What makes you smile?

I like to see how people react when they see our designs for the first time. If they smile, it makes me smile. It’s a good feeling when you have a chance to make somebody happy. When you design a car, the whole process takes about three years. The core design phase is usually about nine months long, the same as for a human baby. And that is how we feel about the car, it is our baby and we take care of it. You put a lot of heart and so much of your life into it – so many ideas and triumphs, but also setbacks. When the car is unveiled and you see it for the first time on the road, and you see a customer who likes it, who is proud of it, that’s what we’re working towards.

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And what about criticism?

In design, there is never a definitive solution. Black and white can both be right. If some people like it and others dislike it, you have come up with something good. Any reaction is better than, “I don’t care.” On the other hand, of course, you put a bit of your soul in every car you make, so it does make you sensitive. Anybody who complains about a car is complaining, in a way, about me. It stings sometimes, but it’s all part of the job. We try to create emotions, not to be mediocre.

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How do you know what people will like? What inspires you?

Everything. Everything that I find interesting. I’m quite interested in planes, they are sleek and bold moving objects. Boats are interesting as well, but so are architecture, fashion, movies and electronics. Whenever I travel, I try to take time just to sit in a cafe and watch the traffic and people, and drink in the atmosphere. The world is full of wonders and surprises. Designers have to grasp trends early on and anticipate what will come later. We don’t have a crystal ball, of course, but we have this gut feeling, which is very important. In the absence of tangible proof, we sometimes find it difficult to convince others. We can’t prove that this is the right way, it’s just a feeling. It’s not easy, but I like it.

Did you always want to be a designer?

I was always sketching, even when I was very little. Although at that time I wasn’t sketching cars, but cartoons. My dream was to go to Disney studios and make movies like Peter Pan or Snow White. There is so much creativity and the artistic bar is set so high. It still fascinates me and I collect Disney storyboard sketches. Later, when I finished school, I decided to be a journalist. I thought that maybe an art career wouldn’t really work out. But then my neighbour, who was working as an assistant in an art school, invited me to an exhibition. There was a room full of automotive drawings by people who were interning at Volkswagen at the time. The moment I saw those drawings, I thought to myself: this is what I want to do.

It was like a thunderbolt, and I have never regretted this decision. It is something that found me, not the other way around.

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As a big Disney fan, what’s your favourite movie?

I’m also a big fan of Star Wars and, yes, I have a penchant for many Disney movies. But what I really like and what has influenced me a lot is Blade Runner. Star Wars is a nice fairytale, but Blade Runner came very close to reality, to what the future may actually look like. I was deeply impressed by it. I bought a sketchbook with all the designs of cars, people and costumes. It is so artistic and visionary. If you go to Shanghai these days and see all the skyscrapers, lights and projected advertising, it is exactly what Ridley Scott was showing 20 years ago.

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And what art do you like most?

I love the sketches by the old masters, such as Michelangelo or Leonardo, sometimes more than the final paintings. I love seeing how they progressed as they reached the design of the painting. It shows that a great painting is hard work, similar to making a great car. You have to do research and change the design a lot. Moments of creativity captured in sketches fascinate me. Just as Leonardo seeks the ideal proportions of the human body, we try to lend a car the ideal proportions. Is it sporty? Is it roomy? Is it comfortable? It is a search for perfection.

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What are you looking forward to in the future?

New technologies throw up difficult challenges and I like that. Autonomous driving, voice control, new regulations and even holograms. I am happy that the world is not getting boring, because we want to stay creative. I am looking forward to every new challenge, because it makes our lives interesting and tests our creativity. We have to make the best of it and the challenge is to do it better than others. It’s like Formula 1, where you always have to push to stay ahead with the new rules. So I am not afraid of the future. For the last 20 years, we have had only glass, rubber and steel, and now there are so many new interesting avenues to explore.

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You have now moved to the Czech Republic. What are your impressions of the country?

Last year I visited the Czech Republic for the first time in my life. I went to Prague and was very impressed by the combination of traditional and modern architecture. It’s a really beautiful city with a lot of style and history, but it also feels young and vivid. I like this. It is the same with ŠKODA. It has a really long history and there is a lot of inspiration behind it; no other car company in the world has the same foundation – take Bohemian crystal, for example. We use this richness to create cars that are unique, so you can tell a ŠKODA apart from any other car. We will definitely stick to that in the future.

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What is your favorite historical ŠKODA?

That would be the ŠKODA POPULAR MONTE CARLO. It is such a unique and beautiful car, very elegant and dynamic. To drive it one day would be a dream. It’s nice to have a dream car as a brand, and the POPULAR is just that. I have to say I’ve spent a lot of time at the ŠKODA Museum and it was really surprising to see how long and rich the history is. I am very impressed by these cars, their quality and the level of craftsmanship. It is very inspiring in our work. We are always looking to the future, but we also look back to where we have come from. This guides us.

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Where do you see ŠKODA design in five years?

I think that ŠKODA has a very bright future. We will push the brand’s reputation much higher. It already has a strong presence, but brand awareness will evolve even more and we are keen to support that with our design. There will be a much more emotional expression, as we want to reach out to more people and seduce them. The cars will be more fluent, dynamic and emotional. People should buy a ŠKODA not just because it is a good deal and value for money, but also because they love the design and the car in general. This change will start with the cars that are coming out this year, and later we will do even more. The design is often the reason we choose whether or not to buy a car, and that is why our work is so important. We show the values of the brand, make them visible.

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The ŠKODA VISION X has recently been unveiled. What is its most distinctive design feature from your point of view?

The VISION X was the first ŠKODA I had a chance to work on and it was a nice experience. Our job was to create a link to the KAROQ and KODIAQ, while giving the car its own character. I like our new interpretation of the fascia. The day running light is a very small strip on the top with four light stones made of glass and the main light is on the bottom. It looks very cool and modern. It gives the car a totally different character on the one hand, but also a family feeling. Our customers should always recognise ŠKODA and I think we have done a really good job – the car is emotional and crosses borders, but remains credible. And the Flex Green colour is just beautiful, fresh and striking. This is a car you’ll recognise from far away.

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My job is to let people dream and see that all their ideas have room to grow.

How big is your design team and what exactly is your role?

Our design team comprises more than a hundred people from about 25 nations, so it is very international. We have people from Spain, Germany, China, France and many other countries – including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, of course. Today, everybody is a global player and it’s good to have people with different backgrounds. Designers are very keen to work for us and this is a good sign that we are an attractive brand. My job is to let people dream and see that all their ideas have room to grow. Our work is still very simple sometimes, you have a pen and a piece of paper and you sketch an idea. There is no secret, no computing behind it, it’s people who sit down at their desk and dream.

 And I try to make sure that we don’t bin any idea too early, you have to let it grow. We are trying to do something that has never been done before and if you are too strict about what is and isn’t ŠKODA, it does not help the creativity. Let’s see what comes out of it, we are always interested in something new.

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Oliver Stefani

self-portrait of ŠKODA’s Chief Designer

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What three things couldn’t you live without?

My family, of course, my work, which is my passion... and my sketchbook.

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