Hidden Figures of Design: nice idea, but can it be made?

Hidden Figures of Design: nice idea, but can it be made?

ŠKODA WORLD DESIGN

A small Feasibility team takes care of lots of details of car interiors, so that a car on its way to mass production looks exactly the way the designers wanted. Meet the details specialists.

26. 7. 2022

When ŠKODA designers have designed the exterior and interior lines of a car, created the first models from clay and then built more detailed “hard models”, it might seem that the car’s design is now complete. But that isn’t actually the case, and work continues on its appearance until it goes into production. For the car’s interior, this is the responsibility of a small team that makes sure the result really looks the way the designers intended. Sometimes it is only when creating prototypes and working with suppliers of the future car’s parts that it becomes clear that some details need to be changed.

This typically happens with the seats, for example. When the first prototypes of the future seats are made according to the designers’ designs (usually at a supplier’s factory), the result may differ from the designs. This is because each upholstery material has slightly different properties and will hug the seat’s foam filling differently, which will then affect the shape. Leather may crinkle somewhere, which doesn’t look good, or it may squeeze the foam too tight, which changes the resulting seat shapes. Fabric covers can be unexpectedly loose in some places. The final appearance is also affected by the specific placement of stitching and, of course, the combination of materials. Ensuring that the final seat in the production car is as close as possible to the designers’ ideas is a task for Jan Dědek and Michal Čermák, two designers who focus on many details of that sort.

The Feasibility design team pays careful attention to seat details, for example.

It starts with the first clay models of the interior, where the designers check various volumes and dimensions. It continues with the “hard models”, where they already deal with details such as joints, continuity, matching of parts and other details. Everything needs to be prepared and adjusted so that the prototypes can be based on the already optimised solutions. “For example, our work deals with tiny adjustments in the position of buttons. We mark the points on the models that are key or, conversely, that need to be moved,” explains Jan Dědek. According to him, the work requires both a creative approach and constructive thinking. So you won’t be surprised to learn that both Feasibility designers studied at technical universities.

So everything looks right 

"For many parts, the suppliers tell us what is realistic. Sometimes we have to accept what can be produced at all,” Dědek adds, adding that while the challenge is to keep the final outcome as faithful as possible to the original design, the economic aspect also has to be considered. “It really is painstaking work where we check the smallest details that people often wouldn’t even think of. Even at an early stage, we really know the car down to the last button, the last joint,” adds his colleague Michal Čermák. At the same time, some of the interior details are designed by these designers themselves. “For example, we work on the internal appearance of the ventilation system blowers, the appearance of the inside of the passenger glove compartment, the cup holders and other details. Another speciality of ours is designing the appearance of the luggage compartment and headliners,” explains Čermák.

Jan Dědek and Michal Čermák have to think of everything - like how the air-conditioning vents by the windscreen look.

With a lot of details to deal with, their work is very much about collaboration, both within the interior design team headed by Peter Olah and with other ŠKODA departments and suppliers. “We are already involved in the preparation of the design models; we work with technical development; we’re involved in prototype test drives; we work with our colleagues on materials design; we look at design data; and we fine-tune details with suppliers,” says Jan Dědek, adding that communication with suppliers takes place through the department that is responsible for a given part of the car.

Peter Olah, head of interior design, has nothing but praise for the Feasibility team.

“Honza and Michal’s job is basically to understand the principal idea of the design and to translate it into a feasible form. Into a form that is manufacturable and optimised in terms of functionality and cost,” says their boss Peter Olah. He also praises them, saying, “They do a really great job. There are times when they might make changes to make things easier, because something genuinely needs to be changed. But they always look for the way that stays truest to the original idea. They understand the original idea and find a way to incorporate it,” says the head of interior design.

Ideas and experience

Cooperation and knowledge of lots of details bring not only improvements in areas that require attention during development for various reasons, but also some new features. “We often work on various Simply Clever details that are part of ŠKODA’s DNA. Sometimes an idea comes from us, as in the case of the phone pouches on the back of the front seat backrests. Other times, the engineers come up with the idea and we work on the design,” Jan Dědek suggests. For the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV SUV, for example, the team worked on the new location of the ice scraper, which is now in the boot lid rather than under the charging connector cover, which remains open for a long time when charging. 

Peter Olah with Jan Dědek and Michal Čermák

The ENYAQ iV electric model also bears the imprint of the Feasibility design team’s work. In practical testing of the pre-production car, it was found that the door handle needed modification to be properly ergonomic so that it could be used without any problems. “In a case like that we need to work quickly, but still we didn’t rush into a simple solution that wouldn’t look nice and would confound the original intention. Working with other departments, we made a minor adjustment of the appearance while incorporating the requirements for functionality,” Michal Čermák says, giving an example from practice. Sometimes, though, the team’s work is essentially just about accumulating knowledge that is then put to use on other models. “Changes aren’t always necessary and would be unnecessarily expensive at certain stages. But we make extensive use of the experience we’ve gained,” Čermák adds.

That also means that this work can be done primarily by experienced designers. “You may have good ideas just after you leave school, but not the experience and not that trained eye for detail,” smiles Jan Dědek. “On the other hand, we are also constantly learning new things. There are new challenges, for instance in the form of new materials that we start to work with, and with them we solve things that we haven’t solved before,” he adds. Many of these new details are dealt with together with designers from the Color & Trim department,” explains Dědek.

Their work isn’t visible at first glance, but it is one of the factors that make ŠKODA cars both sophisticated and practical.

At the same time, the work is very demanding, because it’s always about compromise. “Often you know how to achieve the beautiful look you want, but you also know that it will cost a lot of money. This leads to heated discussions and the search for compromises. But then it’s amazing to see the result that you bring to production, which on the one hand corresponds to what the designers had in mind, but at the same time bears your imprint in the details,” says Michal Čermák proudly.

“The work of this small team is often invisible, but it is thanks to them that ŠKODA cars are what they are. Sophisticated, with well thought-out details, elegant and practical,” concludes Peter Olah, head of interior design, rounding off our behind-the-scenes look at Feasibility.