Design

The creativity within

Conny Blommé, senior interior design manager at Volvo Cars, explains the design process that created Sweden’s first compact SUV – the Volvo XC40. The best Scandinavian design makes solving complex problems look easy, he says.

Meet Conny Blommé

The design brief

“Getting a new design brief is always exciting. That’s especially true with the XC40, because it’s a new car in a new segment for Volvo Cars. Good design starts with knowing who you’re designing for, and we gained a clear picture as part of the initial brief. Our research gave us a deep understanding of what the priorities should be, and from day one we knew that the interior design should clearly communicate the car’s youthful character, as well as its practical benefits.”

Inspiration and mood boards

“Once the overall vision is defined we start creating mood boards. These are collections of images – and sometimes words – that help us to collect our thoughts, inspire us and ensure we are heading in the right direction. For the XC40 these included consumer products that the target customer would use, both now and in the future.

“One example is POC, a Swedish sportswear brand famous for its cycling and snowboarding helmets. As well as the products themselves I admire the simple, purposeful way that POC’s designers solve problems. Aeroplane design was another influence. If you look at an aeroplane fuselage, it’s a very efficient piece of design, with no extra packaging. That’s what we wanted to achieve with the XC40, and it became a key source of inspiration for the basic shape and theme of the dashboard.

“Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’m particularly keen on classic products and architecture from the past, but whether I’m looking at something old or new I try to identify whether it will age well – whether people will still want it in many years’ time. That’s the mark of good design.”

Sketching

“As soon as we are given the brief we start to sketch. Ideas often pop up when you’re doing something else, when your mind starts to wander. The initial thoughts of the team are collected and evaluated and the most interesting sketches are worked up into more accurate 2D renderings, which help us understand how they could work with the package. Following that we add more detail, to make them as realistic as possible and help visualise how the finished interior could look.”

Review of concepts

“The concepts are reviewed on a weekly basis with the design leadership team. At this stage we don’t focus too much on the practicalities, so that we don’t discard any interesting ideas.

“Once we’ve agreed on a single theme for each designer we start working with powerful 3D modelling software that allows us to quickly compare the design with points on the car’s structure. For the XC40, each of the designers also produced a 1:5 scale sculpture of their theme – the basic essence of their design – to use as a reference point. These sat on their desks, so at any time they could look up and refer to it.”

Theme selection and refinement

“With the main theme decided upon, the challenge is to make sure the vision isn’t diluted over time. This is where the small sculpture helped: every time we had a challenging input from the technical team to consider, we looked at the sculpture to make sure that we stayed true to the original overall design language.

“For the XC40 the main interior theme was largely the work of designer Eric Gunnarsson. The idea of the three ‘islands’ across the dashboard, linked by a band through the centre is his vision – the touch screen in the centre with the vertical air vents at each end.”

“The best Scandinavian design is often about solving a complex problem in a way that makes things look easy”

Developing the details

“The final stage of the process is to develop the details. For the XC40 we started with a clean sheet – there was very little carried over from any previous Volvo. That gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. It’s in the details where you can develop that real sense of quality, and in this car it comes from the combination of design, materials and functionality. The concave panel in the dashboard, for example, gives the clean, sculptured look that we wanted and it allowed us to add LED lighting that highlights the exclusive decor panels.

“There are lots of ingenious solutions, such as the space on the tunnel console where you can place your phone and charge it wirelessly. It’s tilted upwards slightly, so it rests at just the right angle for you to pick it up easily or glance at it if you need to. I’m also very proud of the door panels, where the felt trim extends most of the way up the door. It’s an unusual treatment that provides tactile appeal and a very strong graphic when you look through the car, especially when you choose the optional orange felt and optional orange carpet.

“The upper part of the door is unique, too, because of the way the top of the door panel wraps around to form the doorpull and side armrest. It looks simple but it was a real challenge to achieve it in production form. And it required some creative thinking to craft air vents that fit harmoniously alongside our portrait-format centre touch screen, while still being effective and easy to use. That, for me, sums up what the best Scandinavian design is often about: solving a complex problem in a way that makes things look easy.”