Dec 22 2008 Jeremy Hart
Staying ahead with design fiesta
IN the fast-moving and ever-changing world of fashion, the designers work a season in advance.
Glossy fashion mags then tell us which materials, colours and designs will be 'in' in the coming months.
But to remain at the cutting edge in the car world, automotive designers need to be far more ahead of the times and more forward-thinking than their catwalk contemporaries.
In fact, the deisgners of the cars of the future have to predict trends that will be popular at least four years in advance.
The final design for the new Ford Fiesta, for example, was signed off about two years ago, which means the next one, due in 2012, is being designed right now.
For the majority of the drivers, cars seem to fall off the assembly line fully formed. But with the launch of the new Fiesta, Ford has set about filling in our blanks on how a car goes from drawing board to the driveway.
I've come to the famous German city of Cologne, which is also Design Central for Ford, to meet the company's three hottest designers. They're a talented bunch that draw inspiration from everywhere and anything - architecture, high fashion, shoes, even ornamented toilet paper.
The journey a car's exterior design takes, is better known. First the concept cars are unveiled, and the model that you can take on the road follows.
For the Fiesta, the concept cars began with the Iosis - the first to take on an inspiration concept that exteriors designer Stefan Lamm calls 'kinetic design'. 'Before, you didn't see the car was fierce fun to drive when you look at it,' he explains. 'Now, when it stands still, it still looks quick.'
After several more models (including the excellent IosisX which looked like a monster truck and is the ancestor of the chunky Ford Kuga) there was the slicker Verve which, in turn, gave birth to the Fiesta.
So, onto the interior - where a new set of experts come in with the job of interpreting the concept of the car. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? You would think so but, speak to Ruth Paulie and Ernst Reim, the interiors experts for Ford Europe, you'll be dizzy in five minutes.
A former interior designer, Paulie demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of trends across music, fashion, art, beauty and sport. Basement Jaxx, Converse, Clinique, Chanel and the clubs of Berlin are just a few of the references dotted around on her various moodboards.
Would I like to give car design a go myself, Ruth asks me. This is my opportunity to unleash the suppressed designer in me. I am asked to create my own moodboard - the designers' creative canvas, the overall tone they want for their design - as well as the means of conveying their concept to the money men in suits upstairs. It takes the form of a square piece of card.
Suddenly I am confronted with tables covered in material samples, postcards with images and a plethora of metallic car paint options sprawl in front of me. I am let loose with my objects of inspiration - a photo of rolling sand dunes and an Egyptian perfume bottle - I want my design to ooze 'sophistication', 'freedom' and 'warmth'.
These designers are perfectionists and every detail is painstakingly considered. Ernst Reim, Ford's chief of interior design, beckons me into the Fiesta for a closer look inside. The instrument cluster is based on a pair of ski goggles and apparently the chrome surround of the USB port caused long and lengthy debates amongst the design team.
As the vivid interior shades suggest, this is a design-focused status symbol for the iPod generation, not a car to get the kids, the dog and the three piece suite jammed in. The car is aimed at young people, and the design team held various focus groups to plug into their likes and dislikes.
'They're interested in products they can show their peers,' says Paulie. 'They're very aware of brands." The Fiesta clearly shows Ford putting itself up as a brand to be namechecked.
It's clear Paulie is a pretty safe bet when it comes to predictions - possibly because her trend radar is always on.
'We go on inspiration trips everywhere - London is very important, Paris, the Milan Furniture Fair', she says. 'My family joke I can't go on holiday without looking at things.' Right now, the time for a young person's car has come again. But what we'll see in another four years? That's anyone's guess. One thing is for sure, Paulie is predicting it already.