Apr 20, 2012
To create fascination and brand identity: that's the objective of the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy, oriented towards long-term effect rather than short-lived trends, it taps into a “gene pool” of brand-typical style elements in the sense of a living tradition. At the end of this process is the car as an individual space for living.
For Mercedes-Benz, design is literally a trademark. Because for over 100 years, design has characterised the image of the brand with the three-pointed star and has made visible typical Mercedes brand values such as fascination, responsibility and perfection. Insofar, design has important tasks on two counts – and Mercedes design has fulfilled them for many years now very successfully: the car's lines fascinate not only because of the product itself, they also serve as a mirror of the philosophy and profile of the Stuttgart-based automotive brand. In other words: design makes brand values visible – and sets its mark on them.
Design should also awaken passion, passion for the automobile and the wish to possess a model. “Love at first sight” has long been a slogan with a great reality content in the automotive trade. After arousing love at first sight, one of the main tasks of the designers is to create a lasting relationship and maintain the love affair over many years. The psychological arc goes from acquaint to recognise to brand awareness. It is not only a question of creating shapely, functional individual products, but of generating brand identity at the same time.
Identity and continuity
However, in order to build up and care adequately for such a successful brand image, long-term strategies and conceptual continuity are essential. New Mercedes models must indeed formally create a bridge to the future, but at the same time their lines may not abandon their origin. This guarantees that every new Mercedes-Benz possesses a clearly recognisable identity and shows its pedigree at the first glance. Although every model displays unmistakeable analogies with its predecessors, it shows a clear formal further development and heralds a new design era.
Given that a product life span of around 20 years is quite realistic for Mercedes automobiles, the designers must not indulge in passing fancies. The high market value which Mercedes-Benz passenger cars retain even after many years on the road is due not least to the fact that a previous model of Mercedes-Benz does not automatically “look” old. Even when new models come out in a model series, they don't detract from their predecessors, which continue to be desirable, in particular because of the enduring appeal of their design.
A Mercedes-Benz is always recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz. Meticulously and with great care, Mercedes-Benz designers ensure that certain style features, while being further developed, are retained in their basic form. Designers then speak of the brand's “gene pool”. This is what they tap into, to care for and protect the style of the brand.
A good example of this is the typical Mercedes radiator grille – a feature which has identified and rendered unmistakeable the motor car with the three-pointed star for over 100 years. Over this long span of time the radiator grille has been repeatedly developed further in a formal sense. Both in its basic proportions and in its details the designers try to interpret this identifying feature anew, creating a fresh, modern image.
This principle also applies for the sporty counterpart, the so-called SL radiator, which was directly derived from racing in the 1950s and has since become a symbol not only for Mercedes sports cars, but also for the refined sportiness which finds its expression in many model series. In the same manner as the saloon radiator, this element is also constantly being newly interpreted in the formal sense.
Through this detail work, form language and brand image retain their vitality, remain innovative and dynamic, but at the same time unmistakeable.
And yet an all-too-strict interpretation of the striving for formal continuity entails the risk of running into a stylistic dead-end alley, where there is no room for individuality. There is no such formal monotony at Mercedes-Benz; on the contrary: every model – whether it is a luxury saloon, a coupé, a roadster or a compact-class car – presents itself as an independent “personality”. The common, well-known basic patterns of the form language are combined with new style elements that at first appear surprising, yet in conjunction with familiar elements condition, ever anew, the perception of the Stuttgart-based automotive brand.
Trends and reality
Recognising and shaping trends are important tasks of the auto designers. They live in the present, but their realm of action is the future. This calls for a very sensitive perception for changes in customers' life habits, for people's new attitudes towards their daily life and for those tendencies concerning form and colour made evident in other sectors such as the furniture industry or the electronics sector, for example. Or for impulses coming from other cultures; this is why Mercedes designers do not only work in Germany, but in Italy, Japan, China and the USA as well. The automaker has set up Advanced Design Studios at all these locations, to act as a sort of seismograph and pick up stylistic trends on site and analyse them to process them creatively. A key issue here is the ability to intuitively grasp that which can attain formal timelessness, and to develop a sensitivity for important, sustainable tendencies in art, culture and society.
However, having a vision for the future and being able to sense new trends is not enough. Because behind the manifold, diffuse wealth of future ideas on offer there lies the question of which of the currents does a brand like Mercedes-Benz want to allow itself to be influenced by. For Mercedes-Benz it has always been decisive to be, not fashionable, but modern.
That's why what is important is to distinguish between short-lived tendencies and long-term developments and thus identify customers' authentic expectations for the future. Mercedes designers therefore do not need trend counselling but rather a well-founded prognosis and concrete answers to the questions as to how people will live tomorrow, how they will consume and – in particular – how to enthral and inspire future customers. The challenge consists in reflecting about possible future developments and to think further – beyond the reality that bears the seal of trends and fashion.
Passion and practicality
This aspect is probably the most important and interesting of those that determine the work of automotive designers. It is all about people, or, more specifically, about customers and their personality. Because driving a car today means a lot more than reaching your destination in safety and comfort. Today, more than ever, the emphasis is on making the journey itself an experience that is enjoyable because one feels at ease in one's car, and because the car goes well with one's lifestyle – and because it is also possible to express style very well by means of the car. More than ever, the sensory perception of a product therefore plays an exceptional role.
Experience and enjoyment
Keeping the fascination for what is beautiful alive over the years is also one of the most important tasks of the interior designers. Its importance for design work is increasing. The interior of a car is conceived as a space for living, one where a lot of time is spent. That is why a pleasant environment is playing an increasingly important role in the motor car, too.
There is no doubt about it: customers have become both more demanding and more discerning over the years in this respect. They not only want a wide choice of possible appointments from which to pick precisely that which suits their individual taste and personality. They now also set greater store by the use of high-quality materials and precision workmanship. These of course help convey, whilst also making more tangible, values such as aesthetics, comfort and quality as part of the overall visual impression.
The objective of the interior designers at Mercedes-Benz can be summed up in a few words: one gets into the car, closes the doors and immediately feels at home.
Form and function
But for all their love and attention to detail: automotive designers are not packaging artists. It is by no means their task to simply pack new technologies or new vehicle concepts into a handsome form – they contribute decisively towards initiating new ideas and help them on their way to series production, The entire Mercedes-Benz strategic product initiative documents just how closely product strategy, design and technology work together at the Stuttgart-based automotive brand.
Mercedes designers are integrated right from the start in the concept phase and in the development process of new models. That also means: design work is team work; the design studio of a large-series manufacturer is not a dream factory. In a team both designers and engineers have to be ready to make compromises in order to find viable solutions that meet all the requirements. This poses harder challenges for automotive designers than for their colleagues in other industrial sectors. The motor car is one of the few industrial products from which the customer expects not only a handsome exterior, but also a perfectly-designed interior as well. In addition to this, the car is a product made up from different individual areas. Many of these details are quite as complex as entire devices produced in other industrial sectors.
Function and aesthetics, technology and art: what at first sight sounds contradictory has to blend into a harmonious overall concept in a modern car. The objective has been attained if design work and the engineering arts complement each other on a sophisticated level. Thus, practicality and good design are not natural enemies. Technological leadership is an integral part of the brand philosophy and it is the task of design to make this mission visible, while setting trends in its own way.
Visions and emotions
This is what show cars, concept and research vehicles are also for. They are conceived and developed in order to impulse auto-visions, to test new vehicle concepts and technologies, to intensify the dialogue with customers and also to analyse the public's reaction to these auto-ideas. Mercedes-Benz also carries out such auto-studies in order to take a look at the future in respect of stylistic developments and to offer designers a possibility to develop and implement new form languages.
But whether a unique research vehicle or series-produced – a motor vehicle is always perceived with one's senses. No-one can evade its emotional effect. Long before one has any idea about the relevant technical facts or innovations, through its mere appearance – that is, through its design – it awakens desires. It is the responsibility of the designers to awaken and keep alive these emotions. The goal of their work is to create automobiles in the field of tension between technology and design, that are characterised both by technical and emotional intelligence.
The designers' work is a success if customers buy cars not only for purely rational reasons but also with their heart – and mind.