To cross borders and to go beyond traditional thinking is both exciting and risky. Does a car interior always have to be exactly that, a car interior? What happens if you break the pattern? Volvo Cars has the answer.
The centre stack in the Volvo S40 is a good example of what can be created when one dares break out of the frame, obtaining inspiration and ideas from other areas than one's own. It works just the same for a designer of colours and trims. Maria Uggla gets a lot of her inspiration from furniture – colours and upholsteries rather than their actual shape – and what can be achieved with colours and materials. If you only dare step outside…
In the beginning, there was cloth and leather. Natural materials that have been little changed since the car's childhood and, in most cases, will look exactly the same tomorrow too. That is why reactions and feelings over things that step out of the frame are so strong.
Wild ideas allowed
Maria Uggla was fortunate enough to be a member of the all-female team behind the Volvo YCC, Your Concept Car. Designed by women for everybody. The approach in the project was more or less "ideas unlimited". The traditional boundaries were substantially moved:
"I wanted to create an interior with a strong Scandinavian influence but also to use new materials and bold colours and patterns. More daring than those usually found in a car, in ways that have not been used before. I wanted, and was allowed, to question the traditional thinking that usually follows the design of a car interior," Maria Uggla explains.
Let in the living-room
What Uggla did was to bring the "living-room" into the car. The colours, patterns and materials that you are used to seeing at home, in your favourite armchair, maybe on the wall or around the windows; it was these that Maria chose to transform into car upholsteries and carpets in her smart concept of exchangeability:
"I wasn't too sure about how people would react to a fabric with embroidered flowers but the reaction was overwhelmingly positive! I think that the reason for this is that because the range of materials in the YCC follows a consistent theme, even flowers are suitable for a car interior. Having said that, there are undoubtedly those who would have chosen sportier leather upholstery if they were given the choice," says Maria.
"And that is exactly the point. You can simply take the floral pattern off if you prefer something else and replace the seat covering with a more discreet leather or woollen fabric instead. This, in turn, can just as easily be replaced with something more youthful, with a lot of colour in a cool and trendy material. The freedom of choice, the endless possibilities, that was the purpose of it all. The same car, different colours and upholsteries depending on who's driving it. Like mobile phone covers. Let the mood and the needs decide. That's how I want future cars to be," she says.
A plastic home?
Car interiors and the choice of materials in general are very much governed by tradition. They lead their own lives, far from other materials around us, for example in our homes, in clothing, shoes, accessories and so on. To illustrate this, Maria Uggla turns her reasoning around:
"Living-room materials and colours in the car, and car materials at home. Why not a couch upholstered with a typical car fabric or a black plastic coffee table, with a rubber mat underneath? No, that doesn't work. For the moment, it’s easier to consider bringing the living-room into the car than the other way round. What I mean is that there is a risk that if you choose interior materials to suit everybody, the result can easily be impersonal, like a doctor’s waiting-room. It is far more interesting to bring in something of a personal touch, giving the customer the opportunity to personalise his or her car, to make it into a private room where you can relax and feel comfortable."
In her work as a colour and trim designer, Maria Uggla gets the opportunity to try new fabrics and interesting colours. Some work better than others. Among furniture fabrics in particular there are many interesting things to discover, and the same is true of the materials use in the leisurewear business. Colours, new materials and patterns increase designer liberty and creativity. What is important is that, although they are trendy, it must be possible to replace them if and when the customer grows tired of them, and of course they must never jeopardise the residual value of the car. Instead, thanks to the concept of exchangeability, the car can easily be freshened up and thus increase its value.
"Even apart from all these practical benefits, it is quite simply fun and interesting for a designer to be allowed to try new things sometimes," adds Maria. And she had just that opportunity with the YCC.
Designers look very much ahead in their everyday work too. The things they work with may reach the market in five or ten years’ time. Regarding the centre stacks of the Volvo S40 and V50, Maria toys with the idea of taking in patterns and colours also here, although in a careful way.
"I very much like a study we did where a pattern of leaves was blasted on one part of the console by brushing the aluminium in the opposite direction. The effect was gorgeous," she says and continues:
"Besides the versions used today, it would be possible to add new colours and finishes, like birch wood, light green with a metallic lustre or semi-transparent white."
Honesty above all
"It is fun to be daring sometimes even if I personally prefer honest and light materials. Scandinavian design really gives you the possibility to be both traditional and innovative."
Maria Uggla's ambition is to combine hard and soft materials in perfect harmony, like brushed aluminium and soft leather or pure wool. It should also be apparent that real materials have been used, no artificial copies. Wood should be wood and plastic should be plastic, and you should be able to tell the difference. This in a way sums up the essence of Scandinavian design; honest, simple, genuine and functional.
"In that way it becomes both timeless and appealing," concludes Maria Uggla.