|December 8, 2006
Interview with Walter de'Silva, Head Designer of the Audi Brand Group
INGOLSTADT, Germany - Walter de’Silva (55) is regarded as one of the best automotive designers in the world. Since March 2002, this Italian has been the head designer of the Audi brand group and, as such, not only responsible for the Ingolstadt-based premium manufacturer, but also for Seat and Lamborghini. He started his career in 1972 at the Fiat design centre in Turin. After a brief period of working for Trussardi, de’Silva moved to Alfa Romeo in 1986, before going on to take over the management of the design centre of Fiat and Alfa Romeo in 1994, followed by that of Seat just five years later.
Mr de’Silva, what is design for you?
Walter de’Silva: Design is, in abstract terms, a sum of individual signals, which combine to produce a powerful overall signal. Good design is by no means the result of purely rational thoughts. And that’s what makes our mission so difficult. After all, design is always the reflection of attitudes towards life, views and convictions.
What do you think about design through the ages?
Walter de’Silva: There have been a lot of changes. Design has always been a discipline that has connected form and technology. Nothing has changed in that respect. But today the design is quite clearly the main focus of attention – it is the most important source of motivation behind a customer’s desire to buy. In other words, design still has to take account of the issue of functionality, but must also convey the brand. A whole range of different requirements from all the divisions converge centrally in the design. Conversely, as a company, Audi has itself been defined over the past few decades by its design culture.
That sounds a bit like a proliferous plant.
Walter de’Silva: Yes, it is a wide-ranging culture. Whenever we talk about something relating to cars, the topic of design now always enters instantly into the picture, even when talking about the details – that wasn’t so in the past. When I started out some 30 years ago, the product orientation was the only aspect in the design – today, this is a field that covers and reflects the group through 360 degrees. Today, good automotive design always emanates – in contrast to the 1970s and 1980s – from a dialectic relationship between creativity and history. It is about development in which we must not – to continue the plant analogy – forget the roots of the brand.
What role does design play for Audi?
Walter de’Silva: Before being assigned the responsibility for the design of the Audi brand group in 2002, Audi already had a highly distinctive design – namely, precision in form and technology. To appeal not only to the mind, but also to the heart and, as such, to people’s emotions, a new, modified design vocabulary was needed – if not only to stand apart more clearly in an age of increasingly fierce competition.
A further task for me was to establish a strong family resemblance within the growing model range, whilst emphasizing the individual characters of our cars. Although this appears to contradict itself, nature has already provided a brilliant solution to this problem. We took the analogy with real human families seriously and, in doing so, defined the genetic building blocks of the brand, the DNA, as it were. The outcome is an aesthetic canon that defines the design framework for architecture, style and details from future Audi models.
Under you, the design of the Audi models has changed completely – not only at the front around the radiator. Why?
Walter de’Silva: Certainly the starting point of all the ideas was the notion of the one-piece single-frame grille. Vertical slats in the single-frame grille bear the pronounced three-dimensional brand emblem. Concave surfaces around the elongated wheel arches lend the front additional width. But there’s more to it than that. Today, we put greater emphasis than ever on the role of Audi as a brand.
Whether we are talking about an A3, the Audi Q7 or the new R8 – they all use a coherent design vocabulary and are immediately recognizable as Audi models by their proportions. The front, rear, sides and the entire architecture radiate a sense of complete unity. The magic of all Audi models emanates from the industrial design and from the statement they all make through this design. Each vehicle stands for itself, but also for Audi. We have become more sculptural, have more sex appeal, and that is precisely in keeping with today’s attitude towards life.
Why has Audi recently been attending design exhibitions?
Walter de’Silva: As early as this year’s “Design Annual” in Frankfurt, we pulled off a paradigm shift. As the first and only automotive brand attending as exhibitors, we attracted a great deal of attention with our unusual exhibition concept, which saw the exhibition stand acting as an oversized loft for the new Audi TT Coupé. We are continuing this success at one of the most eminent forums for design, namely “Design Miami/ 2006 ”. Audi will become the first ever automotive manufacturer to be represented as an exhibitor in Miami.
Why is Audi getting involved in “Design Miami/ 2006 ”?
Walter de’Silva: Unlike most companies that attend solely as sponsors of such events, Audi has significantly higher demands. We ourselves emphasize the creative aspect and attract attention to Audi’s design language by using an unconventional exhibit that deviates greatly from the usual product presentation. The centerpiece of this design object, namely “Ignition R8”, is the new Audi R8 super-coupe. It blends in with the design and art scene due to its sculptured design, which conveys the ultimate sporty appeal of the model in a way to please even the most artistically discerning eye.
How would you describe the “Ignition R8” installation?
Walter de’Silva: The approximately ten-meter-high installation is embedded into the beams of the ancient warehouse known as the Moore Building. The installation symbolizes the moment of ignition and, as such, the dynamic appeal of the R8 that has just been presented at the Paris Motor Show. Teardrop-shaped arrows shoot through the room towards the silver roadster and form a powerfully emotive sculpture around it. The R8 is the centerpiece and, as such, the dynamic cell of this installation.
What does the future hold?
Walter de’Silva: We will be looking to further develop this concept of attending international design exhibitions. It is certain that the in-crowd will also get to experience us in future as a contemporary exhibitor of fresh ideas for design at similar such events. True to our brand slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik”, we will be constantly aiming to attract attention as a brand with unusual measures and to create trends before they become trends.