Interview: Ivo van Hulten, Porsche design

Posted on Oct 15, 2017 by

At the new third-generation Cayenne launch that took place on the rooftop of the Zuffenhausen company’s museum, ’s head of interior design Ivo van Hulten gave Auto Middle East his thoughts on future cars, design challenges, 3D printing, and the slow but sure extermination of physical switchgear…

porsche ivo van hulten interview

Dutchman Ivo van Hulten worked for Audi and Opel prior to joining Porsche in time for the Mission E concept — now he heads Porsche’s interior design

If you could pick the single biggest challenge in designing today’s interiors, what is it?

Well, how do you integrate this huge thing [pointing to Cayenne’s 12.3-inch touchscreen] in the interior? How do you integrate all of this new technology and digitalisation and still make it look like a typical Cayenne? That’s something we thought about for a long time. Finally we came up with a set up that looks very logical and easy but it wasn’t easy to get there.

What possibilities is 3D metal printing opening up to you?

In our design department we also design the next, kind of, vehicle range, the future models and line-ups, but we also do advanced design, so that means we think about the future further out. So not four or five years into the future, but maybe 10 years in the future.

3D metal printing is a very interesting technology and it opens up so many possibilities. But at the moment the technology is not that far developed that we can use it in mass production. It is starting — so it is a very interesting field and we are definitely looking into it.

Is the future — the unknown — intimidating to you a a designer?

No, because I think the most challenging thing at the moment, for an interior designer, there are so many things coming, you know — digitalisation, autonomous driving…

As you said before, the way we can produce vehicles in the future with 3D printing technologies… Just imagine, nowadays a car is completely equipped with loads of airbags, crash structures, thick pillars. But if you cannot crash, then you don’t need the airbags, so you don’t need the weight, so you can develop a completely different kind of vehicle. It’s incredible, there are so many new technologies coming up.

So I wound’t say ‘intimidating’, but super exciting, because as a designer you want to basically change the world. So hey, if the world is changing so fast, it’s great, right?

But can you think 20, 30 years ahead into the future? Can you imagine a car then?

To be really honest, I think as a designer, you train that over your lifetime. I remember when I just started at school, and they would give me an assignment and you start with an empty piece of paper, and I didn’t even know myself if I had the talent to come up with a good design. It’s super intimidating at the beginning, because you start with a blank piece of paper and you don’t know at the end if you came up with a cool idea. Because unlike in engineering, there is no formula for success in design, right?

So sometimes I was very nervous, but after years and years I discovered for myself that if you do more and more designing, you just know at the end that you came up with a good solution, so you can trust yourself there. In the beginning you don’t know this, but it becomes an instinct.

In the beginning I felt this feeling that you described, but now I just know that at the end we will find a way of doing the right things.

What about the driverless future, cars without steering wheels, Level 5 stuff?

Sure, because as you just said yourself — look at an A-pillar now, look at an A-pillar on a classic car. Maybe new technologies will open up possibilities that were only possible in classic cars. You can also look at it in that way. And it will also open up new possibilities that we never even thought about yet. So, yeah, I think that is very exciting, because it will give you completely new opportunities that we really cannot imagine.

When cars are transportation pods, interiors will become even more crucial… That places a lot more responsibility on designers like you, right?

Yes, and I also think for a brand like Porsche, for us, that as a human being, as a customer of Porsche, you will always have an opportunity to drive a Porsche yourself. So it cannot only be a sort of a taxi where you just get in and that’s it.

I still think that the Porsche customer will always want an opportunity to drive their vehicle themselves.

Is this ongoing trend of getting rid of physical switches and buttons and controls in cars such a good thing?

It’s about trying to find the right balance so we didn’t want to throw all the switches away. But we wanted to reduce the amount of switches, so we still have a couple of haptic switches, and also if you interact with the centre console you still get a clicking sound and you also have a vibration, so it’s a combination of both worlds. We think that way we don’t have this kind of distraction and we think it’s an improved solution.

The controls on the Cayenne before, you had to do everything manually. Now we have some presets, so if you want to go off road, we have pre-configurations so it’s a bit easier to control it. But if you want you can still do everything individually.

A trend would mean about having a certain lifespan, but I would consider digitalisation something that is moving forward and it will be unchangeable.… So yeah, currently it’s a trend, but it will be something that will be changing our complete future.

There are more features in today’s cars than you know what to do with — is that why it’s so hard to balance design with usability?

Every car keeps on adding features because we have more assistance systems and stuff like that, so how do you want to control all of that? If you want to do everything by a hard button like it used to be, imagine the centre console — like an airplane cockpit, right?

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