“We have the start-up culture of agile and quick decisions, but that does not offset the need for structure and good management”
Maybe tomorrow, I don’t have to drive my car to the office between 8am and 9am and be stuck in traffic: I could probably work differently. I could start my day with a bit of teleworking, then leave a little later, escaping congestion. Meanwhile when travelling, I can have an intimate bubble in my car where I can concentrate, and later, I can join an open space and collaborate with other peers. Then, the car as a product, and the design solutions that we have, can support this way of life, the way you organise your working day.
This is the way I look at mobility. That thinking reflects one-to-one into our user interface concept. Why do we have that big screen on our dashboard? This is not to be fancy or because it’s cool: this is because we believe it makes sense to exactly address these new future use cases, to support what we will be able to bring as an experience into the car. Plus, not only do we have the lifecycle of the hardware – designed for the next six, seven, eight years, with some sort of midway facelift – we have to integrate digital product lifecycles which are much shorter. This is the big challenge now coming up for designers. An app can be developed very quickly, and will probably live six months until a new variant or a competitor comes; this is much more dynamic than the hardware we produce in our capital-intensive industry.
We have to make sure that we create a platform to make these different sorts of products, and their associated lifecycles, coexist in a system that you can update regularly. This is the core idea of the user interface, the way we did it: because it makes a future-proof canvas to display things, or for use cases that we don’t yet even know about today. And we have to be very careful about trends: an electric car could have a first, second and even third life, so we need to have a design which of course suggests modernity and the future, but is not trying too hard to be in fashion, or will be fun only for a season.
We are a global brand and we have design studios in Munich and Shanghai. The development, especially in 3D, and the main activities when it comes to execution are happening more in Munich, and we conduct a lot of early-phase advanced design in Shanghai. We are a relatively small design team, about 60-70 people, but we were very fortunate right from the beginning to reproduce what large design organisations enjoy as far as processes, competencies and tools are concerned, at the right size for our needs, and we really have the possibilities to conduct virtual and physical design processes.
There’s a huge network of suppliers or partners in Munich and Shanghai to help us, but we can also conduct a lot of prototyping and modelling activities in-house. You have to have both virtual and physical processes. You cannot go away from the physical quality assessment and also development: even for the car of tomorrow or the future, there’s still some emotion and craftsmanship expected in the execution, and there’s no better way than doing that physically. But we develop all our competencies, including virtual reality, and the way we look at design is in some aspects quite different to the way we were doing it 10 or 20 years ago.
Of course, the basics are still there, the creativity, the sketching in 2D or 3D, and of course the required craftsmanship remains the same, but we have to add within the design organisation much more strategic and holistic thinking. Our contribution as designers is to help and guide the company in such a way that we help to draft not only the car’s shape or what you can touch, but the use cases associated with what we create. This calls for totally different competencies: I’m looking not only for top-skilled traditional car designers on my team, we need people who think more about the big picture, outside of the usual contexts, and who are able to, for example, outline storyboards – designing future mobility situations, working with future scenarios, maybe in totally different media.
I started at Byton two-and-a-half years ago and this is a personal journey for me, intellectually, as a designer, as a manager. When you start from scratch, you have to care about everything; it’s an industrial adventure, but also a human adventure. We have a different culture, different locations colliding with each other; this makes the whole thing truly exciting, and we all enjoy the stimulation, we progress and learn. It is very different from working at big OEMs. People accept the risk of going into a start-up because of the positive trade-offs: more freedom to act, more room for ideas.
Design always starts first in Byton, we are at the forefront of every process. We have the start-up culture of agile and quick decisions, but that does not offset the need for structure and good management, because the more order and organisation you have in your business, the more room you have for innovation and creativity. What is changing is that we have to work more open-source, not only in silos: we have more touchpoints between departments, for example having a very strong dialogue with the team working on products such as Byton Life, a digital platform customers can use on the move and also at home, and on applications with Amazon Alexa.
There are very different strategies from one company to another, but at Byton, we just work towards what we believe makes sense, from our perspective. We have to design beyond the car, and what I am more and more keen on is entering into dialogues with other parties to design the mobility ecosystem. I think that we as an industry can provide a lot of good and attractive solutions, but they can only evaluate and make sense if you have a legal and social context that makes for the possibility to use them to the most advantage.
This reflects specifically into the Byton design DNA in the more intuitive, supportive user interface, and a language with a certain level of clarity: what we do should never look ambiguous. You have to get the purpose of the product, the functionality, right the minute you see it; bring innovation where you believe it really makes sense, and bring added value to the customer or the end user – not only for the sake of the design manifesto. If we look at the M-Byte, the proportions claim our positioning as a premium brand and this is something you can instantly recognise.
We wanted to start first with an SUV, and it’s not trying to really change the status quo. There are some rules, and we conform to these; it’s a very understandable concept. It would be a shame to bring so much technology, so much progress, and then have rejections because the design is simply too polarising: our goal is trying to convince people to join a cleaner, safer and better mobility. I must lead the team in such a way that it brings this sort of solution, and that is my personal contribution as a designer.
Benoit Jacob’s votes for the Concept and Production Car of the Year 2018
1. Peugeot e-Legend
2. BMW Vision iNext
3. Opel GT X Experimental
1. Rivian R1T
2. Peugeot 508
3. Audi e-tron