The Scandinavian Effect
EXTERIORS – WITH T. JON MAYER
“It was a dream come true for me to be a part of repositioning our [Volvo Cars] brand. To achieve that is really something extraordinary.”
T. Jon Mayers moved from the United States to Gothenburg six years ago – joining Volvo Cars when the transformation of its design philosophy, led by chief designer Thomas Ingenlath, was underway.
He recalls vividly conversations at the beginning of this journey towards a more premium and luxury feel.
“We talked a lot about premium, but it was always Scandinavian premium. And we didn’t call it just luxury, it was Scandinavian luxury.”
It’s an important distinction that gives Volvo Cars’ designs a unique look and feel. And it’s contemporary design rooted in the natural world.
As a designer who has always been inspired by nature, T. Jon Mayer feels at home at Volvo despite not being a local.
“There are three elements that influence me when designing,” he says. “The first is nature, being around the Swedish landscape. The second is the culture, the Swedish people and the kind of philosophy and lifestyle here. Finally, the third element is the unmistakable Swedish design that you find in furniture, fashion and lots of other things.
“In Scandinavia you find yourself in an environment where there is an abundance of land per person. Usually when you go to the woods you are actually quite alone. And it’s the serenity, the peacefulness and that calmness that I try to translate into my design work.
“It isn’t literal in that sense where you walk by a rock and say, ‘Oh, that rock is shaped like this, let’s make a rock-shaped car.’ It doesn’t really work like that. It’s more of designing around the elements and the essence of nature.
“You [also] don’t see the sun that much [in Sweden], so when you do you sort of celebrate that. At Volvo Cars we like to have that kind of light being shown in the vehicles as well.”
He mentions the panoramic roof in the cars that takes advantage of the light, and the spacious interiors as examples. They show that the serenity and peacefulness which characterise the Scandinavian nature are also manifested in the cars.
“As an American, I can say that in the United States and in China, luxury means more is more, with ‘bling-bling,’ diamonds and chrome. That’s not quite the Scandinavian philosophy. It is much more about blending in. It actually comes down to quality of materials and that’s something all cultures appreciate. When you do a more simplistic design it’s the materials and the finish that make a difference.”
INTERIORS – WITH ROBIN PAGE
“I think people now expect us to take the lead in purity and simplicity in interior design,” says Robin Page, senior vice president of design at Volvo Cars. “It’s a big part of the brand. And it’s connected not only to contemporary Scandinavian design, but also safety and driving enjoyment. By minimising distraction, you are able to better focus on what’s important – driving.”
The large centre touchscreen – found on the company’s XC90, S90, V90 Cross Country and XC60 models, as well as the first ever XC40 – is testament to Volvo Cars’ desire to keep things simple. The majority of the car’s functions are operated through this 9-inch portrait display.
“Driving should be intuitive, and never confusing,” says Robin. “We don’t want switches and clutter everywhere. That just distracts you. Everything in the cabin should be useful for the driver and the passengers. That’s human-centric design.”
“Thanks to smartphones, people are now perfectly comfortable with touchscreens,” says Robin.
Uncluttered, luxurious layouts, subtle design flourishes and thoughtfully selected materials that exude a sense of craftsmanship are hallmarks of contemporary Volvo interiors.
R-Design models introduce a more athletic, technical feel through their Charcoal colour theme, Metal Mesh Aluminium décor panels and Fine Nappa leather-accented upholstery.
Robin says he learned plenty from his time at other luxury brands such as Bentley, Bugatti and Rolls-Royce.
“One of the main lessons was to use the best natural materials, respect them, and use them in the right way. As soon as you start using materials in an unnatural way, it stops looking real. Premium materials such as leather and wood must look, and feel, real. Used properly, these materials contribute to the sense of wellbeing that is so important to Volvo cars.”