Car design depends on teamwork, in sharp contrast to the social distancing the coronavirus pandemic has imposed. How does smart working change creative activity? What consequences will it have on the form of tomorrow’s cars? Auto&Design has asked these questions of carmaker design chiefs and independent style centres. The vision of Chen Zheng, Chairman of Changan European Design Center Changan Automobile Global Brand COO.

How has smart working during the coronavirus outbreak changed your work model?

The changes are evident. We are increasingly relying on an online work model. However, this is not unknown or unfamiliar to us. From the very establishment of Changan Design, we built an international team, therefore we have already started to adapt to this work model.
This model made time and space no longer a primary issue, greatly improving efficiency. Designers can immediately share experience and achievements with colleagues 8200Km away. This experience has brought benefits to the entire company and represents the key factor for Changan Automobile continuous pursue of a global R&D.

Do you think the epidemic will affect your future car design work? What kind of impact will it have?

In the long run, this large-scale epidemic may affect people’s consciousness at a deep level. People will pay more attention to their relationship with the surrounding environment. In the past, people already did, but now the process has been accelerated.
In the future, this driving force may accelerate car design return to focus on people and on the relationship between people and the environment. Of course, this is also aprinciple and a mission that Changan has always carried out. Our “Vitality Motion” design philosophy has always upheld the radical search for breakthroughs. In the future, we will fully integrate the latest technology to bring users a healthier, safer, and caring travel experience.

If the design work method changes, will the design results also change?

This depends on how you look at “change”. If we can take advantage of the high efficiency and the big data insights brought by the information age, we can connect the entire world in the study of users’ needs. This will ultimately result in getting closer to users and provide better products.
On the contrary, if we just move the drawing board from the company to home, not only the results of the design will not change, but also the current and future designs will not change from the past. The key to innovation remains the innovator’s keen insight on the goal, and the ability to create excellent solutions; the work method is only a part of it.

How did you arrange the work of Changan Design Center? How many designers have started smart working?

For this, I am very grateful to the entire management team for the rapid decision-making and the overall handling of the emergency, all team members highly collaborated in implementing the new protective measures.

From an early phase, we have already begun to respond to the outbreak and initiated corresponding measures, such as mask-wearing, disinfection, etc. Thanks to the work model we normally use (don’t forget that we have defined a global layout for our design center already ten years ago), designers quickly adapted and adjusted successfully to smart working, design activity miraculously has not stopped even for one day. In addition, information sharing on successful epidemic prevention measures from the Chinese headquarter has also helped Changan Europe to implement effective measures to protect the health and safety of our employees from the very beginning.

Do you use specific tools brought from the design studio, or can you use ordinary computers for all the operations?

To do a good job, an artisan needs the best tools, each step in the design process requires a variety of tools. There are portable graphic tablets, huge five-axis milling, ordinary pencils, specific scrapers, etc. Although working from home brings a lot of inconveniences, this is a digital era, so we have sufficient professional tools to provide designers with adequate support. Of course, I also believe that the quality of design is not determined by computers or other tools.

From your point of view, what kind of changes will your car design undergo in terms of shape in this particular period?

The shape is related to the function; following the new environmental changes, the user’s experience requirements for car traveling will also change. Not only we design to meet the physiological need of users for health and safety, take our PM0.1 air purification system being promptly installed on our products, for example. We also have to take care of the user ’s psychological search for a sense of safety.

Our choice of materials for car interiors, for example, will undergo changes in this sense. The emergence of a sudden event involving the entire community will indeed have a great impact on people ’s psychology. It will also affect aesthetic standards and purchase decisions, but whether it will change the trends and the process of car design is still to be seen. However, I strongly encourage designers to maintain this sensitivity; changes in the world’s economy, environment, and policies may propel changes in design trends.

How important is external inspiration to designers? Can working from home negatively impact design inspiration?

What is inspiration? Inspiration is just the reward for the designer’s hard work. It is not actually the catalyst that everyone imagines, it can be an immediate stimulus for designers to think about creativity. It is a key polished by designers through long-term accumulation, extensive information collection and continuous speculation attempts. Designers use it to open doors to a new world. This is Changan Design attitude towards inspiration. It might seem like a trick and slightly clumsy, but I think this may also be the reason why our design is worth recognition.