Volvo has spent the last few months showcasing its new XC90, touring the world’s motor shows before the new model hits the market this summer. To talk about the road ahead, we brought together Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo’s head of design and the man who has overseen the XC90’s aesthetic, with another design pioneer, Isabelle Olsson, a senior industrial designer at Google and an expert in shaping the objects we’ll be using tomorrow. According to Ingenlath, the XC90’s quiet radicalism epitomises the evolving relationship between user and object. ‘Cars used to be all about the combination of the great machine and the driver,’ he says, ‘but that has changed. Today we talk a lot about the experience in the XC90, what you can do on a journey and how you experience the ambience of the car.’ Olsson believes technology is ultimately destined to become all but invisible. ‘What excites me,’ she says, ‘is how can we make technology really disappear by embedding it into familiar contexts, like in the car, in your sunglasses, or on your wrist. How can it become a more natural part of our lives?’
Both designers cite the Scandinavian desire for simplicity and elegance as a driving force behind their work. ‘Simplicity is actually the most complicated way to go, because you have to try for the most pure expression of whatever shape or function you want to perform,’ says Ingenlath. Olsson agrees: ‘Basic and simple are two completely different things.’ The XC90’s dashboard illustrates the care Volvo has taken to simplify the driver’s experience, replacing buttons with a new touch screen-based control system, for example. From such innovation, a way forward starts to emerge; technologies like autonomous driving are about to make their way into the mainstream. ‘The XC90 is just the beginning of a journey – it’s a glimpse of the future,’ Ingenlath concludes. A future you can drive right now.