Interview: Design showcases brands

Jul 5, 2018

Gorden Wagener has been Chief Design Officer of Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz Cars, Vans & Daimler Trucks since 2016. After studying Industrial Design at the University of Essen, he went on to specialise in Transportation Design at the Royal College of Art in London. He joined the company in 1997. He sees an integrated approach to design as an essential basis for the work of a designer in order to showcase both the products and the brands at Daimler to perfection and to create a brand experience for customers.

Mr Wagener, in recent years you and your team have redefined the design of the Daimler brands, creating fresh ideas and pointers for the entire industry in the process. What is the secret of your design language?

We have been working on and with the design philosophy of Sensual Purity at Mercedes-Benz since 2009, continually evolving it as part of an ongoing process. This philosophy encapsulates an essential aspect of our brands - the bipolarity of intelligence and emotion. Good car design is integral to the cachet of each of our brands, particularly where it brings the brand's tradition into the modern age. We have thus transformed the traditional luxury of Mercedes-Benz into a modern luxury, reinterpreted the brand with the star and also made it fascinating, tangible and, above all, desirable for young customers.

What role does customer feedback play in your work?

We listen carefully to what our customers say about our brands and products. Today's customers want design products to mainly underline their own personality and to showcase their own lifestyle. The object, therefore, is to accentuate one's own individuality as well as to reward oneself and indulge in something special. One of the key tasks for my design team is to arouse this desire in customers and to satisfy it with our products. We want everyone to feel attracted by the emotional effect of our products, because design engenders desirability before the customer learns about innovations or technology. To this end, we create an integrated experience for the customer.

Ultimately, how much design must there be for the customer?

For us, design is above all the visual and haptic manifestation of the brands and their values. Design is, as it were, an expression of a brand's soul, our inspirations and the feedback from our customers. The goal of our work is to create a consistent, recognisable identity and a distinct brand world – wherever customers and the public come across our company, its brands and products – be it in their vehicle, at a retailer or online. So design is correct and important wherever it helps customers to experience our brands. Here, we are cooperating closely with our colleagues in marketing and communications and investing lots of time and effort in this task.

In what direction is your design philosophy now developing?

Our work centres on luxury. For us, it is less a question of material values and more about an authentic, emotional experience and a supreme aesthetic. We have therefore defined a distinct brand aesthetic for Mercedes-Benz and each of its sub-brands, derived from our design philosophy. We aim to create for our customers an integrated experience spanning the brand, the product and the digital world. Design showcases the brands, shaping the brand experience with desirable products and creating links between the real and digital worlds that are intuitively accessible to the customer.

How do you create this brand aesthetic?

To make complex things simple, you first need multi-layered thought processes and ways of working, which are then reduced to simple messages and impressions. And, of course, a highly motivated and well-trained team that sees things from the customer's perspective. In a dialogue with our marketing colleagues, we have analysed the DNA of each of the brands: Where is the brand coming from? What are its defining attributes? What design features are characteristic? What do customers value about it? On this basis, we have defined an unmistakable aesthetic for each of our brands. In this way, we create integrated experiences spanning the brand, the product and the digital world. Thus, Mercedes-Benz stands for a modern luxury, and Mercedes-Maybach for the ultimate in luxury. Mercedes-AMG impresses with performance luxury, while EQ points the way to the future with progressive luxury.

What do you see as the greatest challenges for the car design of tomorrow?

The digital transformation in particular presents new challenges also for us designers. The new A-Class is a good example. It is the first model from Mercedes-Benz to feature the all-new MBUX multimedia system (Mercedes-Benz User Experience). With the new MBUX generation, we are transferring our user interface design to the digital world. We are thus translating intelligent technology into an emotional overall experience. A unique feature of this system is its ability to learn thanks to artificial intelligence. MBUX can be individualised, is controlled using natural language and adapts to the user. It thus creates an emotional link between vehicle, driver and passengers. With MBUX we have simplified complex operating and control processes to enable people to communicate with the system intuitively and without the need for a learning phase. Design functions here as a translator.

What do you see emerging as the dominant trend in the near future?

The interior of every automobile will become hugely more important in future, evolving into the "third place", alongside the "home" and the "office". Once again, the A-Class is the best example: we have created a unique new interior architecture, above all by means of an avant-garde design of the dashboard. For the first time, a cowl above the cockpit has been totally dispensed with. This gives rise to a unique, unprecedented feeling of space that exudes a feel-good atmosphere and enchants the occupants. The A-Class embodies what we call Interior 2.0.