What does it feel like to see some real masters of design at work? Ishan takes a trip to Italy (where else?) to see if he can learn from these maestros.
For the average consumer, design is something done by some boffins sitting in a studio, sketching a few lines here-and-there – now using a computer – which results in a creation that can be either accepted or rejected depending on how the final aesthetics turn out. But, few people realise the significance that good design plays in the success or failure of a product. For instance, before the iPhone came about, touchscreen phones were a niche product – suited mostly to geeks, who had the patience to use clunky screens with woefully complicated operating systems. But, the iPhone changed all that with slick design and a user interface that completely altered the way we view smartphones. And just look where it is now.
The challenge is of a much larger degree when we talk about automobiles, given that cars remain the second most significant purchase for most people – after a house of course. The way an automobile looks is still the biggest factor that contributes to its success or failure. And the challenge is even more complicated in today’s global marketplace, where a single design has to appeal to people from across the world – with each country having their own cultural take on design and what it considers desirable.
The process can be quite difficult, as Gilles Vidal, Director of Design at Peugeot, mentioned, “Customers don’t necessarily know what they want from their next car, but they only know what they like in their current vehicle. So, as a designer, we have to show them the future and anticipate their reaction.” A factor that is of definite help here – as mentioned by virtually all the speakers – was that each design team should have people working from as many nationalities as possible. This exposes the design team to various cultures and gives them much larger exposure to how design is received in different cultures rather than sticking to just one or two parts of the world. The process can be quite challenging, as Stephane Schwarz, Design Director of famed design house Zagato, explained. “Designing a world car is Utopia, and not realistically possible. Different markets and users have different preferences, and it’s difficult to meet them all in a single design.”
The highlight of the whole program for me though remained meeting and interacting with Walter De Silva, former design head of the Volkswagen Group and creator of iconic cars such as the sublime Alfa Romeo 156 and the Audi R8 – amongst the 100-odd cars he’s worked on during his career. He defined design in very simple terms, easy enough to understand even for a dolt like me. His hallmarks of a successful car design are simplicity and perfect proportions. His example of an iconic design is the Volkswagen Golf, as it’s remained in production for over 40 years – during which time the basic design language of the car hasn’t changed much, very similar to how the design of the Porsche 911 has progressed over the past five decades.
What was even more heartening was meeting designers from our domestic powerhouses, Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors, who were part of this design program organised by our international partners – Quattroruote. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the finest designers in the world at one place, and picking up tips on design and (perhaps more importantly) how to push design ideas through management from designers with hundreds of years of collective experience in doing just that. Indian design certainly seems to be coming of age, and we can only hope that programs such as these will accelerate that process.