Time for change after the coronavirus pandemic

I’ve taken to keeping a daily diary in isolation – though I suspect I’m not alone here. Most of us locked up our diaries to collect dust in the attic when we left our teens. Its job was complete, navigating those unpredictable and impressionable years. This pandemic needs its own navigation. For many, cocooned in the safety net of the western world, trauma of such scale, the human loss, the fear of the unknown, are new. Some have witnessed wars and displacement (I saw some of this) but for many, the memory of war is from grandparents’ stories, from the movies, from The Diary of Anne Frank. The more contemporary events are events – they happen somewhere else, captured in a photograph, an article, noted and then gone.

This coronavirus pandemic has the gravitas of a world war. And there is something unifying in its global-ness. We’re all in it together, feeling one another’s pain, understanding each other’s fears. And equally terrified and helpless. Yet, the reality of the loss of lives and livelihood, the surreal nature of the lockdown – these need to undergo some sort of daily navigation. And so, the daily diary has re-emerged, with slightly less self-absorbed content and with a finer quality Japanese fountain-pen, ink, and paper.

It contains intimate details of the cherry blossoms that have doubled since yesterday in the local park where I take my daily walks. The hazy morning light brightening in the unusual April heat. London’s clear skies. The silence in the air. The orchestra of bird songs – some of which are new melodies in a city cleansed of air and noise pollution. The hungry bees populating the garden. Spiders weaving their architectural webs. The house cheese plant cuttings coming to life in their containers. The life of spring.

I observe the teenager across the lawn in the neighbouring house slouched in his backyard, headphones on, absorbed in his world, possibly thinking of his school friends, maybe even a girl, or boy, whom he cannot see for months. Months that are years in the teenage world. I watch the man in the park dry fly fishing. It looks surprisingly elegant. I mourn the elderly neighbour no longer with us, not for the virus, but another illness that took him in silence in the midst of this chaos. I hear another neighbour signing, alone but with her church choir via Zoom or Skype for Easter Sunday. I try not to listen to the ambulance and police sirens moving across our road, slowly fading, perhaps another tragedy in offing. Then silence and stories in my own mind.

Mostly, my diary pages are filled with ideas of how these monumental episodes offer the chance of renewal. Why not use this golden gift of silence to rethink our cities? With the High Street closed, I’m reminded of how little we need to live well. There are the essentials, of course, but do we need all this ‘stuff’ designed for desire? Observing families in the parks, should shopping be the default for entertainment? Equally, the pandemic is highlighting the precious value of time with family and friends, the social factor in being human. It is humbling watching communities come together to help one another with such dignity, and formal work rivals offering assistance. Perhaps our cities could focus less on empty consumption and more on places for people, for communities to grow, for this unified spirit to continue.

Equally, observing London with minimum cars and transport, do we need to be constantly moving? Walking through Hyde Park and onto Buckingham Palace, there is so much beauty in this city without clutter. Why should cars drive through parks? Why not pedestrianised central London and offer electric trams and the kind of clean driverless pods we have been discussing for years? The products are there. The technology is there. The infrastructure is largely there. It all just needs a push.

We now see that many businesses can function perfectly remotely. Why not rethink the tired work arrangement, the largely unchanged office format? Judging by the conversations I’m having with most colleagues, especially those in public relations and communications who are now working from their home offices and shed, I see such creative thinking from individuals who usually follow the corporate line. I suspect there will be more productivity, more interesting work emerging from this new way of working.

The world could benefit from working together progressively. This pandemic is proof of that. Watching the devastation caused to less fortunate countries, and watching ours largely surviving through state intervention, should it not encourage a more active state? Surely, we can now see the value in investing ever-more in our national health system – instead of systematically starving it. Equally, seeing how more deprived communities are suffering largely due to underlying health issues, isn’t this the time to discuss inequality, education and more? Even capitalism knows it cannot survive in its current grossly unequal state.

Within this adversity, we see families reuniting in parks, teenagers cycling with their parents, no iPhone in sight. Couples jog together absorbed in conversation. Maybe they are revaluating their life, their fast world. Perhaps they are rethinking their careers, ditching the corporate life for something more real. I suspect much of this thinking will be gone by the end of the pandemic (assuming there is an end). Yet, dear diary I hope this episode changes our collective perspectives, that we each see our individual responsibility to help make this world a better one not for a handful, but for all. That is not a tall order.

Bentley explores the future of sustainable luxury travel with EXP 100 GT

This is the EXP 100 GT by Bentley Motors which explores luxury in the context of clean autonomous travel in an imaginary world of 2035.

As traditional carmakers study what their place will be in the next chapter of the automobile, this EXP 100 GT by Bentley Motors sets out to explore luxury in the context of clean autonomous travel in an imaginary world of 2035.

The form may follow a classic motor car design theme, yet it is conceptually and materially where the EPX 100 really makes a distinctive statement. 

This is the EXP 100 GT by Bentley Motors which explores luxury in the context of clean autonomous travel in an imaginary world of 2035.

Here’s a little teaser as to what to expect from the marque

This is the EXP 100 GT by Bentley Motors which explores luxury in the context of clean autonomous travel in an imaginary world of 2035.
This is the EXP 100 GT by Bentley Motors which explores luxury in the context of clean autonomous travel in an imaginary world of 2035.

Mercedes autonomous car

Mercedes-Benz is proposing to re-invent the automobile with the F015 Luxury in Motion study revealed this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vagas.

This sleek car has been designed to be an autonomous vehicle, a mobile living space, a private retreat offering space and time – two luxuries that we are increasingly in need of.

‘Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,’ says Dr Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

The low-slung front, flat widescreen and smooth roofline create a refined yet futuristic appearance. Inside is all about interpreting modern luxury with open-pore walnut wood veneer and ice-white nappa leather seats, and highlights of shiny metal and smooth glass surfaces.

The interior is modular. If the crew wish to drive the car, the four lounge chairs can conventionally face forward as the steering wheel pops out from the dashboard.

If on the other hand they wish to work, relax, chat and let the car drive itself, then the front passengers can swivel around and face the rear seats. Additionally, the six display screens allow occupants to interact with the car through gestures or touch.

Not all the ideas expressed in this concept are new of course – we have seen plenty of visions for driverless cars, and interiors that transform into live/work spaces.

Google’s upcoming driverless vehicle, for instance, calls for a similar concept, yet the Mercedes study car has the advantage of being a beautifully sculpted automobile, rather than a tech gadget.

This driverless car has a distinctly futuristic exterior and a highly luxurious cabin, and the proportions nod to a vision for a brand new vehicle concept by a company that has historically been at the very forefront of innovation.

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In talk with Benoit Jacob head of BMW i design

BMW announced the birth of its new e-mobility sub-brand i at the start of 2011, created to focus entirely on finding sustainable driving solutions. Since, we have been introduced to two concept cars – the i3 and i8 – that together reflect some of the design and engineering thinking that we should expect from the marque’s eco-arm.

The cars represent the two extreme poles of BMW – i3 is an all-electric urban run-around designed for dense megacities, i8 a a part-electric high-performance car. They share a strong aesthetic that will be developed further for the i brand, an innovative modular architecture that is at the heart of all these cars, and a high degree of connectivity that makes these cars almost like personal electronic gadgets.

Here Benoit Jacob head of BMW i Design explains further

How long did it take to design the BMW i3 and i8 concept cars?

For the first two i concepts the phases were organised slightly differently [from the normal car design process]. Since we had no predecessor on which to base our ideas, we had to develop the cars from scratch.

To begin with we generated ideas and decided on the line we wanted to take, from progressive to conservative. We adopted a very experimental approach to this phase – we didn’t just rethink the drive system, we reviewed the entire production process.

Of course, there were a few tried-and-tested ideas we could fall back on, including concept vehicles like the Vision EfficientDynamics. Interestingly, development of the first two vehicles took only about six months longer than the normal design process.

What technical innovations will have a key influence on car design?

In principle, today’s cars come as fully developed, highly complex and virtually perfect products. So as long as circumstances remain the same, design will continue to follow this 100-year-old line of development.

At BMW i we are constantly questioning existing solutions and have been able to develop an entirely new formal vocabulary thanks to innovations such as electric drives and lightweight construction.

To what extent is there cooperation between designers and developers?

As a designer it is absolutely vital that I comprehend each stage of the technological development in meticulous detail. Only then can we as the design team fully understand our development colleagues and marry the new technology to our formal vocabulary.

How do you see the future of automotive design?

One thing is certain: personal mobility, and therefore automotive design will continue to play a significant role in future. I think we’ll see a lot more innovations in the field of drive technology in the years ahead.

These might be electric drives, hybrids, vehicles powered by hydrogen or even technologies we haven’t discovered yet. And as these technologies find their expression in automotive design, they in turn will bring a new look to our roads.

BMW makes premium cars, but how would you define this in the context of the i cars?

BMW i symbolises ‘next premium’ – this is the term we use to redefine the premium concept, widening it to embrace future requirements and the need for sustainability of i vehicles.

For some time we have been observing a change in the way people are beginning to take individual responsibility for the environment. In future we will also see changes in what the consumer expects from products, in particular where sustainability is concerned.

We have to acknowledge this development in the design process and continue the trend. That’s why we have to redefine premium. For us, premium is not only defined by quality excellence in materials, surfaces and details, but also to a great extent by the manufacture and selection of sustainable materials right along the value chain.

Next premium is therefore an entirely new combination of premium and sustainability and reflects not only our corporate philosophy but also a new way of thinking for society as a whole.

What is the central message of the i design philosophy?

BMW i represents visionary automobiles and a new understanding of premium mobility with a consistent focus on sustainability. At the same time our work is all about alternative drive systems, technical innovations, production processes and the use of sustainable materials. The entire design process at BMW i is geared to this.

Our first two concept cars demonstrated the bandwidth of the new design idiom at BMW i. But between and beyond these two there’s still plenty of room for manoeuvre. As for what we’re working on for the future, you’ll just have to wait and see.

How can automotive design play a role in shaping our society?

Our society is increasingly shaped by our virtual presence. In spite of this, we still have to manage a lot of real-world mobility. In other words, our spatial interaction will continue as before – and so will our need to move from one point to another.

So mobility is set to remain a very fundamental requirement, one we must place within a much wider context. For us in the automotive industry that means constantly looking at ways to help improve mobility and ultimately make our surroundings more harmonious. As far as the future of mobility is concerned, I believe we are at the beginning of an entirely new era.

Read more on the two i cars here as well as interviews with BMW Group design director Adrian van Hooydonk as the cars were unveiled in 2011 published in Wallpaper*

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Thierry Metroz on Citroën design

Thierry Metroz has spent his entire career of 25 years working for the same company, Renault. And even though many assumed he would replace Patrick le Quement as head of Renault design in 2009, Metroz decided to leave in 2010 and join rival French marque PSA Peugeot Citroën, to become design director at Citroën. Design Talks caught up with the designer a year into his new role.

Thierry Metroz, Citroen design director

Design Talks PSA Group design director Jean-Pierre Ploué already created the strategy and design direction for Citroën when he was in charge of design. Does this make your job more difficult?

Thierry Metroz The Citroën range is now very good – it is an innovative creative brand. It’s quite a hard job for me to maintain this dynamic evolution but on the other hand it is very exciting and we are working hard to imagine something very strong for the future of Citroën. In our world of design there’s always another step.

DT Head of Peugeot design Gilles Vidal and Ploué have described Citroën as a ‘bi-polar brand’. Is this also your view?

TM Yes. We are very lucky to be designers at Citroën with two quite different philosophies. In the 1950s we had the DS and 2CV, both iconic but quite different concepts and philosophies and that continues with our line-up today.

DT How would you define Citroën design language at the moment?

TM For [sub-brand] DS Line we explore a specific design language. We play more with surfaces, and more 3D sculpture. There is one curve through the car, with strong evolution in terms of surfaces. It is rounded and changes from negative to positive.

We play a lot with the graphics, the lines creating a good balance between the muscles and the nerves [the lines]. The rear wing of the DS4 is really like a muscle. It’s more fluid and with more muscle than mainstream Citroëns.

On the DS the form language is more expressive – we work like a sculpture playing around with the surfaces so that it isn’t boring. We create a three-dimensional effect.

DT You recently showed us the Metropolis concept car, a very different proposition to the DS cars. What does a car like this represent for the marque?

TM It is a very different car but when you look at the formal language it isn’t that different – you get the same feeling. The Metropolis was designed by our team in Shanghai – where we have 45 to 50 people now – and it was a good opportunity to test our facility there and give them the chance to do a car with a lot of freedom.

DT Would you consider designing cars for the Chinese market?

TM With this car we wanted to see what their perception is of a large car suitable for China. But it’s not just for the Chinese market. PSA Group is global and our philosophy is not to do regional cars. Nowadays Chinese customers don’t want a specific car for China they want the same car as here in Europe.

We have a world approach to our cars and don’t design for special markets but we do adapt colour and trim to suite various culture.

DT You seem to be doing some interesting collaborative work with some leading fashion houses like Lacoste and Orla Kiely.

TM We associate fashion trend with Citroën, and we would like to work closely with other fashion designers as did with Lecoste last year.

DT The marque used to use outside consultants for design projects. Is this still the case?

TM No, we have all the good knowledge and creative designers in-house. It happened in the past with the Italians but now it’s not necessary.

DT What is the biggest challenge for you over next few years?

TM To maintain this level of creativity and to integrate the latest regulations such as pedestrian safety and C02, without it reducing the attractiveness and the passion for the brand.

DT Recently you sponsored vehicle design students at the Royal College of Art in London to find solutions for a unique Citroën electric aesthetic with some really interesting propositions. What are your thoughts on future urban mobility?

TM Yes there were some great ideas there and we learnt a great deal from the project. We need very compact cars and three wheelers for big cities. They are easy to park and very low consumption.

Nick Hull and Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read how students at the Royal College of Art worked with Citroen to find solutions for a unique electric aesthetic here.

London-based Design Talks is a forum for discussions on design and design thinking. Design Talks is actively seeking contributors and design writers. To contribute, please email nargess@me.com.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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