Mark Adams knows a thing or two about car design. As the man behind Opel’s looks, the Vice President Design for Opel/Vauxhall has managed to seamlessly forge sculptured design with German engineering. It’s not merely about functionality, though, but bringing out the emotional aspect. Adams, speaking on the occasion of the World Graphic Design Day on Sunday April 27, reveals his design philosophy and gives a sneak preview of the shape of things to come in the future.
Mark, good design must be ahead of its time for people to appreciate it for years to come. How does this affect your work?
Mark Adams: I definitely agree. And I can think of some good examples among our cars, for example the latest Corsa. When we launched it on the market, it was a breath of fresh air compared to the competition. Even now after several years, its looks have endured. To achieve this, it takes a strong design statement that goes beyond the customer’s expectations. The Calibra and the Corsa B already followed this line of thinking. Right now, the Insignia is an excellent case in point. It looks as good now as it did back when it was launched.
What was your first project when you joined the company in 2002?
The Insignia concept car, which actually didn’t have a name back then. We started working on it two months after I arrived. It was to be presented at the IAA 2003. I wanted to do something with it that would be more sculpted, more emotional, but that would also carry the technical quality found in our brand. While working on the Insignia concept, we sowed the seeds for what was to become our new design philosophy. I came up with the motto ‘sculpted design meets German engineering’ in 2005. I remember saying to my team, “You know what? That’s it, that’s what we’ll call it!”
And so the Opel design language was given a name…
Not the design language, but rather the design philosophy. There is a difference. A lot of competitors back then had their own design language. But they never lasted. We wanted to create consistency. A design philosophy, as I understand it, is something sustainable and enduring. It can be valid for a hundred years. That’s what I wanted to get across to my team. So I took specific models from Opel’s history. I asked my team, “Could the Opel GT from the 60s be described as ‘sculpted design meets German engineering’?” The answer was yes, it could. So we pursued it. The Insignia was our first modern-day production car that carried these values. But it is also easy to imagine how cars could continue to follow this philosophy in 2060 and still be contemporary.
The good thing is that our philosophy doesn’t limit us, but gives us a lot of creative freedom instead. It provides a frame within which we can work, yet it doesn’t restrict us. We have a very broad range of customers, which is why we need different cars each with its own individual personality. This frame allows us to design these kinds of cars. We have carried this philosophy with every new vehicle since the Insignia. It is currently reflected in our entire model range: The Astra, Meriva, and Zafira Tourer all embody it. So do the cars that have expanded our portfolio – the Ampera, Mokka, ADAM, and Cascada. For example, the ADAM is clearly an Opel, but it has a totally different personality than the Insignia.
And is this what you want to carry on into the future generations of vehicles?
Exactly. Now comes the next phase: The seed for Opel Design 2.0 has been planted in the Monza concept, which will define the design of our production vehicles for the next eight to 10 years. It takes some of the well-known features, gives them a fresh, new interpretation, and executes them in a contemporary way.
How do you plan on transferring the character of a concept with gull-wing doors into a five-seat production vehicle with a roomy trunk?
The Monza may be a vision, but it’s not that far removed. It’s important for it to remain accessible to everyone, which is why we like to think in eight to 10-year cycles. The next cycle will take us to Opel Design 3.0, which will integrate new trends and technologies while remaining consistent with our philosophy. If you compare the Insignia concept and the Monza concept, you can see the connection, the DNA link.
What else does the Monza concept stand for?
It is inspiring and visionary. It stands for outstanding efficiency and connectivity. I’m certain that LED projection technology and human-machine interfaces will have been perfected in a few years. Today, drivers use a touchscreen to communicate, but voice recognition will soon take over. This also contributes significantly to safety since it allows drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. And Opel intends to be the leader in this field with our next generation of cars. Our focus is on making vehicles simple to use. The new central console of the Insignia is a step in this direction. The infotainment system of the ADAM is already very good. Our high-speed mobile communications connection OnStar is a harbinger of things to come. Connectivity is a very important field for us. Broadly speaking, the interior will take on a greater importance. OK, the exterior design is what everyone sees. But 99 percent of the time, you’re inside the car.
Does Opel offer added value through design in comparison to its competitors?
Yes. Our design philosophy also plays an important role in the purchase decision. The head and the heart are both involved. We try to combine the two. The sculpted design speaks to the heart, the emotional side. On the other side we have German engineering with values like technology, precision, structure and quality. When you look at our cars, you get an instant emotional reaction. You think, “Wow, what a great design!” Look again and you then get a sense of the solid technological foundation – that’s our unique selling point. We want to be the emotional German brand.
Mark Adams was born in London (England) in 1961. He studied engineering and design, completing his bachelor degree in Mechanical and Automotive Engineering and reading a Master’s degree in Automotive Design at the Royal College of Art in London. He held various executive positions in design at Ford before taking the role of head of Exterior Design for GM Europe in 2002. He was instrumental in the design of the Antara, Astra TwinTop, Corsa, Zafira Tourer and Astra GTC. In 2007, he was appointed Vice President Design for Opel/Vauxhall and has continued leaving his unique mark on the current sculptured look that has become synonymous with Opel.