Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

IN­DUS­TRIAL De­sign was Nils Uellendahl’s field of study at Pforzheim Univer­sity, but his mo­bil­ity-re­lated the­sis may have been a sign that he would get in­volved with car de­sign some­day. The 38-year-old Ger­man be­gan his ca­reer in London with Ross Love­grove, where he was in­spired by how the renowned Welsh de­signer looked to na­ture for an­swers and his vi­sion to cre­ate.

Nils sub­se­quently joined De­sign­works in their then newly es­tab­lished stu­dio in Sin­ga­pore, be­fore mov­ing on to Mu­nich and Shang­hai. After spending three years as Direc­tor of In­te­rior for Great Wall Mo­tors, China’s largest man­u­fac­turer of SUVs and pick­ups, he re-joined De­sign­works Shang­hai in 2017.

His cur­rent stint with De­sign­works al­lows him to de­sign not just cars, but a di­verse spec­trum of prod­ucts which are rel­e­vant to cur­rent times.

Nils tells Torque about what fas­ci­nates him as a de­signer, what makes de­sign­ing au­to­mo­biles ex­tra spe­cial, and why fight­ing for that half a mil­lime­tre can be so mag­i­cal and ad­dic­tive.

Did you al­ways have an in­ter­est in cars and au­to­mo­bile de­sign?

There was def­i­nitely an in­ter­est, but I did not set out to be­come a car de­signer.

I re­mem­ber vis­it­ing a car show and feel­ing a con­nec­tion with see­ing how pro­fes­sion­ally and pas­sion­ately the cars were be­ing put to­gether. That was when I re­alised that there was some­thing spe­cial there. Ev­ery­one has an emo­tional re­sponse to cars and this is in­ter­est­ing to a de­signer. Re­gard­less of what you are de­sign­ing, the most im­por­tant thing is to have a pos­i­tive im­pact on peo­ple’s lives.

The sat­is­fac­tion is in driv­ing change, cre­at­ing some­thing that has not been thought of be­fore or ap­proach­ing it from a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

What are some of the mem­o­rable projects that you have worked on at De­sign­works?

The BMW X1’s in­te­rior is a very spe­cial project for me, be­cause it was my very first ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing through the whole process of de­vel­op­ing a pro­duc­tion car. Be­fore you can build a car, you must build a team and get ev­ery­one ex­cited to make things to hap­pen. I also worked on the First Class seat de­sign for Sin­ga­pore Air­lines. The in­ter­est­ing as­pect was work­ing with what Sin­ga­pore Air­lines rep­re­sented as a brand, their val­ues, and trans­lat­ing these into tan­gi­ble de­sign so­lu­tions that would form a vis­ual brand lan­guage. How is de­sign­ing au­to­mo­biles dif­fer­ent from, or sim­i­lar to, other de­sign gen­res? When de­sign­ing a car, think­ing three to five years ahead is like do­ing some­thing for to­mor­row be­cause the de­vel­op­ment cy­cle is that long. You need to stick to what you be­lieve in, but be in­tu­itive and savvy enough to de­cide which con­struc­tive crit­i­cisms to take and which bat­tles to fight. With cars, you also feel that you are work­ing on some­thing big be­cause every sin­gle car project is cel­e­brated.


How is the de­sign en­vi­ron­ment chang­ing? Tra­di­tion­ally, de­sign was used to make prod­ucts at­trac­tive, but I think it has tran­scended into a think­ing tool. Many top ex­ec­u­tives now have de­sign back­grounds, and a macro trend that we are see­ing is how cor­po­rate strat­egy is be­ing driven by de­sign strat­egy.

You must still pos­sess ex­pert knowl­edge, but in­creas­ingly, you also need to be able to con­nect with other dis­ci­plines and have a cross-dis­ci­plinary un­der­stand­ing. If you want to cre­ate holis­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, you need to un­der­stand and re­late to other el­e­ments that are com­ing into play. How do you bal­ance form and func­tion, or is one more im­por­tant than the other? Ac­tu­ally, they should go to­gether, like yin and yang.

In ad­di­tion to form and func­tion, I would also in­clude ex­pe­ri­ence, which should be con­sid­ered another strong pil­lar. How can de­sign and tech­nol­ogy com­ple­ment one another? It is an in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship be­cause de­sign de­fines cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ences that you want to achieve, while tech­nol­ogy ig­nites new pos­si­bil­i­ties of what these ex­pe­ri­ences may be. It is a chicken-and-egg co­nun­drum. Some­times you come up with a de­sign idea and find the tech­nol­ogy to re­alise it; some­times tech­nol­ogy sparks off ideas for new de­signs. What are some of your favourite car de­signs? GINA is a project where De­sign­works col­lab­o­rated with BMW Group De­sign, and what I find fas­ci­nat­ing is how the ve­hi­cle adapts to its user. GINA may be 10 years old, but I feel that it is even more rel­e­vant than ever.

Like many de­sign­ers, I like vin­tage cars, such as old Alfa Romeos and the Jaguar E-Type. I love their pro­por­tions, which never go out of style. It is not just the pro­por­tion of the car it­self, but also the pro­por­tion of the car in re­la­tion to the driver. What are your favourite non­car de­signs? I think the match­sticks by Ja­panese de­signer, Kaoru Mende, are an amaz­ing piece of de­sign. They serve the same func­tion as reg­u­lar matches, but are ex­e­cuted in a way that makes you re­flect on larger is­sues, such as the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and fire, de­struc­tion and cre­ation, sus­tain­abil­ity, pro­duc­tion process, etc.

It is the emo­tional con­nec­tion that re­ally makes it stand out. There can be beauty, per­fec­tion and ge­nius in the small­est of ob­jects.

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