What car designers create today will appear on the market only years later, so they have to be extremely forward-thinking. Mr Bischoff, what is life like in the future?
It is really not as difficult as one might imagine. As soon as I enter the doors of the Design Centre, I enter the future, in a manner of speaking. Our normal work environment is approximately four years ahead of what is now available to customers. A large part of the job of a designer involves understanding the constant change present in society and what the world could look like tomorrow. We try to develop suitable products on the basis of these ideas. We start with a utopia which is then slowly transformed into reality through the first sketches and a great deal of work.
What does the brainstorming process look like in tangible terms?
Of course, it involves a lot of team work. We grapple with future scenarios through dialogues and sometimes also intense discussions. This is like a ping-pong game of creativity. If this or that happened, what would the effects be? A vivid imagination is needed to place yourself into this scenario. A good example is the world of autonomous driving, as we have interpreted it in the current I. D. Vizzion. The driver doesn’t have to do anything at all, so there is no steering wheel, no pedals, no display. Controls appear only when they are needed. This is, of course, a radical approach. But one needs distant destinations in order to find one’s way more easily over short distances.
What role does the boss play in all of this?
It is my responsibility to play referee for the ping-pong game, but also to make the big decisions on our direction.
Car design has been a decisive force in our everyday life for decades. Has this role been lost?
No way. Of course, the digital world has gained enormous significance. But we are currently making up for lost time. We find ourselves at the dawn of a new age of mobility in which the digital nature of the car plays a significant role. One could certainly compare this to the invention of the smartphone.
Electric mobility and digital networking are more technology topics. What does that have to do with design?
Design acts as an interpreter, even more so than Technology. Whatever I look at, it is always design. I look at a screen, but there is incredibly complex technology at work behind it, and this technology is so abstract that most people cannot understand it. We are called upon to translate the new technical world into simplicity, clarity and beauty.
So, Design’s area of responsibility has also changed significantly?
The change has been much more pronounced, more so than in all the previous decades. Today, we have to think on many more levels. Of course, the exterior is important, but now, in addition to this, one of our main tasks is to enable the design to also be experienced. With all senses. What does it sound like? How does the car feel? What does it say to me? Our new job is simplification. The technology, the control options, have become so much more complex, but the design must be simpler and easier to understand. That is the high art of design and this aspect plays a special role, especially for the Volkswagen brand. The new purism involves not only thinking about which lines is superfluous. We also have to constantly ask ourselves which actions can be left out, which elements are not necessary.
So car design has less and less to do with designing the body ...
The shape of an edge, the curvature of a surface, the overall aesthetics of the exterior and interior remain important but many other aspects have been added to this. A new term which we all have to get used to is “extraterior”...
What exactly do you mean?
By this we mean the manner in which vehicles will communicate with people in the future. Autonomous cars have to interact with pedestrians and other road users. So the task is to create a friendly and unambiguous dialogue between the machine and its surroundings. For example, when a car yields to a pedestrian, it uses LED light to project a zebra crossing onto the road. A common language has to be developed and agreed upon for this, but every manufacturer will design the elements differently. And the mere fact that one has mastered the technology will be of prominent importance.
The acceptance of the car in the urban sphere is declining. Can societal changes of this kind be incorporated into design?
One of the main tasks of Design is to find solid answers to question such as these. A strong need for individual mobility still remains. So, we have to find solutions to increase acceptance again. Volkswagen finding its way back to simplicity and serenity in its appearance has a lot to do with this. With our creed “form follows freedom”, we have set ourselves the goal of using the freedom that results from electric mobility, connectivity and autonomous driving, to develop new and innovative vehicle concepts. In the past, designers were like tailors whose task it was to craft beautiful clothes for the available technology. Our field of work will be much more oriented on design. We will also conceive new mobility solutions and be much more involved in their implementation than we were before.
What role does the I.D. Family play in this transformation?
The I. D. Family is nothing less than the expression of the dawning of the new age at the Volkswagen brand.