Season 4

Design and business management: “It’s always a compromise – so we look for the best possible”

Design and business management: “It’s always a compromise – so we look for the best possible”

When developing cars, business management and design do not always have the same opinion about which direction to head. Despite that, or rather precisely because of that, designers and CEOs have much they can teach each other. The IAA MOBILITY Visionary Club, on a very special relationship.

Designers, engineers, buyers, business managers – developing a car is a team sport that brings the widest variety of crafts to sit at the same table. It goes without saying that this does not always go smoothly. “Sometimes, as a designer, you have a vision. A strong feeling that the brand or a project should take a particular direction, because you already have the finished product and the ideal setting for it in your mind’s eye. Explaining that to someone who, for example, is more focused on the technical side can be difficult,” says Claudia Braun. The designer has worked as Head of CMF (Color, Material, Finish) Design for major manufacturers such as Porsche, Daimler, Polestar, and Rivian. Today, she advises design studios. In the IAA MOBILITY Visionary Club, she discusses the special relationship between design and business management with Tobias Moers. The former CEO of Aston Martin and AMG knows that “a CEO stands in the middle, between design and engineering, and from time to time assumes the role of translator.”

The CEO as arbitrator

At the end of this mediation process, one thing always follows: a compromise. “For that reason, you look for the best compromise, the best solution for the product, the customer and the brand, and one which is also sensible from a cost perspective.” So is the maximum possible something all involved are equally unhappy with? That’s what people tend to say about such balancing acts. But Moers doesn’t think so: “In my experience, there is always an agreement that everyone can live with.”

For Braun, the designer, this is where one of the most important competences of a good CEO reveals itself: “He is like an arbitrator, who listens to all the different opinions and attempts to bring them together.” A well-balanced decision is then something everyone can accept. That requires an understanding of brand trends and the willingness to listen to all teams, from design to development, adds Moers. He says it is important to monitor yourself critically as you do so: “You should not mistake your personal opinion for design decisions.”

Dialog, not silos

But what does a CEO expect from a good design department? Above all, that the design team conducts intensive discussions with the engineers, rather than creating something behind closed doors which might then be impossible to realize at all. “It is always about feasibility: Can you produce the car that is being designed?” says Moers. Be it as it may: Sometimes design’s task is precisely to push the boundaries, to lead the way and to be visionary. The task for the CEO is then to convince the entire team to go down that road. “That, too, is an expectation of design: Be the spearhead. Create an understanding of how the brand will look in five years’ time.”

Engine of change

The transformation of mobility is once again placing new requirements on design, says Moers: “From the robo-taxi to the sports car, we will have greater diversity than ever, and each segment calls for a totally different approach for design.” And the designer’s self-perception is also changing, says Braun: “Young designers today are a lot more open to reflecting on the big issues. It’s no longer just about car design, but also about feeling responsible for the world, and likewise for sustainability and the mobility of the future.” In particular, working with new, more sustainable materials and implementing a circular economy where everything can be recycled and reused demands a lot from the sector. “Realizing that is easier if you have a CEO who is driving the issue,” says Moers. Ultimately, the consistent switch to sustainability in production and design is changing everything, he says, from processes to the supply chain.

This is where a special dynamic can come about between design and business management: To become truly sustainable, above all it is also the attitude, the mindset, that needs to change, says Moers: “And that’s difficult. That’s why, as CEO, you sometimes use design to move things forward a bit.” The motto here is: Let them get on with it and then think about how to realize the ideas. “There’s a need for someone who brings the ideas to the table. You have to start, as otherwise you get nowhere.”