There has been a paradigm shift in the way vehicles are designed. While in the past the exterior design was deemed all important, with little emphasis placed on the vehicle’s interior, the last 15 years has seen the interior – and specifically the technology and screens embedded within – become far more of a priority for customers.
Jaume Sala, head of interior design at Seat, has seen this priority shift take place first hand.
“We used to design the interior of the car and at the end look for a place to put the screen,” says Sala, speaking of the interface that takes pride of place at the center of most every vehicle interior. Now, everything revolves around it. “First we design the screen, then everything else.”
This shift has also seen the studio transform: Seat has more designers working on screens than on exterior design due to the increasing impact of connectivity on the car design industry.
By the end of the year, 30 people will be working in user experience (UX) design. Some of them are in charge of the interface, others deal with the apps (just like on any other connectivity device), and a third group takes care of simulations and animations, and how they’re displayed.
Designing the screen for a car is a very time-consuming process that takes 18 months and relies on the creation of more than 1000 sketches.
The screens also have to be placed in a suitably ergonomic position, to aid the driver and not distract them. In Seat models, the screens are placed at eye level and angled towards the driver.
The most recent design, in the new Seat Leon, the screen measures 8-inches across (roughly 200mm) – a similar size to a tablet. More than 3000 icons and pictograms had to be designed.
The last 15 years have been “incredible”, says Sala. “We have gone from a simple radio that was removable to a fully-fledged computer installed in the car.”
The desire for people to have all of the content they’re used to having on their connected devices outside of the car available when inside the vehicle is only increasing, and while this will likely add a significant number of new design jobs, it will also change the way car interiors are designed in the foreseeable future.
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