How Carl Zeiss found an aesthetic identity for its new high-end SLR lenses
When the 1.4/55 focal length comes onto the market at the end of 2013 as the first member of the new high-end family of SLR lenses, it will not only introduce a new lens with uncompromising image quality. The lens’s new prize-winning product design will also be a talking point. “ZEISS lenses are known for their technical precision, excellent image performance and ergonomics. That will always be the case because we know photographers’ needs and user circumstances. But our new lenses should also fulfill the highest aesthetic expectations of our customers to become design objects in their own right,” explains Martin Dominicus, Head of Marketing in the Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division.
ZEISS lenses have been around for over 120 years, but product design has never been the foremost factor. But for this new high-end family of SLR lenses, Carl Zeiss was already considering the aesthetics of the finished product during its development. The newly-defined design is intended to reflect the lenses’ unique character and make ZEISS lenses truly unmistakable in the future.
The new design for ZEISS lenses, which recently won the prestigious iF Award, followed a long identification and development process. It began in 2010 when Carl Zeiss invited various agencies to a competition, won by Stuttgart design studio Phoenix Design. While most lenses on the market are very technically-oriented in their design, Carl Zeiss’s goal in this project was to communicate the brand personality of its new family of lenses through its design. In other words, form should follow content rather than function.
But how do you get a brand identity to mirror itself in the form? Carl Zeiss put Phoenix in contact with a pool of professional photographers, many of whom had worked with ZEISS for a long time. In a series of interviews with photo artists, as well as product and automotive photographers, the core factors of the ZEISS brand were analyzed and given certain attributes. Accordingly, it was concluded the brand’s image has three core elements. The technology is defined in the combination of terms “precise – progressive – high-performance”. From the user’s perspective, the elements “logical – uniform — reliable – user-oriented” are most important. Finally, the effect of the lenses is described as “integrative – pleasant – distinct.” This definition prescribed fairly clearly how the external design of the lenses should look: Form and labeling should be part of the brand’s uniqueness. At the same time, ZEISS lenses should also be recognizably ZEISS.
The results of the surveys were incorporated into an almost 50-page design guide, which served as the foundation for developing the concrete form elements. The high-end SLR lenses for full-frame-format cameras, which will be on the market at the end of 2013, will distinguish themselves through their soft and smooth forms. The lens hood’s funnel-shaped form lets in a maximum of light; the smooth surface expresses precision; and the detachable stray-light reduction lens hood has been integrated into the overall form of the lens and, together with many other elements, signifies reduced complexity: nothing should distract the photographer from his work.
The lenses’ new window scales serve the same purpose: Only the relevant scale range around the index line is visible to the photographer. The yellow scale numbers, which like the scales themselves were modeled after professional cinema lenses, are easy to recognize in poor lighting conditions and therefore represent an additional unique feature for camera lenses. The new typeface DIN 1451, which was introduced with the lenses, is highly legible. This typeface is known not only for its clear, classic, modern appearance; it has been in use since 1936 for German road and rail signage. It was cut into the lens using fine cutters and a fixed stroke width.
On the dials of many lenses there is usually a grooved surface that is actually not strictly necessary for very fine and precise settings. Carl Zeiss and Phoenix decided instead on a smooth surface in order to guarantee the strongest possible adhesion – similar to Formula 1 tires, which have no tread. The result, in addition to the optimized adhesion, is a clear and precise look.
Another issue that came up while developing the new design was how to design the metal edges on the parting lines between the fixed and movable parts of the lens. Carl Zeiss and Phoenix decided on extremely fine chamfers in order to express precision through the effect of light reflections.
Based on the design guide, the next step was the actual design — first of a lens, which was entirely made up, and then of the first of the new high-end SLR full-frame lenses with a focal length of 55 mm. Whereas at the beginning of the development process the designers worked mainly with the marketing and product management departments of the Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division, the developers now entered the picture, incorporating their recommendations for form into the design. From freehand sketches to 3D computer-generated models to scale modeling, ideas were analyzed jointly by the designers and developers, and judged for both their ability to offer optimal usability and their technical practicability.
What began with the lenses of the high-end SLR range has since been carried through the design for the entire new range of mirrorless system cameras, as well as the cine and anamorphic families of lenses. In the future, the new design language will be applied to all further focal ranges of these series, as well as future lenses. The design of the high-end SLR lenses served as the template to develop the ideal form that will characterize how all ZEISS lenses will look in the future.
For more about our upcoming 1.4/55 from Dr. Hubert Nasse, Staff Scientist at Carl Zeiss please watch