VBAT C-Word Talks #24: Laurens van den Acker
Renault’s Senior VP of Corporate Design talks creativity & automobiles.
Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer
On Friday the 21st of March, Laurens van den Acker, Senior Vice President of Corporate Design at Renault, paid a visit to VBAT. He was here to give a talk about his career as a car designer, in particular his work in rejuvenating the Renault brand and it’s range of car models. With such a famous guest the bar space at VBAT was packed with colleagues, clients, family, friends and invited guests. Never in my time at VBAT had I seen a C-Word talk quite so busy. For me it was really refreshing to see how many people were interested in what he had to say. The chairs were lined up, cold drinks and food on the tables, sound-system installed and one enormous TV wheeled into place (literally).
After a warm introduction by Gaston van der Laar, VBAT Brand Director and old friend, Laurens began by explaining the route his career took to bring him to where he is now at Renault. Upon graduating in industrial design at TU Delft Laurens then began travelling with his work taking him to posts in Eindhoven, Italy, California, Detroit and Japan working for companies like Volvo, Audi and Mazda before ending up in Paris at Renault. With this experience behind him Laurens explained that the experience of living and working in so many countries and associated cultures had informed him in his life about who he was. By moving to Eindhoven he realised he was from North Brabant, by moving to Italy he realised he was Dutch and by moving to Japan he realised he was Western. With all these cultural changes he learnt about many different ways of working and thinking.
On starting his role at Renault, Laurens wanted to change the way Renault looked and felt for consumers through strategy and design. At the time their range of cars shared few similarities which he cleverly illustrated for us through the ‘face’ of the car — it’s primary identity and the way we mostly all recognise car models. By showing the ‘faces’ of the old Renault range of vehicles clearly showed how they lacked a cohesive family identity. It also highlighted how weakly the Renault branding was applied to their vehicles at the time.
To improve the new range he came up with the idea of strengthening Renault as a human brand, putting the people and emotion at the centre of its activities as opposed to a car type brand (BMW) or a planet type brand (Toyota). When you speak about humans, you speak about life and this is what inspired Laurens’ design strategy for their newest range of cars, linking it to a cycle of life.
This flower based cycle of life called the ‘Marguerite’ (below) was the blueprint for all new cars, making a concept car for each of the petals. The intention to produce a consumer car based on that life stage’s concept car.
The first life step — LOVE — produced the Dezir concept car. In red — the colour of passion, with only 2 seats (all you need to be in love), no space for luggage and a purely beautiful object. This concept car inspired the next generation Clio.
TRAVEL: Captur. A car with seats for 2 people plus space in the back for luggage. Very open so to be able to see out of the roof and allowing for room to carry stuff and plan trips. It inspired the next generation Renault Captur.
FAMILY: R-Space. A yellow car with a sensuous front seat for parents still in love to hug each other and a playful blocky rear seat for children to have fun. It inspired the next generation Renault Scenic.
WORK: Frendzy. A green asymetrical van style car. One ‘work’ side with a digital screen to allow you to advertise and on the family side a child’s chalk board and TV screens to entertain the children. With a large open boot space for carrying lots of stuff and no central column in the doors for easy loading. It inspired the next generation Renault Kangoo.
PLAY: Twin’Z. A small fast ‘Yves Klein Blue’ car designed with Ross Lovegrove. Lovegrove was allowed by Laurens to ‘play’ with the design how ever he wanted and it was displayed at the Salone in Milan. It inspired the next generation Renault Twingo.
WISDOM: Initiale Paris. A large purple car with a transparent aluminum roof with an engraved map of Paris on the roof, letting light stream into the vehicle. It inspired the next generation Renault Espace.
Laurens explained how the project was successful and how well the cars had transformed their image and style to a newer, more modern, stylish and attractive look. Also how they were able to take the circle of life concept cars and produce a new range of consumer cars, being able to transfer some of the key design elements to an affordable level for customers.
To link with this new and exciting range of cars, Renault’s corporate identity was refreshed and developed. Making the iconic logo the hero image and more prominent by removing it from the yellow restraint it once always sat on. Also making the metallic looking design more premium. The new tagline “passion for life” comes from the new cars, brimming with life and passion. A new logo wordmark with updated lettering (by Fontsmith) still retains some of the flourishes from the previous logo but now looks more modern and relevant.
The new range of cars, along with the corporate identity, can be seen in this new commercial:
We were then shown the proof of the success of the new range by seeing how Renault grew as a player in the European car market. With more consumers choosing to purchase new Renault cars based less on cost and brand loyalty but more about the look of the cars it was clear Laurens’ design strategy was working.
Laurens finished the talk by revealing their latest concept car as they begin this circle of life again with the Trezor. This time instead of the Dezir which was about ‘love at first sight’, the Trezor is a more mature love; a long relationship based on ‘popping the question’ (proposing marriage). This was achieved by making the front of the car open up like a ring box. It has both a masculine and feminine feel with strong lines contrasted with smooth curves. To me the Trezor is obviously exuberant as a concept car but that’s what concept cars are all about; showings ideas, innovation, challenging conventions and seeing what the future of cars can be. This outcome is both a beautiful car and piece of design.
Prior to the talk, Renault delivered some cars to the VBAT office car park where we were invited to look inside and admire the design of these brand new cars in detail.