Interview: “Bipolarity of emotion and intelligence”

Jan 27, 2017

Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer at Daimler AG, on his scope of responsibility for design within the Group and the Mercedes‑Benz design philosophy.

Mr Wagener, you are responsible not only for the design of Mercedes‑Benz passenger cars, but for all brands of Daimler AG, from the smart to the commercial vehicles.

Yes, we are responsible for the design of all of the company’s brands and products - from the A-Class to the Actros, our smart and the corporate design of all Group brands. This all-embracing approach to design covers all the touch points between customers and the company and creates a common experience.

Corporate design goes well beyond the design of vehicles. How does this all fit together?

Our focus is on a holistic design approach - for a consistent look and feel wherever customers and the general public encounter the company. Because design informs all aspects of the brands and a holistic design approach is crucial to fashioning a perfect image. We aspire to be perceived as an international luxury label, above all with regard to our core brand, Mercedes‑Benz. And for me luxury is not just an automotive statement - it is a lifestyle.

What are the greatest challenges in designing a car?

Firstly, as designers we live in the future. This calls on us to pursue a visionary and innovative approach to our design work day in, day out. That is certainly one of our most gripping challenges. In addition, the complexity of vehicles has increased. This imposes higher requirements on all areas of design. New disciplines have arisen, accompanied by a need for ever more extensive networking between the teams. Then there is the interplay between design, development and production. These are the broad terms of reference within which the designers operate. Longevity is also an issue: the answers which we formulate today must still be valid in ten years’ time.

So how do the designers know what the trends will be several years down the road?

We all keep our eyes and ears open in our daily lives, tapping into sources of inspiration wherever we happen to be. We also have five Mercedes‑Benz Advanced Design Studios around the world. These keep us up to date on global developments: what trends are afoot, how resources are changing, what social and economic setting is to be expected.

Is it possible to sum up the essence of good design?

For me, good design must be attractive and intelligent. Mercedes‑ � Benz combines these two poles with the design philosophy of Sensual Purity.

Does good design also require courage?

Of course, and in particular it calls for bold decisions. Fortunately, the members of our management board are car guys who trust in the design team's expertise and experience. It is crucial that we always keep evolving, with the necessary creativity and courage to push back the boundaries.

What exactly do you mean by Sensual Purity?

Sensual Purity is the definition of modern luxury. The aim of our design philosophy is to create clear contours and sensual surfaces that showcase high-tech while radiating emotive appeal. Our design must be hot and cool. “Hot” is about falling in love with something, it is emotional and irresistible. At the other end of the scale, “cool” is highly technoid and minimalist, something completely new, something surprising, the likes of which have never been seen before. In this way, we create not only automobiles, but a whole world of modern luxury.

And how has Mercedes‑Benz managed to become a leader in design?

We create new forms that no-one expects. We demonstrate that it is possible to capture the imagination with avant-garde ideas while remaining true to the spirit of a brand with a history extending back over more than 130 years. Mercedes‑Benz design has shifted from a traditional to a modern interpretation of luxury, and this is certainly one of our success factors. At the same time, we have also made incredible advances in the area of the interior. It is the accomplished interplay of form, material and colour that impresses here, and above all the perfect quality and precision.

Where do we go from here?

The exclusive sporty E-Class Coupé represents the next step in the ongoing development of our design idiom. Boasting perfect proportions, it embodies a purist design featuring an emphasis on surfaces, reduced lines and sensual forms. This reduced design idiom is "hot" and "cool" at one and the same time.

With regard to passenger cars, design is one of the key selling factors. What about commercial vehicles - is design rather of secondary importance here?

You are right. With commercial vehicles, the costs are the key consideration. Design is nevertheless also a factor which may well influence the buying decision on a subliminal level. The interior with the control units is particularly important to customers. In keeping with our holistic approach, a commercial vehicle is required to embody a brand's values just as convincingly as a passenger car.

What inspires you personally?

I travel a great deal, which enables me to pick up on artistic and social trends in the most diverse places. Discovering exciting places and talking to interesting people are the greatest sources of inspiration for me. But art and above all architecture are also very inspiring. Take Bauhaus, for example. It’s fascinating how it strips everything down to the essentials, and purism also forms part of our philosophy. Another example is Zaha Hadid’s kinetic designs. These are highly interesting because they were often initially unfeasible on a technical level, which meant that the design spurred on the engineers to evolve new solutions. It’s important not to work within too narrow limits.

About the interviewee

Gorden Wagener (48) joined the company in 1997 and has been at the helm of Daimler AG’s globally operating Design unit since mid-2008. Under his leadership a new design strategy for Mercedes‑B enz was developed in 2009. This strategy remains subject to ongoing development. With effect from 1 November 2016, the management board of Daimler AG appointed Wagener as Chief Design Officer. Wagener first studied Industrial Design at the University of Essen before going on to specialise in Transportation Design at the Royal College of Art in London.

Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG
Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG
Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG
Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG
Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG