The most exciting thing at the moment is that the car as a product is getting redefined; it blends into other areas. There isn’t a clear line between private and public transport with shared rides and shared drives, and connectivity doesn’t start when you enter the car and stop when you exit, or vice versa: it’s a seamless integration.
That’s just one element of the larger user experience in which the car has to redefine itself, not through traditional values such as horsepower and performance, but by blending into one’s personal life and a lot of other things, in this constant change that will lead to products that don’t even have a name yet today. This forces us to look into completely different domains and constantly learn.
The new areas Faurecia is entering, as we showed recently at CES with our Cockpit of the Future technologies, have a lot to do with putting the user in the centre, creating experiences – which of course have to be designed. We generate, simulate, model and physically test user scenarios which explore HMI, UX, UI and screen display content; we map out audio content scenarios, in single ‘bubbles’ or everybody together in one; we work on thermo-bubbles and experiences; and we consider user comfort in the next steps towards autonomous driving, showing a path towards an ultimate Level 5.
That means moving an occupant around, so complete new seat structures, new positions, and getting air, music, temperature in a different way because the ergonomics change. When you start with the user, to move him or her around differently, everything else is impacted.
So, we have been exploring and building smart surfaces, where a decorative part has a function as a display or as a input device, or hides a function like an air vent, and we morph surfaces, so that suddenly the shape physically changes and perhaps another display on another surface becomes visible. These are not only show car or design intentions, but things we are bringing to reality, production and industrialisation.
Traditionally carmakers went to the Tier One suppliers with a request for quotation to industrialise a specific model, but to propose genuine breakthrough innovation, we have to start working with them much earlier. This is what we are doing with new carmakers like Byton, as well as with existing well-known brands, and it is happening more often – probably because the interior is where it’s really happening, and the user is now in the centre of every conceptualisation.
This inside-out approach, which was always talked about, is finally becoming true and that’s one of the reasons people come to us, as we are able to do everything from a seat to an instrument panel, a floor, an acoustic package, HMI integration, decorative materials and the kinematics that go with all the ergonomic changes.
We are in the driver’s seat: we are able to define entire occupant environments, and when we create a user scenario, also the electronic parts that go with it, the graphic user interface and the comfort part. There’s the further health and wellbeing part, like measuring respiration and heartbeat rates, and then feeding back through massage systems, light, sound and everything else.
Creatively, this means it has never been as much fun and as rewarding as it is today. There has been a big expansion of the business, both on my personal design team and in our engineering and technology expertise: we have added the competencies about integrating digital technologies and the user-experience design. This has to go hand-in-hand, it doesn’t matter where design stops and technology starts – there’s only one result which has to be absolutely excellent in design quality, material, shape, desirability, and meaningful in terms of what it provides in technology content, functionality and from the whole user experience perspective.
We need curiosity in our designers: the pure traditional skills of 3D thinking, 3D visualisation and creativity are a price of entry, but on top of that, we look for a real curiosity regarding technologies, materials and also business, because we talk a lot about business innovation across the whole industry. The mobility industry is reinventing itself, so we designers have to be very sensitive to understand what is happening, and that means we look for very versatile, polyvalent people.
As it’s changing constantly, a young designer joining us will be evolving very quickly: you’re dealing with entire interiors, there will be talking with technology people, brand people, strategic marketing people, you can work on a very sophisticated high-luxury car on a Monday and on a Friday, an entry-level vehicle where the challenges are completely different. The variety of things that designers on our teams are able to do is very high, and the young designers soon get pretty big projects to work on.
Globally we have 70-80 designers, in all major car regions: six or seven main studios and then some outposts, but these are not independent studios, we are one team. People travel a lot and we want everybody to learn about everything and have the same knowledge base and get into different cultures. Working for an established carmaker is different to working with the newcomers, and we want our designers to have all those experiences – as well as, of course, working on internal innovation projects, which comprises about a third of what the design studio is doing.
We get inspired too by things from outside the car world, which adds to the fun factor: all these smart devices we have in our hands, in terms of screen quality, 3D screens, and the ease of interaction, upgrading, downgrading, on top of the applications we have for free.
We should never think that we work in isolation, we also have to think about technology evolution and we have to observe the world around us: user preferences will change.
The field of action has become much, much wider: it’s challenging, but it’s more rewarding, because you’re able to design more – not just a part with a larger or smaller radius or more or less tension on the shape, you’re really designing this complete user experience, and all the technology elements and the physical parts that allow this experience to happen.
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.