September 27, 2017

Reflecting on IAA 2017

As designers, we’re always intrigued when the IAA (one of Europe's biggest car shows) makes its debut. Besides the eye-catching futuristic designs, what we believe to be of interest is seeing the areas the industry is exploring and heading towards. All in all, our work in this sector has allowed us to develop a critical lens. That is why Sander Thijssen and I visited the IAA in Frankfurt to feast our eyes on what the future of automotive brands and suppliers have on offer.


The car's overall design language reflects that of its brand's personality. We see within the designs of the concepts cars that their designers have tried to sculpt the body towards a design language which they personally feel fits the brand. Some work, some fail. However, sometimes the design is redeemed within the details. Something we noticed a key attribute was that the cars are adopting a “face'' as brands are having more of an affinity with displays and/or LED's for the Headlights. This opened up the possibility for cars to not only give signals but also messages. For instance, look at the Smart Vision EQ42, it's sending pedestrians literal messages to give them insight on what the car's intentions are. We're interested to see where this could go in further developments in relation to a large-scale fully autonomous driving community. Finally, the most prominent aspect is that the brands are taking the spotlight. But ask yourselves why? Why do we need the excessive use of patterns on our cars? New lacquer combinations, like gloss and matt on the body, look very neat. See Renault Symbioz and Mini Electric Concept as examples.


We see that within the luxury car market that the materials used are both increasing in visual and tactile quality. We are happy to see that some of the dashes were cleaned up in order to achieve more peaceful look. Screens are getting bigger and hopefully the User Interfaces will become more intuitive and simple. Moreover, the trend that we saw last year in wearables and home décor, which is copper and rose gold details, this time was noticed in CMF. Carbon is still in but only in the racing theme. Furthermore, patterns on car seats appear again but more and more embroidered than as a print on textile.


It's great to see how 'dieselgate' gives the car market a boost to go faster with transforming more and more platforms to an electric fleet. Let's hope that all European countries will pick up the tendency to integrate electric charging stations as much as possible.


Let's imagine that level 5 is there…a 100% autonomous car that is totally safe to let go off the wheel. Do we still need safety measures like seat belts, headrests and airbags? What possible ideas could come to life and which products will fade away because of the autonomous driving?

When you do not need a steer,no mirrors, no belts and pedals, etc., you have much more room to play as a designer. You can sculpt the interior the way you like: make it a living room, a bedroom or just a place to relax. The outside off the car still needs to be sculpted and express a brands personality, performance or dynamics… But if the car will become totally autonomous, like a common public transportation pod that you can call with your smart phone, the emotional connection of owning a it will lessen.

Will the new generations of cars lack character or will both design languages live next to each other? We think that in the coming years some things are definitely going to change.

Despite all of what was on show we allowed ourselves time to create our personal Top 10.

1. Honda Urban EV Concept: Iconic, simplistic, cartoonish design with living room benches and 'study desk' look of the dash, is our winner! Archetype car where product design meets automotive design (muji like).

2. Kia Proceed Concept: a real well-shaped station wagon with a character lying in side profile. Eye candy with a vibrant red color and a sheep wool used as upholstery.

3. Renault Symbioz: Connected society; integrating car and home in a real sympathetic way. Chairs could come straight out of your home to fade the border between car and home. Autonomous driving gives you the opportunity to start using a car in a different way. Exterior design with cozy matt/gloss combination.

4. Smart Vision EQ42: Small autonomous level 5 car with no steering wheel. The exterior lights and grille are used as displays to communicate with the outside world. While sitting in your lounge like on the couch, you can enjoy the big screen in front of you and relax during your commute. Interesting door concept. Nice details, like the bear and carpet on the floor, to make atmosphere homier.

5. Audi Elaine: Cool though powerful autonomous level 4 car; nice use of patterns and animations in the front.

6. BMW Concept Z4: Aggressive lines and grille, cool asymmetrical split in the interior.

7. Audi Aicon: Level 5 autonomous car with no steer. Like taillight animations, but not a big fan of the interior: looks little sagged.

8. Mini Electric Concept: Nice clean shape, some details need extra tweaking, like the side skirts that look like metalized carpet. Cool little car.

9. Mercedes Delivery Van: A great balanced design with a minimal surface treatment and a few lines. And of course, the drone's delivery is awesome.

10. BMW I Vision: Nice main shape but we really miss the Hofmeister kink. Repeating the kidneys in the windows feels a bit far-fetched or maybe we just need to get used to it?

Noud: We also saw concepts that didn't make it to our top ten. Didn't we Sander?

Sander: Yes, we did. For instance, the VW ID cross concept. I already forgot how it looked like… nothing special…

The VW California XXL a camper van, interesting exterior but inside it looks like and feels like your sitting in a giant fridge.

And the yellow colour of the Skoda vison E is awful: too much different patterns. Misses subtlety and coherence.

Mercedes EQA: Study for the new A-Class. Bonnet and windscreen are nicely integrated into one surface. The beauty of the clean sides of the Mercedes Van is not working on the scale of the next gen A class.

Mercedes-AMG Project One: Imagine a Lemans racer… put a Merc logo on it… TADA!…AMG Project-One hypercar 1000+ HP.

WEY XEV electric crossover: You see that they are struggling to develop their design language, probably it's because they do not have a lot of heritage and they still need to shape their brands character.

BORGWARD: Isabella…. Too many styles; graphic prints mismatch car body design; strange colour set of exterior-interior

Of course, there were many more things to see on the IAA such as virtual reality experiences, augmented reality or advanced materials, real-time mapping, mobility services, connected cars, automated driving, e-mobility, urban mobility, off-road terrain experiences, retro cars and much more. And yes, we definitely got inspired and will use our gained insights in our coming projects!

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