morals describes our claim to providing a long service life and innovation that really makes sense, Magic describes the special aura of a product or a service.

From the very first day, Phoenix Design has been following our claim of playing in the Champions League, with great clients and challenging projects. All this stems from our conviction that design creates real added value for each user.

Tom Schönherr & Andreas Haug
Tom Schönherr & Andreas Haug

Founders, Managing Partners

Andreas Haug (left) and Tom Schönherr (right), today both of them Phoenix Design Managing Partners, founded the design studio Phoenix Design in Stuttgart back in 1987. Their career is linked most closely to the rise of modern German design. Andreas Haug and Tom Schönherr have already received the Lucky Strike Designer Award as well as the German Design Award Personality for their overall achievements.


Since 1987, Phoenix Design has been designing interaction: between the product and the user, between the brand and the consumer, between designers and their clients.
In this blog we regularly tell about the past 30 years, the present and the future at Phoenix Design.


Latest Posts