Ernst Reim, Chief Interior Designer, Ford of Europe

Design Dialectic: What 19th Century German Philosophy Can Teach Us About Automotive Interiors

Georg Hegel, a European philosopher and major figure among German idealists, gained notoriety for many ideas, especially after his death in 1831.

Among Hegel’s ideas is what has come to be known as the Hegelian Dialectic. The concept is straightforward: Many ideas start as a guess, or a theory about reality. With development, the idea becomes a framework for thinking about a particular subject. This basis of knowledge around certain tenets forms the thesis. The thesis gets scrutiny by others, is tested, and undergoes more development. With time — if the idea is good — it becomes something people agree is a working system.

As an example, countries around the world have experimented with fundamentally different economic systems since the industrial revolution — everything from unfettered, unregulated Capitalism (thesis), to an economy run by the state in the form of Communism (antithesis), to further development and synthesizing into something like Sweden’s Social Democracy (synthesis, or the ‘Third Way’).

Here’s another example many of us find easier to grasp, and that is dear to my heart as Chief of Interior Design for Ford of Europe — your car’s interior design. Even with fairly short product cycles, we can see the Hegelian Dialectic, which here might be called the Design Dialectic, working its way into how we think about making car interiors better.

Better, here, means two things: nicer — more pleasing to look at, and more highly functional for the driver. As anyone who’s sat behind the wheel of a modern car knows, these priorities compete.

A recent product launch helps us see how the Design Dialectic plays out in real life. Take the Ford Focus, our global small car that launched in 1998.

In 1998, the car’s interior looked like this:

The design thesis was simple — large, easy-to-use controls, economy of detail and a limited driver control interface. Compared to contemporary vehicles, one notices expanses of empty real estate on the center stack near the radio and air-conditioning controls; put another way, the aesthetic pursued was less is more, and it worked: The design was modern, elegant, clean.

Midway through its product cycle, Focus received an interior refresh, and then Ford brought an all-new interior to market in 2012 featuring a complete redesign and a wealth of technology.

These ‘infotainment’ features — a combination of information and entertainment technology — have challenged designers to accommodate a great deal of new, affordable electronic items like smartphone interfaces, navigation systems and other cool gadgets into the vehicle.

As the recipient of Ford SYNC and MyFord Touch systems, the 2012 Focus was blessed with exponentially more features and functionality. In addition, the car brought a much more driver-oriented cockpit to accentuate the sporty driving dynamics for which it had become well-known and loved in Europe and the United States. The result could be construed as the antithesis of the original Focus.

The new interior had much more sophisticated styling and an abundance of features and options. Even conventional technology, like the car radio, had become revolutionized as satellite radio made its way into non-luxury compact cars.


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