whiteID is an important go-to for makers of children’s products, because besides design services the agency delivers one-stop product developments as well. They’re surprisingly complex – and we’re not just talking about the child seats.

But it would be wrong to reduce whiteID to products for children: the design office in Schorndorf near Stuttgart addresses totally different topics as well. Even so, restraint systems – i.e. child car seats – number among the firm’s key projects. Contrary to first impressions, such products are extremely complex and take several years to develop. Because whiteID doesn’t just see itself as responsible for the form: it develops the seats all the way from the underlying technical concept and initial studies to the final product, including all approvals, tests and market research.

We spoke to Andreas Hess, one of the company’s two managing directors, about children, royalties and design awards.
Interview: Armin Scharf 

whiteID designs lots of products for children. Was that a strategic decision?
We didn’t actively pursue it, that’s just the way it evolved over the years. Once we’d come up with a child restraint system for the car, a succession of related companies kept coming to us. In the meantime, we’ve worked on almost anything you could think of in context with children, from soothers to school satchels all the way to toys. But we definitely don’t tie ourselves down to that field, even if it looks like a key focus.

Developed back in 2010, the Transformer (manufacturer: Concord) is one of the best-selling car seats for children aged between 3 and 12 on the market. All the functions are intuitive to use, can be adjusted at the push of a button and are synchronised to prevent incorrect use.

Do you approach children’s products differently?
No, the development process is no different than for other products: here too, a lot of very different aspects come together, and in fact designing a child seat is particularly complex. As a rule, development takes at least three years. There are all sorts of things to consider: standards, approval procedures, ergonomics, the children’s comfort, safety, intuitive usability, and last but not least emotionality. It’s a context where the users’ lifestyle plays a major role in selecting and deciding on a product. The material, texture and colours have a huge impact on acceptance and the purchase decision. That’s why, in many cases, we begin the project by conducting extensive research and analysis at all levels in order to make sure we understand every aspect that plays a part in developing the concept. Only then do we turn our attention to the more technical issues.

Can you design safety?
Specifically in the case of child restraint systems, there are studies that have established huge room for improvement in terms of usability, or rather the prevention of incorrect use. Because it’s often user errors that are responsible for problems like positioning the seat wrongly in the car or incorrectly used belt guides. If you reduce these sources of error, it can have a greater impact on the safety of the products than optimising an impact-absorbing material. Design can achieve a great deal in terms of safety by ensuring intuitive usability, reducing the number and complexity of the functions and making the product self-explanatory.

New: the Monterey 5 child seat (manufacturer: Diono) is designed for minimal packaging size, is easy to use and complies with the latest European safety standard R129.

Ultimately, these products are aimed at two target groups – the adult buyers and the children. How do you handle that?
You have to understand and consider both target groups, just as you do with lots of other products. However, children express themselves differently, that’s why we observe their reactions very closely when we’re testing prototypes.

Does that mean you need to be particularly empathic?
No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s more a case of needing to reflect critically on your own opinion or way of thinking. In order to find out what children would actually like, we always conduct tests with prototypes, renderings or videos. That might take the form of consumer tests in different places or more informal family testing days on a workshop basis here at our premises. And because for us it’s always a matter of gaining insights, for instance on age-appropriate ergonomics, we always develop very precise questions and use them to create a checklist that we work through methodically.

An animal rescue truck for toy manufacturer Schleich. It’s important for the product to have archetypal basic features without exhibiting any brand-specific characteristics from the real world.

Can you remember the first children’s product you did?
Yes, it was while I was a student at the University of Design (HfG) Schwäbisch Gmünd, as part of the pre-diploma programme. It was a tricycle that was steered by shifting your weight, like the balance bikes that became popular later on. But I didn’t take it any further than the design.

You often talk about “meaningful product development” – what do you mean by that?
A product should have relevance for both its users and society. What that means in detail can vary from product to product or from one sector to another. The overarching themes that run through our entire development process are simplicity, the best-possible material-benefit ratio, and logical and emotional access to the product. At the end of the day, the user and the community should benefit from a new product. If you design a child seat with 40% less volume, it has a huge impact on both the transport chain and everyday handling.

In addition to that, we’re always interested in the question as to how you can design a product in such a way that it’s as self-evident as possible, meaning that it simplifies and enhances the everyday life of its users and fits in with its setting logically.
You offer your clients a fee model based on royalties. When and why?
The royalties model is suitable when it’s customary in the industry you’re dealing with, when we do extensive pre-development or when we work for startups who aren’t really on a firm financial footing yet. Especially in the case of child seats, but also with certain other products, we start client-independent pre-development very early on; that can involve technical aspects as well and result in us registering a patent or two. Patentable technical developments are often remunerated via licensing.

Would you describe yourself as an innovation partner for your clients?
Yes, in more than half of all our projects that’s the main reason for the collaboration. We try to see innovations in their entirety and then transfer them to the respective context. That obviously means having the necessary expertise and being able to deal with the technical aspects in depth.

How important is it to cultivate an exchange with colleges and universities?
I still teach at the University of Design (HfG) Schwäbisch Gmünd, so I stay in touch with our roots and what’s happening in terms of training. That’s very enriching because you’re constantly having to consider how today’s students think. We learn a lot from that, it gives us a lot of insight. In return, here at the office we give the students direct feedback on their projects and the profession in general. By the way: a lot of our staff are graduates of the University of Design (HfG) Schwäbisch Gmünd.

How important are design awards to you – accolades like Focus Open, which your products win on a regular basis?
They’re very important to us provided they’re based on an objective and professional approach, like the Focus Open awards. Design award ceremonies are a bit like forums where the sector gets together and can exchange ideas. There aren’t that many events like that, probably in part because of the way our industry is structured, with lots of little firms and agencies. Also, if you use awards for communication purposes, they’re relevant in terms of customer relationships and acquisition as well.

For Norwegian manufacturer BeSafe, whiteID designed the Haven baby carrier with an outward-facing function and patented air cushioning system that can be adapted to the size of the child. The product was developed in close collaboration with babywearing schools and was awarded the Focus Open Silver 2020.


Based in Schorndorf near Stuttgart, the design firm was founded around 20 years ago – today the company is headed by Andreas Hess and Sebastian Schnabel and employs a staff of 10. Both managing directors studied at the University of Design (HfG) Schwäbisch Gmünd. Although whiteID – ID stands for integrated design – develops a wide range of very different product types, mobility products such as child car seats, baby carriers and pushchairs are a key focus. 

Managing directors Andreas Hess and Sebastian Schnabel