Interview with Paolo Tumminelli

Once in a while you bump into to someone that makes you wonder…what is he thinking? He seems to ‘know’ something I don’t. That is the feeling you get when you meet Prof. Paolo Tuminelli, CEO of Goodbrands GmbH in Cologne, Germany. And as it turns out, he does know a thing or two about a few things, especially cars. We sat down with him for a few espresso minutes at Interior Motive’s Europe Conference 2008 in Turin, Italy this past June for a brief chat on his nostalgic focus on cars and what the future holds for green cars, and for his new venture at mindset.

If you have ever had the rare pleasure of sitting through one of Prof. Tuminelli’s lectures you immediately sense that he yearns for a better ‘car’ time, a time that represented the best that car designers had to offer. This nostalgic feeling for something that is apparently lost feeds through his presentations in the form of black and white pictures of carefree people having fun with their cars, contrasted by today’s reality of traffic and environmental concerns. He is right to look back on those days with nostalgia as they are clearly long gone…but what he also does is ask himself, and us, what if we could make today a little more like yesterday tomorrow!

Who is this man? Born in 1965 in the Lake Garda district in Northern Italy, just between Milan and Venice, he grew up in the then prosperous and decadent years between the 60’s and 70’s that the holiday destination afforded. This is where his love for fabulous black and white photography must have flourished, as did his awareness for cars, needless to say Italian cars. He later moved to Milan to study architecture at the Politecnico di milano and then design at the Domus Academy of Milan. Upon graduating he worked as a designer at Alfa Romeo’s Centro Stile and then quickly became design director of Momo Design. In an effort to break away from design he moved on and tackled a new career as manager of strategic marketing at Rosenthal, leaders in tableware, in Germany around 1996. A few years later he joined the Frog Design team as vice-president of Brand and Strategy Director for Europe until 2001. In 2002 he abandoned all corporate ties to found his own company, Goodbrands GmbH, a small branding company based in Cologne (Köln), Germany, and Goodbrands Institute for Automotive Culture, as well as becoming a professor at the Köln International School of Design. It is his latest project, however, that brought him to our attention. As of this year he has joined up with the very young and entrepreneurial team called mindset based in St. Niklausen, Switzerland, dedicated to a new automotive green dream.

GCD: You are obviously passionate about design, notably car design, why did you leave the drawing table and the corporate boundaries?

Tumminelli: I wanted be independent from the corporate structure that forms design today. By collaborating with the University you are always in touch with design as it will be tomorrow, there you are really free. In the process I have become a sort of automotive historian, because automobile design is not working we need to re-write history and infuse cars with, meaning so they fit into our lives again. I try to do this by communicating and explaining what car culture is and how it can be ‘alive’ again.

GCD: Is car design dead?

Tumminelli: Not yet! But since 1995 I would say it has been dying slowly. We can say that car design’s history spans between the 30’s until the 80’s, a time when cars were built for a purpose and mass production allowed them to get more efficient. There is a sense of intelligence alive in cars like the Fiat Topolino and Mercedes W124.

GCD: What do you think is the problem?

Tumminelli: Cars are over-packaged with superficiality. Bad taste prevails because the automobile has no brand contributing to its design. Because there are so many departments involved, so much corporate meddling, so many components, the car has become more complex. There are details within cars that are beautiful, highlighting the fact that product design is much smarter these days than car design. We have to change the way we think about cars, we have to change our mindset.

GCD: Ah, and that brings us to what you are doing now?

Tumminelli: Yes, I joined the mindset team earlier this year. ‘What car?’, shall we design, sell, own…that is always the question. Nowadays cars are really about mobility, getting us from A to B, but everyday we are faced with immobility. It is a contradiction to try and make faster cars when we are always stuck in traffic and 60% of us never travel more than 50km a day. We make them faster because we are in denial, we still believe in that dream of flying around.

GCD: What will the mindset ‘brand’ be?

Tumminelli: We will try to marry the past/history with the future. We will rethink the past’s magic feeling and try to create new values for the automotive world, reigniting car culture. Mindest cars will be a new breed of cars, compact and sporty with driving quality reinvented. The interiors are free and empty from visual clutter so the user can create their own space. Murat Günak who used to be head of design at Volkswagen heads the mindset design team, a company owned by Spirt Avert AG, a Swiss holding company.

Not only does Prof. Tumminelli run his own business, build communication bridges for mindset, and lecture at University, he is also an author in his own right. His latest release, Luxury Toys – Classic Cars, is available online as well as Car Design, Traffic Design, and Boat Design. Stay tuned as we will be catching up with the full production release of the Mindset Six50 Electric Car.