Built around people

The Volvo philosophy is Human-Centric. Not a slogan, but a complex itinerary to make the automobile almost a second home. Safety, lines, materials, forms, technology, luxury have to converge in the creation of a friendly environment.
As described by those in charge of the Swedish automaker’s design team: Robin Page and Maximilian Missoni

 

Photos Volvo Cars archives – Article Nina Stefenelli

 

In 2017 the company celebrated its 90th anniversary, and this year – for the second time in three years – they won a far from secondary prize, namely the Car Design Award, in the context of the Salone dell’Auto Parco Valentino in Turin. We’re talking about Volvo, the Swedish automaker that is taking an original path, summed up in the term ‘human-centric,’ or a conception of cars based on the new needs of human beings. We talked it over with Robin Page and Maximilian Missoni, respectively Senior Vice-President for Design and Exterior Design Chief of Volvo.

How can safety, innovation and design be reconciled in a project today?
Robin Page For Volvo, safety is an aspect that is never questioned. The engineers illustrate their requirements, and as designers we look for the best possible solutions. In 1959 we launched the 3-point seatbelt, a new development at the time, which then spread to the whole auto industry. The design has always worked by paying close attention to the innovations of the next level of safety. After all, it would be hard to justify beautiful designs that put this aspect at risk.
Maximilian Missoni When we have to work on the safety of pedestrians or passengers there is no question that it becomes the main focus. For us it is a challenge, not a constraint.

What is the most important aspect, for you: quality, comfort, innovation…?
Robin Page All these elements, but what is more important is the fact that Volvo is a ‘human-centric’ brand: it addresses people and lifestyles. When people buy a Volvo they do it for a mixture of reasons: safety is fundamental, but the way the car is inserted in everyday life also counts. Our product reflects the Scandinavian philosophy, also in its design, which means comfort, technology, quality, luxury and all the practicality with which your life can be inserted inside an automobile.
Maximilian Missoni Today design is a leading factor in the decision to purchase, and it sets the brand apart. As a ‘human-centric’ brand these aspects are seen on equal terms, but design is one of the central disciplines. Today technology has reached such a high level, with electrification and autonomous driving, that we cannot help but incorporate it: it is a chance for innovation. Technology travels fast.

Can design keep up with its pace?
Robin Page People expect the on-board experience to change quickly, because they are increasingly accustomed to using new apps and devices. Our job is to provide new products, as quickly as possible, while at the same time offering updates in the digital experience: the partnership with Google is just one example.
Maximilian Missoni We are not surprised by the speed with which these new technologies are produced; actually, we imagine them and they suddenly become reality. But as designers, I think we do not chase after them.

So the concept cars you present at motor shows are not too far ahead of their time?
Robin Page Absolutely not. The advent of so much technology opens up many possibilities for us: now there is more freedom to explore different scenarios, it is as if we were students again. Concept cars might seem extreme, but they are useful to have a glimpse of the future, also because technology can see, forecast and react better than human beings.
Maximilian Missoni We should state that the self-driving car will not be happening very soon: we still have to work on the question of trust on the part of consumers regarding the new driving systems.

What are the materials of the future?
Robin Page Sustainability and recycling are the key terms. There will be more and more space for craftsmanship as well, to add flavor…

How do a designer of interiors and a designer of exteriors work together?
Robin Page We challenge each other. We do not only say ‘I don’t like that,’ we explain the reasons behind our choices. It is teamwork, because in the end we want to look at the car and be able to say “this is the very best we could do.”
Maximilian Missoni The most important this is trust… things are not right or wrong, it is much more a matter of different perceptions.

What is the biggest challenge for a designer?
Robin Page When you have success, you become afraid to take a wrong step. This always frightens me a bit. You often ask yourself: what now? And our work is mostly based on intuition. But there is nothing better for a designer than being challenged by technology, innovations and changes in the market. It ignites your desire to work on projects, opportunities, many ideas. This is a very fertile, energetic period, from many different standpoints.