For many people their car is practically a second home, so why not give customers more choice in making it a cosy and comfortable place to spend time in, says Volvo Cars chief designer colour and trim Lena Jiseborn.
Tranquillity can be in short supply on our crowded city streets and bustling motorways. But the mission of Volvo Cars’ designers is to provide contemporary new car interiors geared to create peace-of-mind while commuting to the office, on the school run or gliding along a motorway.
"More than ever before, designers at Volvo Cars are turning their attention to creating environments that enhance feelings of well-being, cosiness and comfort," says Volvo Cars Lena Jiseborn.
"In a world increasingly more global and uniform, people are constantly hunting new ways to make their own individual statements. That’s one reason why there has never been such huge interest in home decoration as now."
Lena recognises too that increasingly, consumers are used to personalising the look of the products they buy, from mobile phones to watches – as well as cars.
"That’s why Volvo aims to offer an ever wider variety of colours, textiles, and materials permitting customers to feel they can influence the interiors of their cars to more closely match both personalities and needs."
Married with two daughters, 40-year old Lena Jiseborn has always had a deep fascination for textiles, prompted perhaps by her tailor father who had his own company producing trench-coats. She graduated in 1984 with a degree in textile design from the University of Borås, near Gothenburg in western Sweden, once the heartland of the Swedish textile industry. Although not joining Volvo until 1995, today she holds strategic responsibility for colour and trim, which encompasses all the surface materials inside and outside a Volvo car such as carpets, upholstery and exterior paint.
"The colour and trim designers are responsible for designing around 400-500 different external and internal parts on average, coordinating colours and materials which can tell the user ‘welcome’ or ‘don’t touch me’!"
Asked how she comes up with a surface that says ‘don’t touch’, she laughs: "We paint it red or design a really rough, unfriendly structure with a sharp edge! If we want to make people feel welcome to touch something we give it softer contours and use colours like beige, yellow or green. There’s quite a lot of psychology involved, red says no green says yes, although for me it’s a lot about using intuition, touch and feel."
Despite differing attitudes and tastes, Lena says there’s something deeply appealing on a universal level about Volvo’s car design ethos, which connects into its Scandinavian ‘nature’ heritage. The natural environment of Scandinavia, the spiritual design home of Volvo, is reflected in all the interior colour and trim of Volvo cars, says Lena. "We’re trying to create clean, welcoming, comfortable, functional spaces, all the elements in symbiosis, nothing overdone".
Lena believes the task of a car designer is to search for styles that are relevant for today, yet are fitted for the future. "Not so long ago," she says, "men were more interested in the car engine, women in the colour. That’s not accurate today because women are into powerful engines too, and men more into interior design, touch and even cosmetics. Our brand’s mission statement is to make cars for people who want clean, not over-the-edge functional design – so we design for individuals who care about their families and the environment, are as much into yoga as football, rather than their own egos!"
Short-term trends don’t interest Lena, especially when it comes to fabrics, textures and surfaces. "The reason is simple: Volvo cars tend to last a long time! Part of our mission is to create an impression of ‘timelessness’ while also being contemporary and dynamic. The patterns of nature in a Scandinavian landscape are hugely inspirational here, the way field and forest and lake intersect, colours blend, the shifting light of summer and winter, all offer inspiration when choosing materials for the car interior."
Lena and her colour and trim team-mates drew greatly on such imagery when grouping different textures together for the leather seating in Volvo’s exciting new XC90, the carmakers first foray into sports utility vehicles. "The way you use materials helps create the desired look. The attention to detail is key to simplicity and achieving an economy of style, and can make or break an appearance. In the XC90, for example, we sought a contrast with the leather seats between traditional craftsmanship and clean contemporariness, something simultaneously providing a feeling of strength and soft luxury. We got this effect by using a fine stitch line to highlight two leather qualities."
Patterns are a distinctive way of either making a strong statement or emphasizing restraint. "We never use dominant patterns in a car interior," says Lena. "We tend towards more sophisticated patterns, using small dots or patterns, which can build upon the shape of a car seat, for instance, to create the overall impression we are seeking throughout the car interior."
A car’s interior and exterior are ruthlessly governed by the engineering demands, yet Lena Jisaborn adores the challenge. "Human-made objects can never attain the depth and beauty given to stone or wood by nature’s change process, but we can come pretty close by building upon the different types and characteristics of fabric and materials. We try to evoke and build upon the mystery of Scandinavia’s natural environment, the sense of awe and calm that comes when walking through a pine forest, alongside a mountain stream, or exploring a remote old wooden farmhouse."
Different countries, different colours are another rule the modern car designer must confront, underlines Lena.
"In northern climates, with longer, darker winters, people seek colour, which makes them more open-minded towards bright yellows or reds. Southern countries have plenty of light and colour, so people there tend towards more neutral colours.
"It’s the same with interiors. Warmer countries prefer light interiors because they absorb less heat, while people in colder climes go for something warmer, darker, cosier."
Is there a life outside automotive design? Lena hardly hesitates: "My family, naturally, art and gardening, food and wine. Skiing is great, and so is David Bowie, a great artist and simply amazing at re-inventing himself without disrupting his image." Not clothes? "I see myself as quite a neutral person, wearing black in winter, white in summer. Sometimes I might try a warm grey, although just now I’m really into browns."
So what drives her in her work? "I love creating a warm and inviting space out of something cold and bare," Lena says. "I guess I just want people to feel that their Volvo car has been a very nice place to be – a home away from home."
Volvo Car Corporation sells over 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.