Design is in everything we see around us whether it is a product of nature or man. Design provides brand identity, one of the things that attract a customer to a product in the first place. The power of a brand thus flows from design.
A car is one of the most complex forms of industrial design, and encompasses many elements beyond pleasing aesthetics. These include packaging, aerodynamics, and conformity to a slew of international construction and use regulations that include passenger crash safety and pedestrian protection. Within these clearly defined restrictions designers have to come up with an attractive looking vehicle to woo potential buyers.
As we noted before the power of a brand flows from design, and Mercedes is the only luxury car brand that has made a clear effort to go beyond the industry norm that commonly uses aerodynamic body styling and wheels to differentiate the roles of various cars within a portfolio.
As the world’s oldest car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has the most history to draw upon. But as well as occasionally looking backwards for design references to anchor new vehicles the brand is now more than ever inspired to look further forward for new styling paradigms to clothe their advanced technology.
To paraphrase an old saying, each Mercedes model does what it says on the tin, and Gorden Wagener’s design team has the full backing of the Board to ensure that the individual identities of the four model lines within the Mercedes-Benz range come across loud and clear. It is an expensive solution but one that the custodians of the three-pointed star take seriously enough to invest in.
On the day these four model lines were symbolised by the four vehicles on display; Modern Luxury - A-Class, Performance Luxury - AMG GT4 Coupe, Ultimate Luxury - Maybach Concept, and Progressive Luxury - EQ Concept.
In fact Mercedes re-invests a greater percentage of its profits in research and development than any rival, and the electric cars of the new EQ sub-brand justified a completely new design language to reflect their cutting edge technologies. This is the brave new world of Bitcoin, Google Maps, WhatsApp and Instagram, all things that did not exist just 10 years ago.
Mercedes Design Chief Gorden Wagener gave us an overview of where Mercedes design is today and is going tomorrow. “The complexity of design has increased, and today product alone is not enough. You need iconic design with a depth to it that will stay the distance,” he said.
“Today’s automotive world is a 3D place and designers are the people who can manage the machine-man interface. Every touchpoint has to be designed along reference guidelines,” says Gorden.
Good design needs to go far beyond the cars structure and interior. It also has to permeate the user interface to provide a seamless user experience. A good example is technology like MBUX, whose interface opens up a whole new world with a depth and breadth of software that can grow over time to fulfil specific needs.
Mercedes is the first luxury car brand to properly define the meaning of luxury. “In fact luxury is not a fixed concept, but rather one that shifts over time in the perception of an ever-changing civilisation,” Gorden explained. “For example, while the Adenauer limousine would have represented traditional luxury in the early 1950s, the 300SL ‘Gullwing’ would have been viewed as progressive luxury when it arrived in 1955.”
“Today’s Mercedes customer is different from a decade ago, and very different from a traditional Mercedes buyer of the late 20thCentury,” said Gorden. “The product range has changed beyond recognition in that time, drawing in younger and more tech savvy buyers who also expect seamless integration of the analogue and digital world around them to exist in their cars.”
“More and more people are buying into an idea and an experience rather than just a car and it is our job to attract them and then fulfil their needs. Only good design can create this end-to-end experience, and we have to ensure that our customers also get a good measure of surprise and delight in the process.”
Such robust ideas can only come from a company with a long history, a company that knows where it came from and where it is going. “Indeed, our experience is the key,” says Gorden. “But more than that I always tell my team to be excited, be inspired, be fulfilled, and be a fan!”
So how far down the road is the Mercedes design team looking? “We are currently working on the actual designs for the 2023 model year, as well as the outline architecture for vehicles as far ahead as 2025 to 2030,” said Gorden.
“Our design philosophy of Modern Luxury, Performance Luxury, Ultimate Luxury and Progressive Luxury has been a huge success,” he added. “We are not predicting the future, we are actually shaping it, and I can tell you it is really cool to be in the driving seat right now!”
Art and architecture are the marker posts of a civilisation, and the closer car design becomes to art the more it also becomes a measure of the times.
LIVING SPACES AND SCULPTURE
While the four cars and their design philosophies on display were the linchpins of the Mercedes Design Essential event, the themed furniture sets and sculpture on display shared their own star billing.
As with car interiors home furniture should be comfortable, practical and attractive. Here the designers picked up on the essence of each flavour of Mercedes product - from Performance Luxury in the case of Mercedes-AMG, through Modern Luxury for Mercedes, Ultimate Luxury for Maybach, and Progressive Luxury for EQ - and designed a living environment to match.
The Progressive Luxury theme even re-interprets the classic grand piano in a futuristic living space, although just how that would work from an acoustic point of view is anyone’s guess.
It takes a lot of considered thought and inspiration to distil a design philosophy into a simple, confident form that clearly expresses its spirit in the way each of these sculptures does. Individually each sculpture would make an outstanding exhibit at any big name gallery in the world, while the collection is an artistic tour de force worthy of its own exhibition.
As the final flourish, we were taken to a separate room where to view a highly stylised design concept representing a possible supercar of the future. Inspired by the W125 Silver Arrows racing car of 1937, the tiles on its surface are symbolic of the digital age, the cool blue lighting it shares with the EQ cars representative of electric power.
Everything we were shown on the day supports the fact that Gorden Wagener’s team are more than just car designers; they are also passionate artists who clearly love what they do.