Design is a collaborative effort

Portrait of Demian Horst

Cooperation with the industry

Horst started working toward his career all the way back in 1998, when, fresh from university in his homeland Brazil, he joined a local bus design and manufacturing company owned by a family of Swedish immigrants. In 2001, he moved to Sweden to study transportation design at the Umeå Institute of Design. After working at General Motors in Germany for three years, Horst returned to his Swedish alma mater in 2008 to teach transportation design. 

All of the transportation design projects at Umeå Institute of Design are developed in cooperation with the industry. “We focus on aligning the needs of industry with the needs of students in their design education,” says Horst. “Our collaboration projects expose students to the tools and skills they will be expected to use in the real world.” The institute maintains a broad approach to transportation design, focusing on more than just cars. Just recently, the students worked with Airbus on an interior design project. Other assignments come from material suppliers or OEMs like Chinese Changan Automobile Company.

Telling the Right Story

According to Horst, the job of a designer is to predict, envision and actually shape our perception of the future. So what are some of the key challenges of automotive design? “It’s in telling the right story,” says Horst. “Stories have character, stories have drama. The future holds a lot of uncertainty. We are all witnessing the triumph of information technology as it foretells the rise of artificial intelligence. At the same time, more and more people fear technology and believe it will take over their world. Imagine how scary it will be for some people to start travelling in driverless cars.” This is why, according to Horst, it is so important for designer to make sure their design tells the right story and conveys a message of trust. “You look at the car’s appearance and trust in something that will keep you safe, taking you where you want to go, while giving you a good experience along the way.”

Portrait of Demian Horst

Shared mobility is another factor influencing car design. One of the future scenarios is that cars will not belong to individuals. They will just be part of a service you can access during a certain part of your day. Yet, people will want more than just an anonymous experience with a brand. According to Horst, the next design revolution will require that companies define themselves and their brands through their services, translating the brand's emphasis on the senses and offering an enjoyable, sensory-filled driving experience. Because of the enhanced service dimension people will be exposed to more service brands than before. “They will, for example, be choosing between a Ford Service and a GM Service or a Toyota Service,” says Horst. “It will become much harder to get people to stay loyal to brands.”

Expressing Reduced Carbon Footprint

Then, there is legislation and the challenge of reducing a car’s carbon footprint. “The automotive industry is facing many legislative hurdles. One design approach is toward creating designs that honestly respond to these challenges,” says Horst. “I like it when companies are able to express the core nature of a powertrain through the way they present the car’s interior design.” For Horst, the character of an electric vehicle might be expressed by choosing sustainable or biodegradable materials for the interior. “But the company’s core responsibility in achieving a more sustainable footprint is not just in the choice of materials,” says Horst. “Reducing the carbon footprint in the entire value chain and manufacturing process is also critical. It is about making lighter vehicles. The task of the designers is in educating and informing the consumer in this respect.”  

The approach of Umeå Institute of Design is to engage in dialogue with companies and the world around us. “Our students come from all over the world. They are talented and highly motivated. The students I work with are very good at communicating their ideas – sketching and drawing, as well as understanding trends and anticipating people’s ideas,” says Horst. “They enjoy working with experts in marketing and engineering and understand that design is a collaborative effort.”