Being part of an important family, which means a good reputation and a key that opens all door, but also it means the responsibility to preserve, hand down and – if possible – improve and further increase the tradition of an historic brand. This is the daily life of Fabrizio Giugiaro, 49 years old, Vice President of the Executive Board and Style Director of Italdesign Giugiaro, and member of the Board of Directors; the company is now part of the Volkswagen Group but it keeps its origins and connections here in Italy, in particular in Turin, the automotive capital.
Over 30 years of history for a company and a brand which is one of the best known of our region and country: what has changed since then for Giugiaro and for the present work environment?
“Over the past 30 years much has changed in the company: we are now part of the Volkswagen Group therefore our first commitment is in the car industry and it is extremely important to work for a Group that owns 10 brands; we are a very unique partner for them. Few design centers are equipped to work in different languages and each of them have kept their own brand. On the territory we now have about 4 headquarters, plus additional companies in Spain and Germany. Since its foundation, in 1968, much has changed: technology completely took over. We were the first one to invest and to create style with computer systems. Our virtual reality center, which has three departments (engineering, servicing and design, Ed) at the end of the 90s was unique and it was even rented by Fiat. It has been our company philosophy to heavily invest in technology, but also in ideas and human resources.”
What was left the same or at least close to its origins?
“how we design close to reality is the deep root of our attitude toward design, which was left faithful to our beginnings. My father used to say “engineering”, because we deal with style not in artist terms, but in practical terms. Therefore that’s how we create an object or a car: with ergonomics, layout and no imagination. We do not want the objects we design for our clients to end up in some museum, but we want them to be sold and used by anybody all other the world.”
It all started in the world of cars, even before it was called automotive. From the first Alfasud to all other models that have followed since. Now, is the car industry coming to a standstill or could it reinvent itself maybe with Green technology or even with design?
“The car industry is actually expanding. But if we look at the Italian reality, this kind of remark cannot be as positive. Car sales and the Italian economic situation are not that encouraging, whereas in the rest of the world there are signs of economic recovery, like in China, India and USA. For this reason, in Europe, there has been the need to create certain production segments, certain car models and therefore we are creating specific products for Asia and South America. Nowadays our work as designers is even more important and it has increased because with less money and more cautious investments we were able to create different designs according to different markets; then the overall number of manufactured units is increasing and it is not hit by the economic crisis, whereas Europe is definitely hit by the crisis”.
What does it mean “to set the style” today? What are the challenges for design today?
“Style, as we have always intended it, is not what was a success for Giugiaro, but what was a success for our clients. This means for us to practically approach the project. We have never considered the brand, but rather the personality of our clients. Sometimes, as it happened for Hyundai but also for Fiat and other brands, we have set a trend. An example: the design of the Panda was unique, therefore the car set a new model, a new trend, just like the Punto. So, when we are asked to create a new trend and this new trend is tied to our brand for no reasons, it is actually a language we are trying to create for our client. In other cases, you cannot even see our brand, just like a few years ago when I designed a model for Mustang: it could have been easily come out from the Ford design center rather then mine. We have to do the clients a service and we have to make sure that it has the commissioned work has personality of the client’s brand. With industrial design customers come to us because they want a revolution, just like it happened with Nikon in the 80s: together we invented the red mark which represents our contribution and a certain ergonomics that did not exist for the camera. Among our other customers, Vredestein: each of their models has our stylistic contribution. We have been working for them for 10 years, keeping in mind that they produce tires anyways. In same case we create a new brand for the client, on other we preserve and develop the existing one: this is the trick”.
From the idea to the design. From where (and when) do you draw inspiration?
Is it all a “vision” of something that does not yet exist or do you follow a step by step process that ultimately leads to the final project?
“The development and realization of a project is really a step by step process, which involves methodical and a little bit of engineering work. The imaginative sketches we use to present on paper the project to the client are often developed after the product prototype have been presented to the customer. Our approach is entirely mathematical: we work on cars and on other objects in scale from 1 to 10 and nowadays we can use computer systems, keeping the same proportion and correct dimensional and layout logics. It is all connect to an engineering system; I have never thought of creating a car straight from a dream but I have always used a practical approach to the project.
The Giugiaro brand first started with cars and now it applies in a full scale of products. However, is there a common thread, a basic approach which stay the same, except for some improvements in some cases or sectors?
“As mentioned, we have never excelled the brand identity: this is our basic approach. This can also be a defect, in the sense that the Giugiaro design could be hard to identify: from the dishwasher to the Nikon there is no correlation, they are both very good projects, as well as cars. As a matter of fact, at the end of the 80s we have been told that our cars were recognizable, so we asked Jaguar if we could make an exercise and we came out with Kensington, which is a model of Jaguar with our contribution. Also Bugatti, Mustang and Alfa Romeo have our contribution where we put great attention to image and style language, as well as in other objects”.
Style and future. Ideas and talent are not enough: are innovations needed also in your field? If yes, where is the research going? What could the developments and future scenarios be in your field? Where is the design?
“Making innovation in our field is not easy: it can be done through tools and therefore technique; to innovate the object on which we are working, it depends on the client and the market we are trying to follow, even if we have always wanted to impose a product. In cars, however, is a very sensitive issue. Innovation should be done through quality, which is what people sense; quality should be present not only in the making but also in the design, stressing all the features of the object, which is what people should see first. It is therefore important to enhance what the brand could convey on level of product design and quality. Since the establishment of our company in the late 60s to today, in the car industry as well as for other products, discoveries have been made. Today, for example, there is the advantage of IT technology: we can virtually test what we are producing. From the sketch of a tire we are able to understand if it will perform as expected. The trick that any design centers should have is the curiosity stimulating engineering, to the detriment of a tradition that obeys to rules and that therefore it does not offer clients an added value”.