I Knew The Future Depends on Interior Design
Andreas Kurbos, CEO studiokurbos GmbH
2024년 03월호 지면기사  / 한상민 기자_han@autoelectronics.co.kr

Andreas Kurbos CEO, studiokurbos GmbH    

studiokurbos is an independent design studio with offices in Stuttgart and Shanghai. Andreas Kurbos, who led the design team at Daimler MBtech in his mid-20s, sold his beloved Porsche 964 in 2013 to fund the founding of studiokurbos, leading it to become the global design powerhouse it is today. The company is now widely known as a specialist in automotive, product, and particularly user experience design for brands and markets worldwide. I heard stories about Kurbos CEO's foresight.

written by Han@autoelectronics.co.kr

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Before talking about yourself and your company, I would appreciate it if you could summarize this CES in a few lines.

Kurbos        Our recent visit to CES 2024 in Las Vegas provided a firsthand look at the latest developments in consumer electronics and technology. CES buzzed with showcasing what will be new and exciting in the future.
With a significant focus on in-car user experience, various players joined the game, a development we highly welcome. We also appreciated the emphasis on addressing sustainability, digital health, and accessibility topics.

Also AI's potential is set to revolutionize how we communicate, conduct business, and care for one another, showcasing cutting-edge applications that promise transformative impacts on our world.
Many companies provided insights into the changing mobility landscape, showcasing future advancements in autonomous vehicles, EVs, micro-mobility, software-defined vehicles, and even flying cars.
Among the notable exhibitors were BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Magna, Mercedes, Paccar, Recaro, Sony, Supernal, Togg, and Vinfast.

When did you dream of becoming a car designer? Your hometown is in Germany and you currently work there, but you grew up in Nice, France and studied design in Italy. How has this affected you?

Kurbos        I have a strong personal connection with cars, particularly with Mercedes and Porsche. I was born in Stuttgart but grew up in France. My father was a professional soccer player which meant I moved around a lot and had the opportunity to explore many different cities. As a child, this was a challenge for me: I attended two different kindergartens, five primary schools, and two secondary schools. My parents instilled in me a love for Mercedes and Porsche, and I developed an almost undying fascination with these brands.

My childhood made me a multicultural person. I like to look for cultural challenges, I like the foreign and the country and the people abroad. Creating new things is an integral part of my personality. I discovered my love for art and creativity at an early age. All these factors led me to my current job as an automobile and product designer and also to set up and run my own company.

studiokurbos is an independent design studio with offices in Stuttgart and Shanghai. They act as interdisciplinary design partners, creating mobility, products, and user experiences for brands and markets worldwide.  

I see. However, you are also associated with Italy. For example, it is said that when you graduate from RCA, you are greatly influenced by British culture and design. Especially, What does Istituto Europeo di Design mean to you?

Kurbos        I consciously decided to study in Italy. I wanted to get to know the country, the people, and the language. The Italian design scene in Turin and Milan is very exciting, and I enjoyed it to the fullest! Yes, the Italian approach to designing vehicles is truly different from what is seen at schools like Pforzheim or in London. However, it must be specified that I studied there in the 2000s, when Photoshop itself was in its infancy from today's perspective. But the Italian design approach to proportions, the harmony of lines, and the dosage of details were very formative for me.


"I saw that the future was about interiors,
and I got convinced that it's where everything was heading"

So, was smart, the Daimler brand, your first job in 2003? What led you here? If there was a design idea that influenced your employment, please tell us a story about it.

Kurbos        Yes, Daimler's smart was my first job in 2003, but I actually started as an intern at smart in August 2000 and had a great time there. During this period, smart felt like a startup with flat hierarchies and incredibly inspiring colleagues. We operated as a small team, which meant everyone was involved in a variety of projects - there were no specific exterior or interior teams; all colleagues were encouraged to contribute across the board, whether it was production vehicles or show cars. At smart, I learned a lot about working with different materials, giving vehicles personality, and establishing a brand. The company valued openness, honesty, and diversity, which were essential to its culture.

One important thing I learned at smart was that a car's identity isn't only about the front grille and headlights. While these parts are important, a car's design involves more. People like to look at people's faces. But a design DNA can also be defined by other aspects such as a design language, materials, contrasts, proportions, and posture. 
Looking ahead to today, we're now concentrating more on creating a digital identity and making the interior experience better for users.

After excluding internships, you moved on from smart within three years to lead a design team at Daimler MBtech? How did you land that position? What did you accomplish there?

Kurbos        The design and development department closed in the summer of 2005. 
This setback gave me the opportunity to prove myself anew. That's when I decided to join MBtech, which was a subsidiary of Daimler AG at that time. Those were my first experiences as a service provider and above all as a manager. Over the course of 5 years, I led a team of around 20 designers, and this allowed me to gain invaluable experience in project planning, writing proposals, winning clients, and most importantly, recruiting and developing employees. Additionally, I was able to take part in Daimler's management training courses, which was an excellent opportunity for me. I was in my mid-20s at that time. I still draw on that experience today.

It's impressive to lead a team in your twenties. Could you now introduce studiokurbos as it stands today? What prompted you to establish this design company, and what were your goals? Did you face any challenges in the early stages of the business?

Kurbos        studiokurbos is an owner-operated and independent design studio with offices in Stuttgart and Shanghai. I started the company as a “one man show” in 2013 and the company employs today around 50 team members. As an interdisciplinary design partner, we create mobility, products, and user experiences for brands and markets around the world. 

The reason? I recognized a need over ten years ago. Even then, I saw that the future is about interior design; it was where everything was heading, and I was convinced of it.

However, making such a move wasn't easy. At the time, I sold my old Porsche, a 964, for 30,000 euros, which became my starting capital. I immediately hired one employee, and by the end of 2013, we had three employees covering the key areas of expertise that we still offer today: interior and exterior design, CAD (digital form-finding development), and UI/UX design. I'm more of a sales guy myself, so it was clear to me: if I do this, I won’t be doing the drawings myself. Instead, I aimed to establish the company around these three essential pillars and recruit the best talent for each role.

Kurbos realized in 2013 that 'the future lies in interior design.' The photo depicts the interior design of the ongoing RUMBA project, a collaboration between studiokurbos and prominent partners in the research and technology fields, including Audi, Bosch, and the University of Stuttgart.

It seems that when designing cars, not only ordinary people but also designers used to consider the exterior, especially in the past. But you seem to be different. Could you please elaborate more on the reason behind that?

Kurbos        The exterior design makes the first visual impression, while the interior is where you feel and experience. I noticed back in 2013 that the future lay in interior design, focusing on user interface, material design, and ultimately, the entire user experience from the user's perspective. The user-centric approach was a prominent topic in the early 2010s.

Today's trends include the integration of systems and vehicles, lightweight construction, autonomous driving, and sustainability. I understood that developments in this area would progress rapidly, requiring a combination of high quality, agility, and speed. Implementing something like this in a big company is difficult. But this is exactly where the opportunities lie for small, flexible, highly qualified, external forces, so to speak. 

However, this is where opportunities arise for small, flexible, and highly qualified external entities, so to speak. It's about quickly developing new or alternative creative approaches, recognizing trends, providing impulses, and being willing to discard ideas if necessary.
I think that was mostly what I realized from working with the design teams back then. And ultimately, our studio's ten-year history has confirmed exactly that.


"The car will be designed from the inside out... Specialized knowledge in material selection that provides specific benefits for specific projects is essential"    

In our previous issue, we discussed KARLI project related to studiokurbos. Similar question, but with the evolving factors surrounding automotive design today and in the future, such as aesthetic, technological, regulatory, autonomous driving, and climate change. How are these factors reflected in studiokurbos' concepts and portfolio?"

Kurbos        We are currently working on two government-sponsored (German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection) research projects, KARLI and RUMBA, in collaboration with renowned partners from the research and technology sectors, including Audi AG, Bosch GmbH, and the University of Stuttgart. These projects aim to revolutionize the interior design and passenger experience during fully automated driving. Autonomous driving opens entirely new possibilities for vehicle architecture and user experience, transforming the automobile from a mere means of transport into an experiential space.

With new technologies, design developments have become increasingly complex. e.g. with the choice of materials and colors. Today, expertise in selecting materials with specific benefits tailored to the specific project is essential. Our team of experts supports and advises clients throughout the entire development process, addressing issues such as sustainability, digitalization, surface design, and virtual reality.

To pave the way for innovative brand paths, our experts' diverse skills contribute to the overall concept. Each employee has a strong visual design talent and complements the team with unique specializations. Our studio often leads projects that encompass a wide range of design focuses, including design strategies, UX and UI design, automotive and product design, color and material design, digital form finding, CGI visualization, animations, and VR/AR experience models.

Designers bear a responsibility to create a better future. I welcome all challenges that come with embracing a holistic approach that spans across all design disciplines. It is about rethinking the future, with all the consequences and responsibilities that we have for this planet! Circular economy is a huge and important topic. We must consider how and where new materials are sourced, how they're used, processed, and reintegrated back into the cycle.

Autonomous driving represents a significant shift, creating entirely new design options, especially regarding how interiors can be utilized. Kurbos states, 'The car will be designed from the inside out.' The focus is tailored to their needs and the impact on driving experiences in various driving situations. The photos depict the KARLI project.

Do digital transformation and changes in processes, mindsets, and organizations have a significant impact on automotive "design" itself?

Kurbos        For example, Autonomous driving is a huge transformation and creates completely new design options for how the interior in particular can be used. Vehicles will be designed from the inside out. The focus is on people with their needs and the impact on the driving experience in different driving situations.

The digital transformation shapes, changes and also accelerates our design processes. I can't remember how often we've moved teams from Windows to Mac and vice versa in the last 10 years. Software development is happening rapidly in the areas of AI, VR/AR and CAD. But it's exactly this aspect that makes it exciting, even if paper and pen are still the analogue masterpieces for designers.

In the meantime, we have applied a fully digital design process to most of our projects in recent years. Virtual design models for automotive, mobility, and products have been developed step by step as 3D models and discussed and refined in parallel workflows with the client in VR presentations and workshops. We can realistically simulate not only the vehicle but also the environment, providing a comprehensive virtual experience. With VR technology, customers can experience the vehicle in three dimensions alongside the design team, make decisions on changes, and implement them more quickly.

In essence, the new process and its possibilities create a very direct and holistic design experience, helping designers bring their ideas to life faster and more authentically. Today, we are experimenting with AI and exploring the possibilities of meaningful implementation in our processes without compromising the company's individual style. 


“We aim to be a design consulate for
Asian manufacturers seeking to enter the European market”

studiokurbos' stage of activities is all over the world. That's why I think you know well that there will be differences in exterior, interior design, HMI, etc. which are preferred by regional customers, end consumers, and studiokurbos designers. What can you tell me about this?

Kurbos        We are currently in the midst of a significant transformation from combustion engines to e-mobility. In these uncertain times, design plays a central role and becomes a trusted partner in delivering the brand promise, especially for traditional manufacturers. However, it can also pose a threat if society consciously seeks new things or if manufacturers struggle to keep their brand promises during this transition.

New manufacturers are emerging, especially in Asian markets. Regional taste plays a big role. The developments in China and India are particularly interesting. These countries initially lacked a distinct design DNA and learned from the West by copying and celebrating their role models, which is a cultural aspect. Currently, these Asian car manufacturers are experimenting and finding their own design identities, which I very much welcome. Our own design DNA will only crystallize over the next few years, and we will see who is successful and who is not.

Meanwhile, Western car manufacturers are continuing to evolve and have attempted to establish unique design languages for their electric brands, such as EQ from Mercedes-Benz, BMWi, or the e-tron models from Audi. These efforts have not always been well-received and have caused some unease among traditional manufacturers. Many are now phasing out these approaches and refocusing on their original values..

This is also what studiokurbos in Shanghai stands for; we aim to be a design consulate for Asian manufacturers seeking to enter the European market. The focus is on complete vehicles for the European market, derivatives, facelifts and Europeanized colors and materials. Don't forget the complete user interface in western languages.

Lastly, is there a possibility to add a Korean company to your list of customers? Please say something to your Korean readers.

Kurbos        studiokurbos is a very cosmopolitan company, and I demonstrate this attitude every day. I would like to gain additional markets for studiokurbos, and South Korea also plays a big role in this. The Korean vehicle manufacturers are very established and have less demand than the Chinese or currently Indian manufacturers and start-ups. But we are in very good contact with the KIA and Hyundai design studios in Germany. I'm really looking forward to my first trip to South Korea, the design scene is a small family - everyone knows each other!

AEM_Automotive Electronics Magazine

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