Interview with Anna Costamagna

Of Italian descent but now based at Peugeot's Design Centre in Paris, Design Manager Anna Costamagna is the kind of designer that all young designers should apsire to be.

Successful in a male-dominated profession, and unusual in that she originally studied engineering in Turin, Anna's individuality is placated by an ardor for classic, understated Italian design qualities - something that is apparent in her latest project, the all-new 208.

Green Car Design: Tell us a little about how and why you decided to work in car design?

Anna Costamagna: When I was a little girl, I used to draw my paper dolls and their clothes. As I grew up, I really wanted to be in fashion design, but my left-brain prevailed so I studied hard to become an engineer.

An Industrial and Management Engineering Graduate from Politecnico of Turin, I started my career at Bertone Design Center in Turin. From the very first project, I realised that I had found in car design the perfect ground to express my quest for beauty and elegance and my obsession for details, quality and precision! In the end, cars are complex industrial products with a high creative and emotional potential, which have nowadays become fashion items that you can wear. 

For me, being a woman in a man’s world helped a lot as I might have a different approach to the car world in general, and design as well. My technical and mechanical skills have helped a lot too, as if you want to get closer to the product I think you need to have some technical insight.

GCD: Your background includes a lot of experiences living in many countries, how do you think that affects your design process?

AC: I’ve always been a wanderer! My first long-term experience abroad was when I was only 16 and, as a college student, I enrolled in a one year exchange program in the U.S.A.

My family has always encouraged me to witness and experience “bio-diversity”; I need to see different people, different places, to speak their language and to live their way of life.

Being creative and working in a team require an open mind, to listen to each other, to experience the multiple facets of life and, most of all, to be curious. In my day-to-day job, I believe that my Italian openness and my foreign accent have been very important as I play a transversal role and deal with many stakeholders, striving to find solutions to give design its best chance and convince by results.

GCD: Having worked at Bertone and now in Peugeot what do you think are the distinct differences and advantages that each company has to offer?

AC: I have a special affection for both companies and I am proud of my professional experience.

Bertone is a small family company based in Turin, my hometown, and despite the typical “Turinese understatement”, has managed to become one of the world reference for car design. Its legendary Stratos Zero, Miura, Countach, Carabo, Testudo and Giulietta Sprint are milestones in car design, their fascinating power is as strong as when they were created.

Peugeot is a big worldwide selling company, a reference brand especially in the supermini segment, but it started out as a family company 200 years ago fabricating utensils like peppermills and sewing machines! I think I love this “understatement” feeling that gives the best results through work, passion and endurance, which I finally found in both. I believe having gathered the best from each as I had the chance to manage quite a few concept car projects in Bertone (GM Hywire, Opel Insignia and Hummer H3T) and mostly production vehicles in Peugeot (3008 and 5008, 208 interior). Working on 208 GTi and XY concept cars unveiled at the Geneva Motorshow last March reminded me the good old sweet thrill of concept cars.

GCD: How do you start thinking about designing a car? What is your first point of departure?

AC: The design process usually starts spontaneously, designers being quite free to propose and to challenge fellow designers.

Other times projects are based on a simple silhouette idea or a very concise brief. Key products are mostly based on complex product briefs integrating societal parameters, market and trend evaluation as well as brand objectives.

In general, designers are able to express themselves freely within our brand design identity, which we create and nurture project by project.

The point of departure for each project could be the anticipation of customers’ needs and new lifestyles (3008 crossover), the definition of a trend (208 downsizing) , the will to re-generate an iconic model (208 GTi), every-day life technology (208 touch screen) or just a beautifully intelligent idea (RCZ)...concept cars are a good way to start!

GCD: What are your main sources of inspiration?

AC: In our design team as a whole, sources of inspiration are found in our brand heritage, which is very rich and expresses powerful design instances through many iconic products. Just think about the widely imitated feline look of our headlamps dating back to 1968 with the Peugeot 504 or the mythical 205 GTi! Motion and Emotion is Peugeot motto, as our design philosophy allies sensual, elegant sleek shapes with beautifully sharp details and raw noble materials. The car body is cut like an Italian tailored suit, perfectly adjusted to the mechanical base: Peugeot incredibly accurate proportions being the result of a very hard team work. Interiors embody Peugeot driving pleasure by putting the driver and passengers’ experience at the heart of our design and ergonomics inspiration.

To be able to create this kind of experience and deliver it to our customers we need to nurture our mind with many inputs: from art to airplanes, from music to lifestyles, inspiration sources are manifold. Of course let's not forget nature and everything that touches to “human” ! I prefer to get my inspiration in italian craftmanship, fashion and the world of music. Our studio is an international team where each and every team member expresses himself through different cultural and inspirational sources. 

GCD: What trends can you see in the next 5 years for car interiors?

AC: Touch screens and connectivity are becoming widely available in car interiors. I would expect user’s systems to become more and more interactive with the car system in order to simplify and make the driving experience as intuitive and friendly as we are accustomed to in our every-day life.

Design can largely take advantage of the simplification and reorganisation of functions to create a more relaxing, pure and pleasant environment.

Colour and trim is a vast domain that can also bring a lot of innovative and fashionable ideas into interiors. Option range is wide from recycled materials to customisation…but the car industry is not so flexible!

I would also expect a stronger design language differentiation between green cars and power engine cars, not only for exteriors but also for interiors!

GCD: Let's talk about the Peugeot 208, full of design details and is a lovely interior space, can you explain the process, the voyage, and what is meant to you and the project?

AC: A small group since the Pre-Project Phase, very closely knit, we had the same vision of the direction we should take. That is what inspired us, gave us the strength and energy to succeed in realising all our ideas.

From the beginning of the project (2007) we wanted the 208 to “re-generate” the B segment supermini.  In the early advanced phases, our teams developed a totally new interior architecture: an ergonomic innovation to provide the driver with a much pleasant, simplified and intuitive driving experience in today’s ever changing world. 

In order to achieve this challenge we have based this new architecture on the following elements:

- A small and agile steering wheel which gives a more direct and precise drives providing complete control.

- A clean, precise cluster positioned just above the small steering wheel in order to give a more instant reading of relevant driving information without taking eyes off the route. This gave birth to the innovation that we call HUC (Head Up Cluster) a natural evolution of Peugeot 3008 HUD (Head Up Display).

In the central axe of the dashboard we have placed a touch screen in the optimal reach-vision zone. This permitted us to reduce and simplify the usual collection of buttons and commands into something more intuitive and direct, allowing more freedom and space to design.

We managed to design a car which is both sensual and clean in its form language, yet sophisticated in the treatment of each detail.  The design theme is athletic and sculpted, embodying a feminine/masculine alchemy which is unique and powerful. To give it complete consistency, exterior and interior elements are fully coherent. This is the case of graphical, fragmented motifs (e.g. front grilles and door panel loud speakers) as well as other details (the small chrome on the rear quarter panel and on the dashboard) or lighting. In the interior two blue LED ‘comets’ discretely integrated under the glass roof recall the LED eyebrows in headlamps.

I'm very passionate about my work, as it combines astonishing design and engineering aspects as well as a great deal of passion, psychology, endurance and teamwork to make things happen: being Interior Design Manager for 208 has been a wonderful project and human experience that well synthesise these feelings!

GCD: Would you change anything if you had time?

AC: This is a tricky questions…I would change nothing and everything at the same time!

It would be fun to re-do it over again as I would capitalise on my experience, but I find the overall result best in class, both because of its innovative design theme and ergonomics but also because of its good perceived quality so I’d rather go on to the next project!

GCD: What are your design obsessions?

AC: Being Italian I have a certain taste for understated timeless elegance: my design obsessions are therefore design pureness, coherence and result quality. I have learned from experience that the most difficult project goal is to reach beauty by balance and simplicity. I always stimulate people in the team to simplify and to think about production manifold details, as the result’s feasibility and quality are highly dependent on the industrial process complexity.

GCD: Can you describe a typical work day for you?

AC: I have no typical workday: I can be in a design presentation with top management in the morning presenting scale models and in the production plant in the afternoon talking with the quality manager. I love working in this transversal role, but it sure requires lots of different skills and focus.

GCD: What advice would you give young designers aspiring to become car designers?

AC: Never give up! Rely on your passion, be opened and curious and don´t be afraid to say you don´t know – find the experienced people who can give you the answers.

Watch out for stereotypes – value ideas first – and always encourage diversity in a team to boost creativity.

Finding your own peculiar style is a sufficiently hard task to accomplish, nevertheless try to challenge yourself continuosly, especially for ideas, not only for rendering!

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