For Volvo Cars, every year is a design year. Now 2005 has been proclaimed Design Year in Sweden by the Swedish government. As part of this campaign, Volvo Cars was staging a design seminar, "The Inside Story", in May in Barcelona, emphasising how Volvo Cars uses its Scandinavian design heritage in its work on interior design and choice of materials.
At the end of 2003, the Swedish government proclaimed the year 2005 as "Design Year 2005". The government gave the Swedish society for crafts and design, Svensk Form, the brief to prepare and run the campaign. Commissions and invitations to join have been distributed to authorities, foundations and major corporations in Sweden, all of which will contribute in their own way.
The purpose of the design year is to integrate design in the development of companies and public activities; to show the opportunities design gives us all – the individual, trade and industry, culture life and the whole society. The aim is to get as many people as possible to develop her or his sense, use, knowledge of and interest in design. Design affects, design engages.
The inside story
For Volvo Cars, the theme of interior design were chosen for the seminar, hence "The Inside Story". The perspective is fascinating: Volvo cars are sold in approximately 120 countries all over the world and they look the same everywhere. The owners and drivers of Volvo cars meet the same body design and driver's environment, whether they are in Timbuktu or Tijuana, Baku or Bangkok, Hobart or Hollywood.
But they are of different ethnic origins, of different faiths, they have different political convictions and social backgrounds. What they all have in common is that they have chosen a Volvo, because they have been attracted by its design and qualities, and they thus share common Volvo values.
The design they meet behind the steering wheel in a Volvo may be Scandinavian but it hasn't necessarily been conceived in Gothenburg. In the Volvo Cars design process, there is close interaction between the three design studios in Gothenburg, Barcelona in Spain and Camarillo, California. And among the Volvo Cars designers, a large number of nationalities are represented. The newly appointed head of all Volvo Cars design is Steve Mattin, a Briton with vast international experience.
This clearly shows that design is more of philosophy rather than a matter of geography at Volvo Cars. The Scandinavian design must be Scandinavian enough to clearly emphasise the car's origin and heritage, yet at the same time international enough to appeal all around the globe. A delicate combination indeed. It may therefore best be described as "Scandinavian – from a different perspective".
Form and function
Elegant simplicity combined with functionalism and a high level of craftsmanship has come to be the key definers of Scandinavian design. It has its origin in the materials and processes that were originally used to create everything from everyday objects to works of art.
Function has always been just as important as looks, if not even more important sometimes. Scandinavians are pragmatic. Swedish wood – with the exception of pine wood – is hard, just like Swedish stone and Swedish metals. The materials have not suited themselves particularly well for ornamentation, more for straight, simple but well-executed designs. And out of these designs, the modern Swedish and Scandinavian design has evolved and been nurtured into what it stands for today.
Already during the second half of the 1920s, when the body of the very first Volvo was to be designed, one of the most well-known Swedish artists, Helmer MasOlle, was given the brief. MasOlle, a portrait and landscape painter and a close friend of Anders Zorn, had already designed a couple of very elegant bodies, one of them for his own French Voisin car.
That first Volvo ÖV4 saw the light of day in the spring of 1927 and can only be described as being of simple and functional design, executed with great skill, and thus correctly marketed as "The Swedish car".
The most famous of Volvo’s designers over a long period of time was Jan Wilsgaard, the man who created successes like the P120, the 144, the 240 and the 740/760 range. Wilsgaard's design work was also guided by the "form and function" motto – to combine both in an optimum way – and the fact that organic shapes, like the oval, were the best and most beautiful. Look at the uncomplicated yet timeless shape and surfaces of the Volvo 144, how well they have stood the test of time, making the car still look good today, 40 years after it left the drawing-board.
The design of Volvo cars was something that was noted and has inspired many people. And not just in a positive way. The Volvo design of the 1970s and 1980s was often criticised for its angular shapes, and boxiness became a word that was used by many for a long time as synonymous with Volvo – even by people inside Volvo Cars as a form of self-criticism.
A new design language
At Volvo Cars, design was given a real boost and turnaround with the transition from rear to front wheel drive some 15 years ago. A new design language started to form, thanks to Englishman Peter Horbury, who took over the design rudder in the autumn of 1991. From that point, Volvo design moved through a very exciting period and is today a fascinating environment where tradition and innovation blend with established methods and radical thinking.
What Horbury did was to tie all Volvo models together in design terms, create both separate and different identities, yet clearly mark the family connection regardless of size and body type. And Peter Horbury really understood what Scandinavian design is and how to make use of it in and on a Volvo car.
The results speak for themselves. Today, all Volvo models resemble one and other yet are very different. They share certain common concrete character elements such as the soft nose, the V-shape of the bonnet, the wide so-called catwalk along the doors and the shape of the tail lamps, but on each and every model all these elements are different in order to fit each specific model perfectly, giving it, individuality, personality and soul. And still it is easy to see even from a distance that this is a Volvo car. The same also goes for the inside, and it is the inside of Volvo cars that is brought into focus of the design seminar "The inside story".
Why Barcelona for "The Inside Story"? Well, for Volvo Cars it was the natural choice. Barcelona is home to the Volvo Strategic Design Centre, one of three Volvo Cars design studios. In Barcelona, ten designers, half of them Spanish, are at work cultivating and refining Volvo design language and Scandinavian design. Barcelona in itself is full of design tradition and modern design in all areas, from architecture to paper clips; trends are born here, the air is filled with ideas, the pulse is fast. And in the midst of all this creative ambience, you will find David Ancona and his team of designers.
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