Hidden Figures of Design: lights as designer jewellery

Hidden Figures of Design: lights as designer jewellery


The appearance of headlights is an important part of the character of ŠKODA cars. Headlight design is the focus of an experienced three-person team that has to combine artistic creativity with technical skills. Let’s take a closer look at their work.

9. 11. 2021

Even a decade ago, the appearance of a car’s lights was determined by exterior designers. Developments in design and, above all, technology have brought about a major shift, however, so ŠKODA created a dedicated team to handle complete exterior lighting design.

In the past, headlights were relatively simple, with everything hidden underneath the exterior glass, on which there were the functional optical elements. With the advent of modern technology, though, the internal appearance of the headlights has been opened up and now forms a significant part of the car’s character,” explains Petr Nevřela, who formed and leads the lighting design team. “The dynamic technological development in recent years has allowed us designers to combine aesthetics with technology into entirely new functional combinations,” he adds.

Škoda Auto, Design, Hidden Figures, SB HF, světlaři, teamThe lights design team: Petr Nevřela, Martin Paclt and Michal Hess (left to right)

Exterior lighting today completes the character of a car, but at the same time possesses an increasingly broad range of functions. “The lights, front and rear, have become a fascinating functional jewel,” says Petr Nevřela. The lights have to meet a number of strict legislative requirements, while at the same time being required to satisfy ever-greater aesthetic demands. ŠKODA is characterised by its crystalline design. It’s a design chapter that ŠKODA started writing a few years ago and is developing further under the leadership of current chief designer Oliver Stefani. “Oliver gives us a lot of room for creativity and also prepares new challenges as future models come along,” Peter says with a smile.

Origins in glass

Designers Petr Nevřela, Martin Paclt and Michal Hess look to glass for inspiration for the appearance of the lights. For ŠKODA, the use of Czech crystal glass in concept cars has been typical for many years. “Working with glass on concepts is hugely inspiring, but also challenging. And not only for us, but also for the glass cutters who create the glass elements for us,” says Petr.

FABIA_HEADLAMP_SKETCH Sketch of a light on the latest-generation ŠKODA FABIA

According to Petr Nevřela, the Czech glass cutters who work with ŠKODA to create the lights for concept cars deserve huge respect. “They are very skilled and precise, true masters of their craft. They can cut intricate 3D decorative shapes into very subtle parts. The risk of the glass breaking is huge. One of the cutters once told me that sometimes it’s like we’re asking them to sign their name on a piece of paper with a tree.”

Precision-crafted glass elements subsequently provide the greatest inspiration and challenge for designers. For they try to transfer as much of the crystalline design as possible from concepts to production cars, which have to use parts made of polycarbonate. “We can cut almost anything into glass and we aren’t limited by dimensions. But polycarbonate has certain limitations in terms of material thickness and the roundness of its edges, for example,” explains Petr Nevřela.

Škoda Design, světlaři, světla, Hidden Figures,

Even so, the unique crystalline character of the lights is maintained even in mass production. As an example, Petr mentions the current generation of the ŠKODA OCTAVIA, whose taillights have succeeded in bringing the innovative 3D crystal design presented on previous concepts into mass production. “We have thus created a completely new effect that no one else has achieved yet,” says Petr.

Fighting over tenths of millimetres

According to Martin Paclt, designing a headlight for mass production is a fight over tenths of millimetres. “In the beginning there is a sketch expressing the vision. Gradually, the technical requirements come into play and we often come up against the limits of technology,” says Martin, adding that compromise is necessary when designing lights. “I think it helps our work that all three of us have a combination of artistic and technical backgrounds,” Martin adds. This, he says, allows the team members to be creative for the initial lighting design, while also being technically proficient for the phase of translating the vision into reality.

Škoda Auto, Design, Hidden Figures, SB HF, světlaři, team

Needless to say, they collaborate with the technical development team on this. “We often bring in bold ideas, looking for new possibilities. We develop the internal design of the lights so that the original vision is preserved even after the technical parameters are satisfied,” says Michal Hess. According to him, the current trend is to make headlights smaller, so that the headlights look innovative and often visually enlarge the car. “Sometimes, though, we can’t fit the technology into the originally intended dimensions and you’d be surprised how even one millimetre can change the overall perception of the headlight’s appearance,” Michal says of the challenges involved in developing a headlight design.

His colleague Martin adds another issue that designers have to think about. “We are actually doing two designs in one: day and night. In both cases, the light has to look great and meet all the functional and legislative requirements,” he explains.

Two to three years’ work

Headlight design is a roughly two to three year job for each model. That’s the time it takes to turn a first vision into a functional light. The lights design team starts working on the possible forms of the daytime running lights and taillights during the initial design phase for the car’s exterior. “We always work on several projects at once. And it’s not just the front and rear lights, but also other elements such as fog lights, reflectors or other lighting elements. Each of them requires basically the same amount of work,” says Martin Paclt of the team’s workload.

Sketch of the taillight of the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV

In addition to the lights’ looks and how they will shine, the designers also design specific lighting effects, such as the Coming & Leaving Home function. “This is how the car connects with people,” says Michal. “It’s an important part of our job to make the animations look natural and attractive,” adds colleague Martin.

In addition to sketches and 3D models, the designers also prepare physical models of the lights, of course. “In my experience it’s important to come up with a physical model as soon as possible,” says Michal Hess. “I’m working on a headlight for a future car where I had a clear idea from the beginning. We decided that we would quickly prepare a model of this headlight we could surprise our management with. The result was that my proposal was given the green light in ten seconds thanks to this model,” smiles Michal. We will see it in the next few years.

The road to the future

Another example of a successful project is the illuminated Crystal Face radiator grille, which can be ordered by buyers of the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV electric car. “The idea originated in our design workshop, and we gradually developed it in cooperation with our innovation incubator until it reached a form where we could clearly say that it was a feasible and affordable solution,” says Petr Nevřela, the author of the design for this unique grille. In this respect, ŠKODA is among the pioneers of one of the trends that the car lights designers believe is coming in the near future. “Light will play an increasingly important role in car design, and the trend will be for the front and rear of the car to be illuminated,” says Petr.

Sketch of Crystal Face, the symbol of the ENYAQ iV model Sketch of Crystal Face, the symbol of the ENYAQ iV model

The various elements need to be combined in a way that looks harmonious. This has been done perfectly in the case of the ENYAQ iV, according to Martin Paclt. “Petr did the Crystal Face, and I worked on the headlights, which we managed to imbue with the character of glass,” says Martin. The car’s headlights have a stylised arrow inside, which looks great both in daylight and at night. Petr Nevřela points out that the headlights of the latest-generation ŠKODA FABIA also have the crystalline design. “We have successfully applied our distinctive design language to this basic model as well,” says Petr, adding that the complete switch to LED technology has made this possible.

ENYAQ_HEADLAMP_SKETCH Sketch of the headlight of the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV with the stylised internal arrow

This is the dominant trend in today’s lighting technology. “Lights as functional jewellery will also become a means of communication in the future,” says Petr. This will be especially true in the era of autonomous cars, which will communicate with their surroundings – for example, with pedestrians – via advanced front lighting areas. “High-end LED lights will be more like specific displays with huge light output,” says Petr. So one day designers will have to address the possibilities of individualisation and communication in addition to the design of the lights and light signature. ŠKODA’s lighting design team is thus looking to a future that was science fiction not so long ago.

The ŠKODA lights design team: