On Friday 18th November 2016, Laurent Boulay, the Exterior Design Manager at Kia Motors Europe, gave a presentation about automobile design at Kia Design Center Europe. This was an opportunity to learn more about his career ahead of closer ties between Kia Design Center Europe and the École de design.
What education and training did you have? How did you come to work in the automobile industry?
I obtained a Master in Interior Architecture from the École Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques (ESAG Penninghen) in Paris. Later, I specialised in transport design at the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland. I began my working life as an interior architect in an agency, before moving to Mazda. Later, I worked for Volkswagen in Germany and the United States and, in December 2009, I joined Kia Motors Europe in Frankfurt, Germany as General Manager for the exterior design of vehicles.
What are the trends in the automobile industry?
What held true in China or India 20 years ago is no longer the case today. Now, we must address specific needs.
In style trends, for example, the Chinese are more into crossovers, which is a very new concept. In the United States, the automobile market is completely saturated, and is becoming extremely hard to predict. You need a lot of resources to break into the American market. Actually, for Kia, the United States is a test market.
You need to constantly stay on top of the markets and consumer behaviours specific to a country. We work a lot alongside sociologists to guide us through trends and to help us to address cultural issues. Furthermore, there are many constraints and a lot of pressure when it comes to costs, and naturally, consumers are increasingly demanding.
What are KIA’s working methods?
At an organisational level, everything is delegated at Kia. This is a great advantage for creativity. Kia’s biggest strength is being in tune with markets. Producing and selling small cars at first, the brand quickly developed. Despite only being in the United States for the past 10 years, Kia now sells 625,000 vehicles in that country - more than the Volkswagen group. Worldwide, Kia annually sells almost 3 million vehicles (and over 8 million for Hyundai-KIA).
Another interesting point at KIA is that we are present in markets that differ widely from each other. This requires our employees to be open-minded, well-informed and ready to think critically on a daily basis. You also have to have a good instinct for looking ahead. Nothing is given. You have to constantly re-evaluate the situation.
Peter Shreyer, Chief Design Officer for Hyundai, KIA and Genesis further explained, "For designers like ourselves, it is important to not just look at cars, but to also be to take an interest in architecture, art, music and industrial design." So you need a sharp mind!
What is the Design Department at KIA Europe like?
The Frankfurt studio is the European headquarters along with marketing and sales. The design team is made up of 35 people, not counting temporary workers. It is also a very international team - there are 20 nationalities present. Needless to say, English is the language used at work. Working for this team as a young designer is an excellent launchpad. Each employee can show his or her talents very quickly. A drawing proposal can very quickly become a concept car! There are no limits - an employee’s talent is their strength. Talent enabled three interns to join the design team as full-time employees, so it is very important to be passionate.
The digital/manual debate is always going on in the automobile industry. Drawing is one aspect, but there is also modeling. It is actually very interesting to see products in 3D - it’s truly like a work of scultpure. All in all, it takes between three and a half to four years from the first rough draft to market launch for a KIA car. This is a short time compared to other automobile marques.