7:00 AM | April 27 2018

The creativity within

Conny Blommé, Senior Interior Design Manager at Volvo Cars, explains how crash helmets, aeroplanes and islands helped to inspire the inside of Sweden’s first compact SUV – the Volvo XC40.

Getting a new design brief is always exciting, and that’s especially true with the XC40 because it’s a new car in a new segment for Volvo Cars. Our research gave us a deep understanding of what the priorities should be, and from day one we knew 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.”

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 and theme selection
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 – which sat on their desks, so at any time they could look up and refer to it.

The main interior theme chosen for the XC40 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 touchscreen in the centre with the vertical air vents at each end.”

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.

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 door pull 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 touchscreen, 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.”

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