Simon Loasby, Hyundai’s style manager, talks about the development of the brand’s design: interview

Hyundai takes us to the heart of his new stylistic course through an interview with Simon Loasby, head of Hyundai Stylewhich tells about his vision and the future prospects of the brand.

After a long experience at Volkswagen, Loasby joined Hyundai and took on a crucial role in the creation of the design studio in Shanghai. In 2019, he moved to Korea to oversee Hyundai brand projects globally with the goal of expanding the brand’s portfolio to different parts of the world. Here is the whole interview.

Mr. Loasby, personalization is one of the global megatrends. It leads to a huge differentiation of life concepts and tastes. Are there still car design principles that work globally and in all kinds of environments? What are they?

Hyundai has design studies all over the world, and as a designer we are almost like anthropologists in all regions. We keep an eye on what is happening. We look at what the current trends are, but we also identify what the future trends will be. Some markets have things in common, other markets are really unique. Europe tends to look for more compact cars, Europeans tend to prefer what I call “a small product with high density”. While both in Korea and the US value larger cars. In Korea, sedans are still going a long way – a trend that is disappearing in other regions, but in Korea they are still a big reality.

I have always interpreted car design in relation to how companies develop in different ways and America, China, India, Europe, Korea have different features. I would say that China is the most advanced in technology and electronics and affects the rest of the world. While Europe is a bit behind, perhaps due to data security. The United States is somewhere in between. Markets have different speeds, and there are some trends that are very similar: good design and good proportions probably work everywhere. What can change is the different sales volumes because there are different tastes for the different types, but good proportions and good design work globally.

Would you say there are some basic needs to make a good car design? What are they?

If we look at our stylistic philosophy, “Sensuous Sportiness”, what we are trying to do is create a more emotional appeal. “Sensual” does not mean that everything has to be super sculptural and soft, it just means that we create an elevated and emotionally captivating design. The second building block is sportsmanship, which consists of creating a large share. Think of an athlete. If he or she has a good share, that appeal works globally. That’s what we do in design. Let us identify the good share. This is our “sportiness”. So we create the story of typology, architecture, what that car is for and the role it has in the portfolio. These are the building blocks. Once we have integrated the entire technological part, we arrive at the execution of the style. But that’s one of the last things we do.

When comparing Korean with European car design, what are the biggest matches? And what are the fundamental differences?

I do not think there is a Korean type of car design or a European type. Trends these days are so global. We can go back to 1997 and blame the internet for that … But there is one type of vehicle that better suits the tastes of the market in Europe or Korea. It is therefore about building a narrative of what the brand is trying to do and finding what I call that car’s role in the portfolio.

It’s a bit like the role of a chess piece. When you have a complete board, you have your own team and different pieces have different roles. The same is our Hyundai product range. Different cars have different roles and suit different people, different segments. But they are all Hyundai, they all come from the same chess set. We would like to describe this as a new level of coherence. A good example is the continuity of the parametric pixel on our IONIQ products. The pixel is a kind of base for our chess pieces: unique and recognizable right away.

Our job in design is to find something that is extremely modern but at the same time authentic to Hyundai. To find the Koreanness that is globally unique and loved. This gives us an authenticity in creating an inspiration base for our ideas.

That’s why I’m passionate about exploring all aspects of Korean food, design, landscape, architecture. We watch K-TV, K-music, K-fashion, how they affect the world, analyze it and say, “Okay, what do we have as a story that gives us a new creative palette for Hyundai?” And the pixel is one of those things.

We have one of the only languages ​​in the world, if not the only language, with the pure pixel in the alphabet. The Hangul letter “mium” is the perfect pixel. So one might think that when King Sejong developed the Hangul alphabet in the 15th century, he created part of our idiom. The design language for IONIQ 5, 6 and 7’s Parametric Pixel Hyundai is probably 600 years old.

When you look at the exterior and interior of Hyundai vehicles, what is the essence of Hyundai’s design philosophy that is most clear and tangible to you?

I think it is necessary to observe both large and small. When we look at our range of vehicles, the essence of our philosophy is that they are not all the same. They have a different silhouette, a different typology, depending on what that car does and what segment it is in. So if you look at SEVEN’s appearance, it is deliberately different from an IONIQ 5 because they have different roles to play.

We have what we call the Hyundai look, where the car type and the architecture of the design are different from each other, it is a comfortable thing and the customer can appreciate different options in a showroom and make the choice that suits him best. suit. Then there is a whole new level of coherence in the execution of the details. There are many familiar elements, let’s call them building blocks, in detail. If you look at the TUCSON, with its triangular parametric surface, you can also find a hint of it in IONIQ 5.

TUCSON’s parametric luminous jewel grille is unique to Hyundai. No one else has that kind of lighting through the design element of the grid. You can see this in many of our products.

The light is probably the new chrome. This will continue as one of our design elements next to the pixel. This is a unique item. It’s Hyundai’s Minecraft, immediately understandable and recognizable to a very young generation, but also to the generation familiar with the first computer games of the ’70s. Do you remember the first computer tennis games where you had a pixel that was a ball bouncing back and forth? The pixel works over several generations.

He once said that “design is not to worry about making mistakes”. Can you please elaborate?

This statement is, in my opinion, completely correct. Designers should not worry about making mistakes. It is part of our internal philosophy, of our daily work with designers. If you are worried, you will be less creative. Sir Ken Robinsons TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” a few years ago he had a huge influence on my way of thinking, and I learned a lot from him, from this philosophy of giving people the freedom to experiment and try. Of course, give them guidelines, but if they make a mistake, there is nothing wrong with it.

Only this afternoon did I examine the external work of our European team, and my first reaction was “No”, to a proposal. Then I thought, “Wait a minute, come back.” The reason I say no is because something I had not considered before made me uncomfortable. And then my “No” actually means “Yes, continue”. Because it’s something I did not expect and it’s brave to try it, it’s brave to show it. I’m a big supporter of – within management’s guidelines for what we’re trying to do for a new car – on experiments. So do exactly what we’re asking you to do and try something else, okay. And if that does not work, it’s okay.

It’s a bit like when you drive somewhere and take a wrong turn and then take a road you know and you think, “That was actually a good shortcut.” If you do not make a mistake first, you will never know the shortcut.

Does that mean good car design should always be cool? What was your last, brave, design decision?

There are two things that are very important, courage and faith. We do not do things just for styling. Let’s analyze, let’s see what happens. We find a reason to do it, and then we do it. But we need to be convinced of what we are doing, that there is a reason why something is different. If it is something “special” to some extent, we will be able to pull the market in our direction, even if there is no love at first sight. Within any organization, departments typically have an extremely conservative approach because it is risky and intimidating to do something new. But if we do not do something brave and do not really believe in it, then … there will never be innovation.

I come to the second part of the question of what was one of my bold decisions: for example, the look of the SEVEN with its unique EV SUV typology. The windscreen placed forward, the clean cut at the rear and the curved roof line. We truly believe that we need to be aware of what is happening in the world, be aware of our customers and be ethical in terms of efficiency in order to offer a better all-electric range.

An electric SUV is a big, heavy car. We wanted to make it as efficient as possible. So we looked at it and thought: how do we make it more efficient? So we developed a typology that was by no means typical of an SUV. We believed in it and conveyed the story to our teams, to our president, to all our colleagues. We convinced them that we believed 100% that this was the way to answer the question. In fact, we sometimes redefine the question. This is how SEVEN was born.

Of course, you need to be brave and fearless to come up with new and innovative suggestions that are relevant and effective. How do you combine courage with safe and reasonable decisions in your daily work?

The design focuses on the customer experience, their security and their user experience. Design is all this combined. We are anthropologists who see what is happening in the world, see the changes, see how society has just changed massively in the last 24 months because of COVID. We constantly observe and see the consequences of all the changes and come up with the best typology for the different segments, which adapts to how the customer will be in the future and what they will find attractive. We try to answer questions that the customer has not even thought about today.

We usually receive internal briefings from our colleagues at the start of a project. This is extremely valuable information, but we sometimes dispute it. We have to ask ourselves if it works in a design context. Our job is to be like a five-year-old asking, “Why?”

When we make design model presentations, we always try different ways of interpreting or pushing the short. Some models may be exactly what is expected and others may interpret the brief differently and actually question it. It will create a great deal of debate. But we believe that these are ways of answering that question or challenging the original question. I am happy to say that quite often we have a good discussion about these things, and sometimes the redefined question is chosen. Sometimes we get into trouble too … But that’s probably our job.

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