Someone who puts ideas into a computer rather than onto a sheet of paper is what we call a digital worker. Designer Lutz Gebhardt is only too happy with the label. He gave his debut at JURA with the legendary J line in 2004. And the name of his latest stroke of genius is the S8. The scalpel-like sharpness of the lines and tightly defined surfaces tell us immediately who is the brains behind the new machine. But new products don’t simply come into being overnight. ‘Design is an iterative process,’ he says: ‘a tentative attempt to feel your way towards a final result.’
The autumn sun sheds a golden light over the alleyway running through Bata Park in the Swiss municipality of Möhlin. The leaves appear to be clinging to the trees with the last of their strength to give our photographer an attractive setting for the outdoor photographs. The complex, built in 1923 in the style of the great Le Corbusier, radiates a sense of aesthetics at every turn. And one man is more acutely aware of it than other people: designer Lutz Gebhardt, who comes roaring towards us on his Buell motorcycle. He parks the heavy machine in front of the corner house. He works here on the ground floor and lives in the apartment above it. We enter the studio – the delivery room, so to speak – in which the S8 was born. It is meticulously tidy. Somewhere, a 3D printer hums stoically away, hard at work. The sound blends harmoniously with the birdsong from outside, scoring a musical theme that symbolizes a pure idyll.

‘I hate inefficiency and repetitive jobs that can be avoided’

In the second room, a computer with oceans of screen real estate radiates cosmopolitan sobriety. German-born Lutz Gebhardt, who now lives in Switzerland, learned how to use CAD applications shortly after graduating when he did an internship with a PC giant. While allowing the computer to open up a big file, the self-confessed digital nerd explains how he works: ‘I don’t make sketches by hand. I capture ideas immediately in digital form. And if I think they can be used, I print them out in 3D.’ A perfectionist through and through, he ventures two reasons for his way of doing things: ‘I hate inefficiency and repetitive jobs that can be avoided. With hand-drawn sketches, you always have to start from scratch; with a computer, you can make changes with just a few clicks. And you can only really experience the effects of form when you can actually get hold of an object. With a model you can try things out, test it and reject it.’ This affinity with tactile quality and experience may have been inherited. Lutz Gebhardt comes from a family of manual workers. ‘Even my grandma was a cabinetmaker,’ he says, and adds with a grin: ‘Well, a coffin maker.’ His father wasn’t particularly happy when his son revealed that he dreamt of being an architect. ‘“I won’t give you any money for that,” he said, shaking his head and effectively burying my plans. And that’s when I thought: “OK, I’ll be a designer.” I’ve never regretted my decision for a second.’ University in Darmstadt transformed a somewhat apathetic high-school graduate from Frankfurt into a student glowing with enthusiasm for what he was doing. For in design Gebhardt had found his passion.

Relaxation on two wheels

His love of two-wheelers is rooted firmly in his youth and time as a student. ‘I grew up on the outskirts of Frankfurt am Main. If I wanted to get into the city, I had to rely on my bike as a kid and later on a motorcycle. The first one lasted 48 hours in its original state before I took it to pieces. After I’d reassembled it, it went a good bit faster. Since then, I’ve always travelled on two wheels. Well, almost.’ For a certain time, out of a sense of responsibility for his two sons, he switched to a safer alternative with four wheels. He likes to get where he’s going directly, but on the way back enjoys taking the time for a diversion.  Rather than shortcuts, he’d rather take long ones.  Especially when he wants to let go. ‘When you’re on your motorbike, there’s no way you can concentrate on anything else. For the duration of the ride, you completely forget your cares and worries.’ Motorized meditation, so to speak.

The road to consummate design

On a shelf are studies and prototypes of the new JURA S8. He uses them to explain the most important principles behind his work. ‘A designer’s job is to translate the client’s briefing into form. If you’re looking for an expression to describe a technical device that comes in a good-looking box, you need to turn it into a power box.’ Subtle, subconsciously perceived elements give objects specific attributes. ‘You tentatively feel your way towards giving the product the ideal face. From the front, the S8 is muscular. You feel the power emanating from what is an amazing automatic machine. The flat top section, on the other hand, signalizes a level of precision that is consummated in the precise, razor-sharp lines of the ventiports. These vents, which allow heat to escape from the machine, are an ideal synthesis of form and function. Their precision is an accurate reflection of our brand essence.’

When you are ultimately responsible for form at JURA, you need to get it right from the start. ‘There’s no such thing as a commission for just one machine. You always have to keep the entire line and its eventual market positioning in mind. The idea is for the S line to create a new market segment. It means that the first machine in the line needs to establish a kind of genetic code. The entire look and feel must bridge the gap between the middle and premium ranges.’ He compares the product portfolio with a family. ‘There has to be a discernible relationship between the different lines. There are similarities in all the models in the treatment of the details, the sophistication, the joints and surfaces. But we aren’t creating clones or identical twins, just siblings. And certain questions arise within each product family: Is one of the siblings more intelligent? Is one stronger? Where and how does it show?’

Design as a universal, non-verbal language

The clarity of this way of thinking is echoed in the form. The designer describes it thus: ‘JURA does style, not fashion. Its products are built to last. The S8 was designed in such a way that the arrangement of every surface, every detail, can be perceived and understood. Design is a universal, non-verbal language. Let me give you two examples: the cappuccino spout is a solid monoblock radiating self-assurance and says: “I can do stuff!” ... and then proves it. Or the heavy, generously sized cover on the bean hopper has all the characteristic features of the solid door to a vault, protecting and locking in all the aroma of the coffee beans.’ His idiosyncratic way with language and the three-dimensional images he conjures up with it explain his popularity as a lecturer with students at the Basel Academy of Art and Design.

From brainwave to finished product

To illustrate the fact that the journey to the final form of the S8 was not all plain sailing, Gebhardt uses the example of a central element in the machine that cost him a good deal of worry and many sleepless nights: ‘One of the most difficult tasks of all was integrating the interface. How do you combine the flat, smooth surface of the touch display with the firm, powerful, almost muscular chest of the machine front? Fractions of a millimetre decide whether the convex surface looks tight or slack. It took a lot of 3D prints to find the ideal solution. Ultimately, design is an iterative process at the end of which, ideally, you have a product with a wow effect.’ In this context, Gebhardt praises the excellent collaboration he enjoyed with the individuals behind the model at JURA. ‘Executive management, development and marketing are always willing to go to the limit and beyond in order to achieve an optimum result.’ Something that helps with the development process is a tradition of cooperation going back many years. Since the first time Lutz Gebhardt worked on a project for JURA, the common goal has been to create not only beautiful products but also substantial value.

Can he tell us how he feels when he is travelling and runs into a JURA automatic machine whose character he has formed? Incredibly happy!’ he responds with the speed of a return from Roger Federer. ‘Two years ago when I was on a trip to Sweden, I ended up in a student bar. And there, sitting on the counter, were two XJ models. I was so proud that I could have spent the entire evening drinking one coffee after another. It was just so beautiful.’ The anecdote eloquently describes the way Lutz Gebhardt sees the work of a designer. ‘Design should make the world more enjoyable: simpler, more practical and more convenient. And because the definition of enjoyment is individual, it opens an inexhaustible realm of possibilities.’ But depending on where you are, the term ‘enjoyment’ can, unfortunately, sound slightly decadent or even pejorative. And that’s why he prefers, rather quaintly, to call it ‘deliciousness’. ‘That is precisely what the new S8 is designed to bring to the lives of coffee lovers: deliciousness in all its many facets.’


Images: Remo Buess