Images: Justin Ratcliffe

THE NETHERLANDS, Amsterdam. Following on from Philippe Starck’s amusing yet revealing keynote speech at the close of the Global Superyacht Forum (GSF) 2012, this year it was the turn of guest speaker Chris Bangle, who injected a similar element of humour and critical insight into the proceedings. Formerly head of design for BMW, Bangle – like Starck – is a controversial figure in the design world, regarded as either a forward thinker or a reckless agitator. The truth is, he is both, but always for a reason. His presentation, entitled ‘Understanding, Believing, Seeing’, tackled the most basic elements of what designers do.

“Understanding is about doing your homework and research,” he explained, “but it’s also about humility, it’s about admitting you don’t know everything and that maybe your view of the world is not the only view. It’s the same with believing. In the world of cars there is no magic formula that says this is the car that everyone will buy, you have to actually believe it and that requires not only confidence and commitment, but also courage. Then there is seeing, which means really seeing and really looking… the fundamental question is why are we doing this?”

Chris Bangle

He went on to describe the close association between car, yacht and plane design. Car designers, like their yachting counterparts, are “totally in love with surfaces.” After the box-like Model T Ford, car surfaces were largely developed from hull-shaped forms and the lofting methodologies used by naval architects were imported into the automotive industry. Then cars began to look more like flying machines with teardrop-shaped bodies and fins. A fundamental change occurred in the 1980s when welding by hand was replaced with automation technology, which demanded simpler forms and the standard family car started to look like a refrigerator on wheels. Whereas the early cars were available in any colour as long as it was black, nowadays they come in any colour, but usually silver.

Bangle pointed to a subtle distinction between cars and automobiles: “Automobiles are what you use a car is what you are,” adding that the meaning of ‘automobile’ (self-moving) could just as easily refer to an elevator. When his radical, fabric-skinned GINA concept car for BMW first appeared, it completely changed our perception of what a car should look like or be made of. It challenged the notion in the automotive industry that form necessarily follows fabrication and that cars have to be made of pressed steel or moulded composites. Many of the same assumptions and preconceptions apply to modern yacht design and Bangle was playfully critical of the random nature of superstructure shapes on the market.

Towards the end of the session, Martin H Redmayne asked the designer to describe his design process or methodology. Bangle drew on the same metaphor he used when interviewed in Q4 of SuperyachtDesign, which was actually paraphrased from a novel by the late John Updike in which the author describes a game of golf as “a happy infant bouncing in a blanket we all held a corner of.” An obscure quote perhaps, but one that lies at the heart of Bangle’s philosophy of design, because if any member of the team lets go of his corner of the blanket, the project is doomed to failure. “That’s why I called my company Chris Bangle Associates and not Chris Bangle Design, because ‘associates’ suggests collaboration and that we’re in this together.”

His parting message was that we have to explore the fundamental elements of design that are usually left unsaid or unspoken. “This involves getting people out of their skins a bit, but keeping the baby happy is never easy.”

Related Links:
Chris Bangle Associates