Fabio Filippini on Renault’s interior design

Renault wants to create more intuitive interiors. The French marque would like to progress the interface for easy navigation and control. To achieve this Renault is translating some of the ways we interface with electronic consumer devices, yet retaining some automotive codes for the areas relating to driving, control and safety.

We caught up with head of interior design Fabio Filippini at the Paris studio to discover how.

Design Talks There seems to be a visible move towards interior design that is closely linked to the modern home and the latest electronic devices that are technologically advanced yet reduced in design.

Fabio Filippini I agree that more and more the interior aspect of the car will become important, and so there is this need for it to be as well designed and as functional as possible so that it becomes almost a second home.

DT Are car companies leading this movement towards a more innovative interface or is it consumer driven?

FF Neither. It is more a synergy between the advanced studios and consumer choice.

This is a global evolution and something we see as a worldwide trend. As people spend more time in their cars they expect their cars to be secure and to cocoon them, and to have complete connectivity with the environment. As car designers we need to evolve the car to accommodate these needs.

DT Do you see the car evolving to become more human as opposed to man more machine?

FF For Renault it is essential to have the human part, and the client, the human is always at the centre of our research. People shouldn’t be forced to adapt to cars – although this doesn’t mean that there will be home furniture design in the car.

DT But how do you inject humanity, yet maintain the mechanical aspect of driving?

FF There are strong automotive codes related to driving in the interior of the car: gearshifts and control buttons. Therefore only part of the car’s interface will take from electronic devices like the iPad where there is no physical connection apart from the touch screen.

However, we cannot mix these two areas up. The driver controls associated with the mechanical part of the car have to maintain their car codes. Eventually we will find new codes but we will arrive at this gradually.

Like other inventions, new codes also will take time to be adopted by the consumer.

DT What defines the modern code?

FF In the 20th century this was the car and in the 21st century it is consumer electronics – and like cars the references for consumer electronics are global ones.

It is also important to note that these automotive codes are especially important to customers in developing countries who like the idea of the car that existed in the 60s. Although these customers – especially those in India – are ahead of us when it comes to consumer electronics, they still expect traditional codes when it comes to their cars.

DT How do you translate the reduced design we see in modern personal electronic devices to cars?

FF I think it is more than reduced design. If you look at smart phones like the iPhone, it may seem minimalist in design, but it has strong presence. When you hold it, the weight and the feel of the real metal rim makes it a strong simple shape with the highest expression of material use.

We would like to adapt this physical aspect of touch, but touch that is easily understood which means moving away from the sci-fi controls design to a more reduced one.

DT How can car designers integrate these codes to make the car as modern as the iPad but maintain those essential automotive codes?

FF One main aspect is to be intuitive: to create an interface that is easy to control and relates to the way we interface with consumer gadgets, then retaining the auto codes for the areas relating to driving, control and safety.

DT The recent electric DeZir prototype – as shown at the Paris Motor Show in September 2009 – seems to express this philosophy perfectly. The interior is extremely minimalist, to the point that the central touch screen user interface is essentially all there is, as almost every other control is located on the steering wheel.

FF The car represents our manifesto to have a soft finished, protective space – an enveloping area, and then clear identified controls that are limited but high quality.

Inside the DeZir you have a big, soft expanse covered in white leather. Then in the driver area you have a clear instrument cluster and a touch screen unit that is tactile, whilst the driving elements are separated by their chrome finishing so as to be physical. Finally the red glossy finishing separates the driver from the passenger.

DT Do you see this trend expanding with the clean autonomous car of the future?

FF The customer will want to have strong control like they do with his personal electronic gadgets and this is something that has to be maintained even with the autonomous car.

The connectivity shouldn’t interfere with security. Therefore there has to be some kind of division between the driving part and the non-driver part.

DT Renault and partner Nissan are very active in developing a family of electric cars. What is your interior approach here?

FF With electric vehicles it will be a question of how we can offer more wellbeing in the car. EVs have silent engines therefore we will have to find ways of calming down cabin noise. We will have air filers controlling humidity, and generally working harder to stimulate the basic senses – touch, smell and sound.

DT Any thoughts on the future of the automobile?

FF The period of speed and power related to the car belongs to the 20th century. In the 21st century, when you can push a button and connect with Australia in a matter of seconds, speed is no longer necessarily connected with the automobile.

The car, therefore, will change to be a slow moving device, for looking outside and choosing what you want the car to do for you. The car will be symbolic of freedom of choice. The car, home and office will all be connected via your smart phone.

For us designers the task is to make simplicity out of complexity, but add emotion – a personalisation of emotion is where the future is.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read more on car interior design concepts: Frank Stephenson on interior trends, Jaguar’s quirky cabin designParis Motor Show: Car design trends.

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