For Volvo Cars industrial designer Corien Pompe, design is about exploring and discovering life in all its colourful facets, the chance to set free her inspiration to sculpture desire.
Corien Pompe, Studio Chief Designer Colour & Trim, has been working for Volvo for two decades, influencing the way the Swedish carmakers’ vehicles appear, helping shape metal, plastics and other materials to communicate and achieve just the right appearance, selecting colours and textiles unique to Volvo -- and each model.
Sculpturing is one of the tools that help Corien to explore her environment. Yet 46-year old Corien insists she's not an artist, but an industrial designer, someone who bridges all disciplines in order to create a great looking quality product.
"By searching for new values, I am exploring the limits, creating the new, integrating and evolving the best of what already exists."
Exploration, developing and innovating, confronting the unknown, has been the chosen life-path of the Dutch designer, a journey she has set her heart upon for as long as she can remember.
"I never say 'no' to anything at the beginning," says Corien. "First I explore, then I make a decision. Naturally there are risks involved in exploring. But without taking risks you never meet the new, whether its energy, emotion or fresh angles, which is what enables me to take my customers to new places."
Do other designers inspire her?
"I love all people who tease the experience and senses. Students often have very refreshing views, exploring new technologies in directions that older designers don’t travel because we’re hindered by too much knowledge or prejudice.
"When it comes to fashion, I like Comme des Garcon for denying the established rules of design, and Yamamoto for the beautiful inherited Japanese simplicity in quality. I love the play of light where Ingo Maurer is the master and glass designers such as Borek Sipek or Bertil Vallien who give us daily inspiration through their creativity.
"Globalisation and the fusion of different cultures and techniques will bring us new names coming from unexpected angles far away from the established expectations. I am looking forward to the future. The unknown are my favourites!"
As Corien explains the conceptualisation process, choosing new fabrics and exterior colours and originating new trim design highlights, the true significance of how industrial design makes cars usable and attractive unfolds. The powerful role of colour, shape and touch that transform our lives, enhance our emotions and affect our behaviour. She calls it ‘Psychological Ergonomics’.
"I've seen many changes over the past two decades, but Volvo management has always been hugely supportive towards the colour and trim designers. They recognize design as integral to creating a real differentiation dimension. The human 'senses' of touch, sight, smell and sound are acknowledged as being vital to the total design picture."
Corien emphatically rejects any notion that cars increasingly look alike. She sees more individualism and brand ‘soul’ around now compared to 20 years ago when life was more 'indistinct’.
Corien believes people are growing ever-more design oriented, adding: "Emotion and customer focused products are in the interest of us all. It is something going beyond the actual physical product of a car. You should recognize the difference in other services as well because we are actually speaking about the total experience, something that is life-long. Of course, that puts pressure on industrial designers to be more vocal in articulating the needs of the customer."
For someone so passionate about colour and trim, it is surprising to discover Corien almost always wears black.
"Most women find their 'little black dress' the most useful accessory in their wardrobe! But, honestly, I wear black because it is so neutral and absorbs all the other colours of the rainbow. Wearing colours diverts me. Identifying with the customer brings me enough colour in my head."
Is black her favourite colour?
"I don't have a favourite colour. All colours are different and, like humans, have a unique energy of their own. The play of light is always exiting."
Choosing materials and finishes only represents part of her work as Volvo's studio chief designer colour and trim.
"We work intimately with the engineers who give us 'hard points' to work around," Corien explains. "For example, achieving a special grain demands a specific draft angle in the mould, which means I work with shape designers to help me create the desired grain as well as engineers who can help achieve improved scratch resistance, which obviously is about delivering better quality. Being a good team player is essential because I need to integrate closely with the work of other disciplines both within Volvo as well as externally with our suppliers."
So where is the room for individualism amid so much emphasis upon teamwork in producing a car? Corien says she, like everyone else involved, has her own handwriting and personality that impacts the overall work of the team.
"I never feel I cannot be myself. My job is to think creatively to work out challenges in between the lines. Being creative is not about finding the most beautiful colour, it's about being successful in finding solutions in line with both Volvo’s overall strategy and customer demands"
Staying good looking
But is it possible to create a design that can stay good looking for 20 years, especially in our fast changing world?
"Tastes and styles changes, that's for sure, and my job as an industrial designer is very much about moving limits to tease the desire of those buying a car today and in the future", Corien says.
"A vital part of our job and expertise is about understanding and estimating how metals, plastics, materials and finishes, hand in hand with global trends, change and evolve over time. The essence of our task is to choose the right balance between today’s trends, new values and long-lasting design, where safety, quality and care for the environment is our guide and soul in making the right decision towards a car able to stand the test of time."
Growing up in a family devoted to the arts, engineering and architecture, holding a design degree from the Eindhoven Design Academy, an avid player of the electronic violin, moving through life, writing and painting to explore her inner thoughts, Corien epitomises the free-flowing creative spirit. Asked what she feels when playing her violin, she replies: "Imagine being able to whisper with the wind and play the poems of your heart."
However, Volvo’s Dutch designer admits to also feeling a huge sense of joy and pride the moment a pre-trial car emerges: "It's tangible, visible proof of the real power of team and individual creativity coming together. Suddenly you have something that works and will survive the elements - for years into the future!"
For Corien, car design is about focusing on the individual needs of customers. "Design is so very important to our lives and well-being. Volvo's Scandinavian design heritage makes us feel comfortable because it reflects a pureness of materials, the excitement of 'clean' surfaces and the environment focus of fresh air and clean lakes. What else do we need in life?" She pauses, looks into some distant space, and then laughs before adding: "Maybe also read the Dalai Lama…."
Volvo Car Corporation sells some 400,000 cars every year in more than 100 markets globally. Making cars since 1927 and employing 27,000 people, Volvo Car Corporation is a member of the Ford Premier Automotive Group.