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Christian Spiess - It’s all just a game

TAWA Christian Spiess 1 web
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  • Filler Rob web
    Rob Filler

When a well-known Swiss toy manufacturer launches a new product and names you as its designer, then you’ve arrived – right, Christian Spiess? We talked to him about his adventures, and how Creative Hub helped him in the process.

A contract with Naef Spiele, a Swiss Design Award nomination, the local news wants to report – Christian Spiess is on a roll. And all because of TAWA. That’s the name of the construction game he invented. It consists of 16 unusually milled wooden blocks, ready to be arranged and rearranged into amazing formations and patterns. “Sure, this is my greatest success so far,” admits Christian, “but I haven’t ‘arrived’ yet – and that’s not the point, anyway.”

TAWA is just one of many creations by the product designer from Biel, who is now based in Zurich. But it’s poised to propel his further career. For the 36-year-old, TAWA is also a reflection of many important things he has learned about himself to date.

He received the first important insight in childhood. “I always wanted to work with a material, do something with it, change it. My parents were overjoyed when I took apart various household appliances and put them together in completely different ways,” Christian recalls and laughs, then shares his first professional steps: “I spent a year apprenticing with a carpenter in Vevey on Lake Geneva, and subsequently trained as a decorative designer at CEPV – Vevey’s school of applied arts.”

But decorative designer wasn’t the right calling for Christian Spiess. He noticed this during several job interviews at large fashion and furniture stores: “They only wanted me to choose colours, move objects, and dress mannequins – quite unlike my apprenticeship when I was allowed to build tables.” After a short stint as a freelance decorator, the second important realization came to him: “I don’t just want to look after the façade, I want to go deeper: into the idea, function, and composition of a product.” He decided to follow this urge. After a stay abroad on a Canadian ranch, followed by Swiss community service (in lieu of military service) in a wood workshop for the disabled, he enrolled at ÉCAL University of Art and Design in Lausanne, and studied industrial design. Straight away afterwards, he moved to Paris, where he worked for the renowned studio of Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for four years. “That gave me a lot of inspiration for my work as a self-employed industrial designer today: the uncompromising persistence, the search for the very best solution.”

With this third insight, TAWA was born. Christian was so convinced of his idea that he wanted to market the game. He submitted it to the Bernese Design Foundation and: success! In 2016, he received funding for a pre-series. The first 120 play sets were produced in cooperation with the workshop where he had done his community service years before. 

And it was the Bernese Design Foundation that brought Christian to Creative Hub. “I really didn’t have a clue about business plans, costing, pricing, or even marketing. Creative Hub gave me a huge boost there.” He participated in Creative Committed, the 6-month interactive workshop program. “During this time, I also developed the name TAWA, because I learned that having a real branded product is essential.” Perhaps this was also the final detail that alerted the high-end toy manufacturer Naef to Christian Spiess. Naef offered to launch TAWA. And that’s exactly what happened.

But Christian does not limit himself to developing wooden toys. His portfolio includes sophisticated shelving systems as well as an asymmetrical brick for unusual house façades. He is currently collaborating with a friend, a top athlete, on new fitness equipment. Concurrently, he plans complete offices for companies, and develops the furniture systems to go along with them.

“In the end, it’s about combining idealism and business.” Christian’s fourth important discovery is that this is feasible. Certainly not the last insight on his exciting path.

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