9:00 AM | April 27 2018

Creating the “Tough Little Robot”

Inspired by sci-fi movies, influenced by Sweden and driven to create something different, Ian Kettle – the lead exterior designer of the XC40 – explains the thought process behind his vision.

“My designs always start with words. And in the instance of the XC40 that phrase was ‘Tough Little Robot’.
“I used Tough Little Robot from day one, and it defined everything about the product: its stance, its surfacing, its sense of playfulness. It represented what I wanted to make for the city.
“Once I had established those core words, I started to look at inspirations and influences. I looked at imagery of what a Tough Little Robot would be, and what I would like it to be. Then I start sketching and visualising these ideas, trying to translate those characteristics on to a vehicle. Creativity is about taking two unrelated ideas and bringing them together.
“When you have that grounding in the development process and the creative process, it means for the rest of the project the design team has anchor points for reference. So, if you’re faced with three or four different proposals for a rear fog lamp, for instance, it’s easy to make a decision if you know you’re trying to create a Tough Little Robot.”
“The early phase of the process was inspired by the product design consultancy IDEO, who invented Apple’s first mouse. When I was at university, my friends and I were invited to a workshop at IDEO’s London studio. They showed us how they would approach complex problems and make them simple. The started with research – trying to understand the people who used the product. Once they have a body of thoughts, they write them on Post-It notes and start to group things and look for a pattern, a story, or a series.
“For me, the best time to do this kind of thinking is in the evening, sat at my kitchen table with music on. You’ve got to be in a certain mood. I can’t do it in the middle of the day. Like many creative people, I’m most focused when I’m slightly tired. It’s important to make sure you’ve got the washing done, the emails sent. Clear your mind.
“There are a couple of creative process books by Paul Arden that influence me heavily, even to this day. These are It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be and Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite. They are small, Penguin-style books that you can read in half an hour because each page has just one sentence on it. Paul used to be the creative director at a global advertising agency and it’s full of gems of creative advice such as ‘It’s right to be wrong’. It’s stuck with me for my whole career.
“If I talk about influence in its purest sense for this car, it came from watching a couple of sci-fi movies. One was Elysium, with Matt Damon. The robots in it were designed in a completely different way to most other contemporary films in the genre and that really influenced me. The other film was Oblivion, with Tom Cruise, which had really interesting vehicles that were beautifully designed by Daniel Simon, who used to be a car designer and now lives in Hollywood.
“As for broader influences, Sweden is a huge inspiration. I’ve got into outdoor sports since living here but the influence for me as a designer comes from the attitude of society. It’s an extremely equal place. Swedes don’t seem to be held back by traditions. You can see that in the attitude to technology. For many years, Sweden had the best 3G coverage, because they adapted to it very quickly. Sweden is also one of the leading cash-free societies. Swedes have a real acceptance of change. It’s a progressive country. And that kind of openness affects you as a creative person because it means you’re encouraged to do something different.
“Car designers often design products in their own image. You can see that in the XC40. My personal taste in design is having large sweeping surfaces that convey both a sense of calm and confidence in the product. If you look at an Apple MacBook or an iPad, they don’t have lots of line work breaking up the surface. It’s about making the product seductive in a really intelligent way, with an uncomplicated design that suggests it will make your life easier – which is the whole point of the XC40.”

Click here to read the rest of our April I Roll stories