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Posh, sporty, sensible and quirky

  • Head of design for VW Group
  • We talk from Audi to Volkswagen
  • The man behind the designs
Words ByWhat Car? Staff

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What Car? Looking at your brands, Audi's the posh one, Seat's the sporty one, Skoda's the quirky one and Volkswagen's the sensible one. Is that a fair synopsis?

Walter de Silva Sure, it sometimes helps to look for things that polarise the brands in order to make what sets them apart more tangible. I consider the differences to be more subtle than that, though. Conversely, there will always be things that the different brands have in common. Take the factor of sportiness, for example, which is a popular criterion. There is hardly a brand that will want to forgo using that particular claim. In this sense, all brands have some sort of sporty characteristic about them. It ultimately depends on your interpretation. The sportiness of a Seat Leon is a different kind to that of a Golf GTI, and that of an Audi TT is certainly different to that of a Bentley Continental. Much the same is true when using the elegance claim. Here, too, every brand finds its own way of expressing elegance.

The challenge for us, as designers, is to highlight distinctions even in the more subtle areas but to have the sum of all the individual characteristics create an unmistakable overall image.

We have compiled a catalogue of design criteria specifically for this purpose. It provides orientation for the group and for the designers at the individual brands about how to accentuate the respective image. 'Orientation' is the operative word, here, since designer creativity at the brands can give rise to new ideas, which will drive dynamic further development of the image of the brand and of the attributes set out in the design criteria.

I dont consider my job is to lay down the law for designers. On the contrary, I want to inspire new ideas. My job is to create the ideal framework conditions in which the design culture at each of the brands will thrive and to implement Volkswagen Group quality standards employing the minimum amount of necessary coordination.

What Car? How do you respond to those who say that Volkswagen's styling is overly conservative?

Walter de Silva That is a popular stereotype, unfortunately. We need to keep in mind that the Volkswagen brand, in particular, not least before the background of its history, rejects superficiality. Volkswagen feels itself bound to the concept of sustainability. That applies equally to its inherent values and its designs. We believe in quality and continuity. We want our designs to endure over the long term and on a large scale. That by no means implies forfeiting creativity. Quite the opposite is true. Reserved design and the strictly disciplined use of design elements call for considerable creative capacity.

Take the new Polo just a few contour lines determine its form. Its surfaces are defined exclusively by their controlled tautness, and the design of the front end uses only a moderate number of lines and angles to produce a distinctive brand face. If this Polo is still cutting a good figure on the roads in 10 or 15 years from now, that will be affirmation of the fact that we have achieved conservative design in the best sense of the term. For todays market, however, the Polo, like other Volkswagen vehicles, is a new, innovative automobile with enduring attributes in terms of both its engineering and design.