We are facing a big revolution in car design, and this revolution is coming from the interior. That’s what we see with the Renault Symbioz, because with connected and autonomous cars, you will be able to completely reimagine the interior.
Maybe you don’t need a steering wheel or pedals any more, maybe the seat can be a bench, or the seats turn? Then you can reinvent all the materials: as you see in the Symbioz, materials come from the home, there are real fashion materials inside. This will be reality in a few years, it’s not only an exercise. We will also see connected materials, smart fabrics or smart paint. The car will be able to communicate through the materials, and not only through screens or HMI devices – that’s also a totally new world of experimentation. This is really exciting, but it’s a little bit frightening as well, because we are no longer in a kaizen evolution where you just have to do the same car a little bit better. Everybody is in front of a big sheet of blank paper.
The basic role of a designer has not changed so much since I’ve been working in the industry, as we are always in charge of the aesthetic appearance of the car. But the processes are changing because of constraints such as safety requirements, and also because of the evolution of customers, of the market, of society. The technical and IT revolution is also a big challenge, and the processes are very complex because we have to be really global.
We have around 400 designers in France, and around 45-50 are the interior and colour and trim designers in my team. We are not only working for the Renault brand; this is the main ‘mother’ brand, but we work for all the Renault Group: Renault, Dacia, Renault Samsung Motors and Alpine, and we are also working in co-operation on the management level with the other Alliance brands – Nissan, of course, but now also Mitsubishi.
We have refurbished our facilities at our headquarters near Paris; we have kept the building itself, the outside walls, but completely redesigned the interior – we have taken down the walls so if I am in the studio, I can see the other studios and the workshop, as there is only glass. Somebody working on a Clio can see his neighbour working on a Captur, for instance: it encourages teamwork and also brand consistency. We are working a lot with new tools, VR of course and 3D, and we are experimenting and always looking for new technology – very important for UX, but also interior and exterior design. We can visualise our work in a much better way, work quickly, save more money: there are a lot of advantages.
We have several satellite design centres as well. One is in São Paulo, Brazil; I am in charge of this studio, and I have to travel there regularly because we produce a lot of cars for South America. We have another design centre in Bucharest, Romania, mainly for Dacia; we have a big design centre, the second-largest, in Seoul, South Korea, and two small design centres in India, where we develop cars like the Renault Kwid.
The base request for all markets is the same: a safe, comfortable car, nice to sit in, easy to handle, but in the details, it’s different. For India, you need a practical car, seating many people inside; in Brazil, they want to enjoy high-tech novelties; in South Korea, they need status and premium-ness as well as high-tech, and in Europe it’s
very different again.
I would say Renault is a great place to be right now: we are in a time where we have good products, good designs, a consistent line-up with a positive brand identity, and we are a very powerful group alliance. There are many opportunities for young designers coming to Groupe Renault, to travel the world, work for the different brands, and work with very interesting people. For a young designer coming out from school, we are asking for talent, for them to be really creative and express new ideas with sketches or mock-ups: technical know-how doesn’t matter so much at first but of course, that has to come, with experience.
I studied industrial design, and maybe that is why I am more focused on interiors now. I started at Mercedes-Benz in 1988 as an exterior designer, and they gave me the opportunity after a few years to lead a project for an interior – and I discovered a really great world with a lot of different possibilities, because you have to design the dashboard, the doors, the seats… it’s a bit like interior architecture.
Then I moved to PSA in ’94, where my former boss asked me ‘what do you want to do? Do you want to be an exterior designer, an interior designer, or do you want to be a colour & trim manager?’ And I thought well, at 31, being a manager – that sounds good, let’s try this! I was really naïve and enthusiastic, but it was interesting how my exterior and interior background could help, to make the synthesis between the car and the colour and the material, giving an overall view to the teams. Of course, we are all passionate about cars, but I think the exterior designer should be a real artist and have genius! They should be able to sketch a nice car with a few lines, whereas an interior designer has to think about technology, comfort, ergonomics and everything connected with the passenger and driver.
And colour and trim designers are something else: they don’t do their job only by themselves, they are like conductors in an orchestra. They imagine materials, colours, and have to put these together in the car, and then source everything from suppliers; it’s a big co-ordination, and that’s why I think this is the most difficult job in car design.
This interview is from our Car Design Review 5, a beautifully-produced 200-page book published this Spring and containing the past year’s finest concept and production cars, plus trend reports, an in-depth feature on our lifetime achievement award winner, industry legend Wayne Cherry, and interviews with many of the world’s foremost designers. If you’d like more details or the chance to purchase your own copy, go here.