Interview with Professor h.c. Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz, about the background and objectives of “Mercedes-Benz Style”.
Mr Wagener, with the launch of "Mercedes-Benz Style" you are breaking new ground, venturing away from pure automotive design into the styling of other products, such as furniture, aircraft and boats. What has prompted you to take this step?
With "Mercedes-Benz Style" we are in no way entering into new territory. In the past, our design team has already styled such products as watches and interiors, as well as numerous products for Mercedes-Benz Accessories. Mercedes-Benz design stands for innovation, and trend-setting, enduring style. We know that manufacturers outside of the automotive field are also interested in this expertise. Also we are determined to establish our specific styling in its uniqueness as a brand in other product areas – either by selling a new design or by granting a license. At the same time this field of activity will in turn have its own inspirational effect by helping to extend the creative spectrum of our own designers. "Mercedes-Benz Style" therefore represents a logical progression of our area of responsibility.
Do you and your designers have the expertise to make a successful move outside the field of automotive design?
Automotive design is undoubtedly one of the supreme disciplines of industrial design. Almost no other product is as complex and combines so many different disciplines to create a look and feel for the product. Our design division has all of the necessary expertise in more than ample measure, and has benefited from such skills for many years. We have fashion and textile designers, product designers and typographers all working together for us. And don't forget that alongside "classic" interior and exterior design, we also count colour and trim, industrial/interface design and even graphic design among our responsibilities. On top of this there is also our unique international positioning. We have five Advanced Design Studios on three continents. Our workshops and computer aided design (CAD) departments are also able to provide all manner of realisation options – from sketches and project management right through to the production of full-scale models.
How big is the "Mercedes-Benz Style" team? Are these designers now working exclusively on other products instead of cars?
Our structure enables us to work in a flexible manner and to put together a specific project team for each customer and partner which is the best possible match for styling their product. In addition to a fixed core team, the entire creative potential of our department will be available for the respective styling job. It is precisely this open design culture, in which each designer works without being limited by boundaries, which accounts for our quality. Of course Mercedes-Benz vehicles will also continue to be the main area of activity of our department in the future.
What are your plans in detail? What actual products have you already designed?
We are already involved in concrete projects with several premium manufacturers in a variety of sectors. This has resulted in the creation of some exciting products in the industrial design field as well as in the transport sector. One of the first products, a helicopter, for which we worked on the interior, will be presented at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE 2010) in Geneva on May 4, 2010.
In which product areas or sectors do you intend to be actively involved? Is there anything you would not style?
In accordance with the original meaning of our trademark the “Three-Pointed Star” – mobility on land, on water and in the air – it is possible that the portfolio of "Mercedes-Benz Style" will include the styling of boats, aircrafts, helicopters and other transport products. Other products, such as furniture, and industrial as well as lifestyle products, will complement our area of activity. The deciding factor is that both the product and the manufacturer match our exclusive design and brand standards.
Do you intend to style all of the products on your own initiative or will you work with well-known partners?
Basically our service portfolio comprises an entire range of expertise from styling outline through to model creation. In individual cases, however, cooperation with creative people in other disciplines, such as architects or fashion designers, can be very inspiring. But the aim is still to achieve a high-quality end product.
How do you choose partners? What criteria do you stipulate for this?
Our business partners have to go with our own high standards in terms of design, innovation and quality. As part of this, we are just as interested in aspiring, innovative, young companies as we are in successful, established manufacturers. We believe in quality not quantity!
What is your sales strategy?
Our sales strategy is oriented not only towards the relevant business partner but also towards the product. There can be no standard solution.
Mercedes-Benz already has a comprehensive range of accessories which are sold through Mercedes-Benz Accessories GmbH. How does this differ from "Mercedes-Benz Style"?
Mercedes-Benz Accessories GmbH is already one of our customers for product design, and in a manner of speaking is a customer within our own "family".
Mercedes-Benz car design has a long tradition comprising a multitude of pioneering icons. Where do you see “Mercedes-Benz Style” in five years' time?
We will progress one step at a time, create the look and feel of a range of products each year and launch them on the market together with our respective partners. As always, however, car design will remain our core business.
What will "Mercedes-Benz Style" contribute to the Mercedes-Benz brand itself? Do you expect there to be some influence on your core business, namely vehicle design?
Design creates connections across disciplines and sectors. Styling something is a creative process which comes to life as a result of new impulses. Our work under the "Mercedes-Benz Style" label will also represent an inspiration for our automotive design work – and of course vice-versa.