Trying to imagine what cars will look like one generation from now while talking to Volvo Cars’ youngest designer Carl Ringquist gives a glimpse into just how paradoxical life can be in our rapidly changing 21st Century world.
Just 25-years old, Carl Ringquist was headhunted by Volvo Cars directly after graduating early last year with a Master of Design degree from Coventry University in England.
"It was a dream to be given the chance to use my imagination to help develop future products that will suit the lifestyle of the future for a brand that has always been an icon for me," says the young designer.
But, he frankly admits, he finds the work somewhat paradoxical: "Here I am an environmentalist at heart with a huge love of nature, designing cars that have the potential to seriously damage the planet. But better me, who wants to change things than someone who doesn’t care at all. On the other hand, I am acutely aware of the positive role cars play in giving greater personal freedom and creating a functional society. And what better way to try to have an impact on the industry than from the inside."
Born in Zambia, with a Swedish father and Ugandan mother, Carl is convinced Volvo or perhaps another manufacturer in the Ford family has a key part to play by delivering cars to Third World societies that can help create functioning communities and material well-being on a par with the US or Europe without damaging the environment.
After years travelling back and forth between Africa and Scandinavia, he returned to stay in Sweden at the age of thirteen and says Volvo as a brand has always represented his values with its focus on safety and protecting the environment.
"Cars are very useful tools and my task as a designer is to deliver a piece of machinery today that will suit the lifestyle of the future. Something that meets everyday needs and preferences in an increasingly multi-cultural world driven by technology change and population growth."
Despite his young years, he acknowledges having a mission in life to help spread the design-for-good gospel in schools. Carl explains that to help kids understand the potential of great design to enhance our lives would be a great way to give something back to society, and also a way to encourage youngsters of today to realise and make use of their talents.
"Design is so much more than just creating a new product. My design ethos, which Volvo encourages, is about ensuring that the things you design put a smile on people’s faces because you’ve made a positive contribution to their lives.
Carl admits that growing up in Zambia and Sweden has shaped his awareness of how design varies from culture to culture. "Brands are all about culture and the way people react to them. Good design is about the appreciation for form, functionality and the expression of character in materialistic things, about how you get a feeling for an object."
He is convinced that a car designer cannot get inspiration solely from the industry itself, believing it is essential to seek outside.
"I actually look upon design as my hobby. My inspiration stems from things like sport, gadgets, fashion, food, music, nature and architecture. In a sense, designers are stimulated by stuff happening outside their immediate niche, then find their own relevancy for the idea."
Carl also loves comics, and says he is an (avid collector) admirer of Danger Girl, Batman and Spiderman magazines. "The comic world is all about style and into-the-future stuff. If I wasn’t designing cars I’d probably be drawing comics."
He sees a major challenge for designers in the way life and lifestyles are changing so rapidly. "Because kids today are just so hooked into new things, even I as a 25-year old sometimes feel I’m being left behind. But as a designer you have to keep your finger on the pulse of the latest trends, regardless of age or culture.
Since joining Volvo Cars, Carl has been involved in a number of exterior and interior design projects. One particularly exciting project involved looking at ways of creating clutter-free interior spaces that could have an effect on the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of driver and passengers.
"With life moving so fast we need to seize every opportunity to improve the quality of our lives. For most of us, our cars represent an opportunity to have some private space. We should make the most of the car interior experience to enhance our well-being, building upon natural light, colours, choice of materials and style."
Carl notes how our homes are natural extensions of ourselves; places where we feel safe and at ease. "Think what it’d be like if we could mirror that feeling of who we are at home in our car interiors. Take the tension out of today’s hectic driving environments and maybe we help create less stressed drivers, which is another dimension of car safety."
Now that’s an exciting thought for any designer with a conscience -- and maybe one that helps Carl resolve his paradox.
Volvo Car Corporation sells some 400,000 cars every year in more than 100 markets globally. Making cars since 1927 and employing 28,000 people, Volvo Car Corporation is a member of the Ford Premier Automotive Group.