Last week we had the opportunity to interview Moritz Güttinger from Zuriga, a local espresso-coffee-maker firm that designed a beautiful, functional and minimal espresso machine for the Swiss market. Founded in 2016 as a one-man shop, the company grew to a team of seven, while still assembling every coffee-maker by hand, and producing many of its parts locally. The company continued to follow the three guiding principles defined by Moritz back when he opened up his first espresso-coffee-maker to figure out what could be improved upon. According to him, his ideal coffee-maker has to be small, fast and simple. These elements are all masterfully executed in the Zuriga espresso-coffee-maker. In a two hour conversation we tried to gain insights into how the final product came about and what we could learn from his experience.
Having competencies in-house is not always a good thing
Even though Moritz created the first sketch of the machine prototype himself, after opening up his own coffee-maker to see how it could be improved, he quickly realized that he needed professional support. From the beginning he was working together with an engineering as well as a design agency to develop the product. Bouncing ideas off each other was a great way to think critically about the product, Moritz argued, and forced him to consider different options. One example is using wood for key elements of the machine as suggested by the designers, while he was opting for a synthetic material at first.
At some point Zuriga employed an in-house designer with an engineering background to support the development. But good design needs time, Moritz emphasized, and soon a variety of tasks in the engineering department were delegated to the designer because he seemed to have the capacity. Soon the designer was more of an engineer in the company than a designer.
This natural tendency of a startup to delegate jobs to employees that are supposedly free to do additional work is hard to overcome, according to Moritz. Not so with an external design agency, which operates independent in their creative process.
Furthermore, Moritz thinks that only external designers have the freedom necessary to be bold and provocative in their designs. The situation of an in-house designer, on the other hand, is usually constant over-watch and almost real-time feedback, which makes it hard to design outside what the company considers their identity.
Nowadays, Zuriga is working fully with an external design agency on new products again and is completely happy with their cooperation so far.
The benefits of local production
Zuriga still produces a large portion of the 318 parts that make up their product locally with Swiss suppliers. Considering the high prices resulting from expensive labor costs that define the Swiss market it came as a surprise to us that for Moritz local production was more than a simple marketing gimmick.
Local means geographical proximity. This means it is much easier to hop on a train (or even go by foot) to talk to a supplier. Communication becomes much easier that way, especially, since with a physical product it often is incredibly difficult to communicate what exactly you want to change.
“Sometimes the supplier only gets what you want if you can show it to him on the actual product.”
Furthermore, some of their suppliers were part of the process from the beginning. Through the long-lasting partnership and taking part in the product development these suppliers are valuable members of the Zuriga ecosystem that provide important input regarding the product. It is incredibly valuable to have a supplier that actively thinks about how to produce your product in the best possible way. They become partners rather than sole supplier of materials.
While the costs are higher because of the local production, Moritz claimed that the effect is not that large. Because Zuriga still produces only about 80 machines a month, the quantities of the materials are too small to be able to produce with large suppliers and profit from their scale discounts.
Embrace the messy process
In all their years of development, Moritz followed an iterative approach in developing Zuriga’s products. It was a back and forth between him and the designers over many prototypes until the final product was produced. While in the end, Zuriga stands for simplicity, high level aesthetics and functionality, these standards are not necessarily applied from the beginning of the design process. Moritz says that it is important to start with the extremes.
“At the beginning of developing a new product design, you should not limit yourself.”
He advocates playing out a few extreme options that explore very different types of designs. In the subsequent process, he identifies the best elements of the various options and integrates them over many iterations into a final design. The best of all worlds.
The same is true for developing upcoming products, such as a coffee-grinder for example. Even here, Zuriga does not limit itself by its previous designs for the espresso-coffee-maker at the beginning. Instead, they explore a variety of options and then decide if and how much the final design should be related to previous products.
Lastly, it is important to embrace the randomness of the development process. During the production of the first espresso-coffee-maker, Moritz wanted to have a metal roof part on the machine. However, the supplier could not produce the part as needed and Zuriga switched to the wooden panel that is now one of the signature elements of the machine and beautifully connects the various parts of the Zuriga system from the machine to the knock-box.
A lot of times the process won’t go according to plan. This can be a good thing. Embrace the randomness and develop an opportunistic mindset where you adapt to the changing circumstances and make the best out of it. This could very well be considered the governing principle of the entire history of Moritz Güttinger and Zuriga.