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Report: Interior Motives China Conference 2009 - Day 1

Mon, 27 Apr 2009

Interior Motives returned once more to the exciting city of Shanghai for its second China design conference, themed ‘China: Changing the landscape of car design'. Held straight after the first Shanghai auto show press day - a day topped off by the Car Design Night, attended by some 300 or so designers - this two-day event saw 27 of the world's foremost car design experts and nearly 250 delegates gather together to debate the future of Chinese car design.

Session 1 - Harnessing design awareness

Tony Williams, UK design director of China's biggest carmaker, SAIC, kicked off the session by explaining how trend research was finding more savvy and confident Chinese consumers who want their character reflected in the products they buy and "cars they want rather than just need". He then went on to discuss which trends might play well in China, from the dominance of beige interiors to the possible emergence of darker ones, as featured on his MG6 show car.

Robert Walker, interior design manager for PSA Peugeot Citroen China followed this up by explaining why PSA had chosen to set up a studio in Shanghai, namely "to understand the Chinese market from the ground floor and make cars whose designs derive from China". Chery's director of styling, Li Chaunqun, talked primarily about the introduction of its new Riich brand. The final speaker in the first session, former Nissan Design Europe director Stephane Schwarz (and now with his own studio) started his presentation by emphasizing how diverse the country's regions are, and therefore how their needs vary. Products that shun complexity are the answer, as he put it: "The car should adapt to me, not other way round."

During the lively question and answer session that followed, Chery's Li Chuanqun gave valuable insight into how some local designers think, saying: "China has gone from a relatively closed world to a more open one, but there is a misconception from young Chinese designers that Western design is the modern way to go. When they see traditional Chinese references they somewhat look down on them... We need to bring the tools and processes from the West, but we want our Chinese nationals to draw on their own influence."

Session 2 - Research in China

First to speak was Lowie Vermeersch, design director of Pininfarina, who underlined the need to start research projects with a blank sheet of paper - a point he illustrated by leaving the three giant conference hall screens white for several seconds.

He also outlined how a culture of research needs to be ingrained in every company, but cautioned that creativity could not come from merely having a structured approach. As he said, "a too orderly process rules out random inspiration".

The other main speaker in this session, Shizuki Kajiyama, design studio manager at Yanfeng Visteon in China, revealed research he had carried out with China Bridge International, 3M and Mankiewicz. He explained how various factors, ranging from enhanced national pride - via the success of the Beijing Olympics and the forthcoming 2010 Shanghai Expo - to the eco movement and increasing female presence in the workplace, could affect color choice and materials in car interiors. For each trend identified there was an interior rendering displayed on the big screens to show directly how its themes could translate - from high-contrast black-stained bamboo dashboard inserts for design-savvy types within the ‘Super modern China' trend, to bronze, brown and purple metallic color ways and tattoo-style etching for the grown-up ‘Feminine theme'. The sound of repeated camera clicks during this session gave a strong indication that the audience was paying close attention.

Chairperson for the session, Olivier Boulay, general manager of Daimler's new Advanced Design Center of China, kicked off the Q&A by suggesting that educators needed to do more to inspire Chinese designers. Kajiyama concurred, adding: "Westerners tend to be more self-promotional, but Chinese can be more shy, so a good manager or teacher needs to encourage them."

"To get inspiration they need to be exposed to stuff that can spark ideas between seemingly different things," pointed out Vermeersch "Things are changing here so fast, so the fundamentals are important to design research - like good foundations in a building. Then you can go as high as you want."

Continues →

By Guy Bird