“From cars to watches”: interview with designer Patrik Palovaara

“From cars to watches”: interview with designer Patrik Palovaara

An exclusive interview with Patrik Palovaara, a transportation designer and founder of Pansar Sweden, a new watches brand. He shares his experience and speaks about the different processes and approaches in the car design and product design fields.

In this in-depth interview, Patrik Palovaara shares his experience as a designer and business owner, speaks about the differences between the world of car design and the product design field, and gives some suggestions for students and young designers.

CBD – Hi Patrik, thank you very much for this interview. Could you give us a little background information about yourself?

Volvo Truck Design Sketch by Patrik PalovaaraThank you for having me! I’m an Industrial Designer with a major in transportation design.

I have worked as a contractor in a variety of fields, ranging from consumer products to heavy construction equipment.

The last couple of years I’ve been working as a senior designer for Volvo Trucks in Gothenburg, the world’s best truck company!

As an Industrial Designer, my greatest interest has always been in solving problems.

Volvo Truck Design Sketch by Patrik Palovaara This has naturally lead me to creating and improving things through design. I believe it comes down to the way I was educated at Umeå Institute of Design.

There, we were taught to keep the user in constant focus.

CBD – From cars to watches: could you tell us how and why you decided to enter this peculiar niche?

I have been a watch collector since the start of my design education. I am not attracted to a watch merely by brand or price.

For me, it is about design quality and uniqueness of style. I’m intrigued by watches because they possess so many different properties and qualities. These elements are shared in car design where proportion, fit and finish, and the execution of detail are foremost.

Pansar Watches Design StudioThe idea of designing a line of watches came to mind after talking with friends who really appreciate the designs of the big brands, but can’t afford the premium price.

A question was then raised in my head. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to experience the feeling of a well designed watch without having to pay a premium price?

Designer brands like Panerai, Bell & Ross and U-boat offer a history of good design with good quality but at an exclusive price… not for everyone’s wallet.

CBD – Compared to the transportation industry, the watch market seems less driven by technology and more influenced by tradition, brands and fashion. From this perspective, what is the role of designers?

When looking at the renowned brands, traditionally as a designer, your role is very limited to “curator” of the brand and its values, occasionally throwing in some new materials or a splash of “the color of the year” to spice things up.

Premium Modern WatchesMany exclusive watches are still very much a watchmaker’s dream with the personal skills reflected in the different brands, such as Richard Mille, Urwerk or MB&F.

They are creating amazing watches, though I feel that the innovation level of the movement is not always justly reflected in the watch case design, which serves to showcase your little wonder.

The fashion brands are more daring, but they seem to be missing a design strategy. With such a rapid design process, they rely much more on creating the next one hit wonder.

CBD – From a design standpoint, what are in your opinion the main similarities and differences between these two worlds?

Premium Modern WatchesThese two product groups have both become a symbol of status. Few products possess such characteristics to evoke the most primal of instincts, the “I’ve got to have that!” emotion.

Timeless designs, classic proportions and a cohesive form language with simplicity and functionality as guidelines are the key ingredients.

It all comes down to both being an extension of your ego. It’s a statement, a way of communicating to the world. “Look at me! This is who I am.” Whether you drive a Prius or wear a Rolex.

Car Design Sketches by Patrik PalovaaraThe transportation industry is much more about context and has almost become a political symbol when it comes to fighting climate change. With the design of a vehicle, not only can you radically change the appearance, you can improve more vital areas like aerodynamics in order to lower Co2 emissions.

Even though I love the tiny wonder of mechanical engineering around my wrist, it doesn’t have the power to change the world. It simply shows you if you’re on time or late in a more self confident looking way.

Truck Design by Patrik Palovaara CBD – It is often said that given the complexity of cars, transportation designers can quite “easily” switch to design other types of products. What is your experience on this regard?

I think this is very true. Most transportation designers are much more sketch oriented and design driven, often working with very complex form problems of both the exterior and interior.

CBD – Apparently, most of today watches are not much different from 20 years ago, when the digital design technologies were at the very beginning. What is the role of modern digital tools and technology in the design process of a watch?

Considering that it’s a very conservative business where a lot of things still are made by hand, either to raise the exclusivity, or due to the fact that labour is so cheap. Depends on who’s doing the job, a skilled watchmaker in Switzerland or a mass production factory in China.

Pansar MoonracerMany of the renowned brands have a very thorough design process with digital surface modeling and engineering of both case and movement.

This is crucial when it comes to the extraordinary complexity of the movements and in case construction. It also improves the evaluation process and refinement of the design which is reviewed in physical models made in SLS or CNC milled models.

CBD – You decided to adopt a design approach similar to that used in automotive design. Was it challenging? What benefits did you find?

Pansar Sweden Design Theme SketchTraditionally, watch designers work very much in plain views. Based on these views, you get hand crafted samples and after some tweaking it’s off to production. It can be a very fast process, if you don’t consider design to be of importance.

The big challenge was to create one good package layout, a platform, from which I could develop the different concepts.

The design themes were generated through a series of sketch phases mixed with digital surface modeling spanning over almost 1 year.

Watches DesignRefining and evaluating the design in physical models. The advantage is that you’re able to reach a good level of design maturity when you have a longer lead time in the design process.

The biggest benefit from using digital surface modeling is that you have a more holistic approach and not only looking at it in 2D.

You get a more cohesive form language when looking at the watch in 3D, viewing it from every angle, working with dynamic character lines and proportions to get a natural balance in the watch.

CBD – Going the opposite way, are there any ideas that could be taken from the product design field and applied to the development of cars?

There are a lot of things you can look at. For example, you can study the execution in details where Apple is leading by example, especially when it comes to material, fit and finish, and also user friendliness.

Companies of consumer products tend to involve the whole product lifecycle process, from marketing to re-cycling, and how they’re working with in-depth user research and target groups.

CBD – You have founded your own company: what was your experience of starting and running a business?

Product Design by Patrik PalovaaraYou come to realize that after creating an awesome product, the approximate 90% of work remaining is getting the product on the market. It’s a tough journey, but so rewarding when you get feedback from users loving every bit of it.

CBD – Automobiles and watches: in both industries there are manufacturers with a long-time established tradition. What are the challenges for a new company that plans to emerge as a premium brand?

First of all, we are not there yet. This is a process which we know will take time. We are dedicated and willing to let it grow slowly. Launching a brand is the greatest challenge! We’re still in the infancy of Pansar as a brand.

Defining the aesthetic of the brand and creating the foundation for the pillars of what’s important about the brand, and the product focus require much attention. The biggest challenge is developing a brand from nothing because there is no historical base to draw from.

If you look at Tag Heuer, Rolex or Omega, they have awesome brand pillars in place, but then there’s another challenge. You are only a curator of all those pieces and evolving all that modern aesthetic.

CBD – What is your point on the design trends in the watch industry? And what are the main opportunities for innovation? Concept, technology, materials?

Pansar X1-Airborne Design PanelPersonally, I think there’s a big lack of design output in the watch biz today. It feels like the whole industry is suffering from stagnation.

The big brands are so busy preserving their brand values that they’ve almost forgotten to look to the future.

The trends tend to be very focused on “new” materials, colors or styles which then tend to apply for all. Everyone follows the leader.

There are brands that take concept innovation very seriously.

These innovations mostly concern movements, but there are not many flexing their muscles in this sense. This is mainly because it requires heavy investments in order to develop new movement platforms. On the positive side, some of the patents of movements are running out and it’s possible for other movement manufacturers to take up the production.

I also believe “new” brands have it easier to create watches “thinking out of the box” because they don’t need to consider existing model programmes and technical limitations.

CBD – How is your working environment structured in terms of design and engineering staff, production and technical partners?

Pansar Sweden WatchesPansar Sweden is owned by me and Stina Ohlsson. We’ve had the luck to have an old watchmaker friend, Johan Englund, who is well connected in the watch business.

Stina Ohlsson is our CEO with 20 years experience within hotel, marketing and finance. My role is that of creative director, responsible for the design. I am also involved in branding, marketing and sales.

I speak to customers that we have direct relationships with. It’s a very hand’s on approach. We manage everything ourselves and with some additional help from a Danish watch wiz in H.K.

CBD – Being your own “boss” means – we guess – that you play a decisive role in the design evaluation and review. Is this a relief or does it result in more stress and distractions from the pure creative activities?

Even though I have the final word, Stina Ohlsson, our CEO takes a big part in the decision making process.

We also have a focus group consisting of 10 persons that we use in clinics and interview, in order to understand the needs, behaviors and triggers. Of course the final decision is entirely my call and can sometimes be stressful, but when you have worked with a project for so long the decision making becomes very natural.

CBD – There are many design students who love cars but would also like to explore other product markets. What suggestion could you give to them?

Patrik Palovaara I believe the foundation lies not only in a good education, but also in understanding a globally diverse market and user needs. Be open-minded and create a broad knowledge base. Be true to your own ideas, but be realistic.

Don’t give away good product ideas to companies to show your talent. If they’re serious, they will pay you for your ideas. Otherwise, do it yourself if you believe in it.

CBD – Are you planning to expand the “Pansar Sweden” brand to other products?

Only time will tell. Right now we are focusing on the watch business. It would, of course, be interesting to see what could come out in other products. However, we don’t want to diversify the brand unless we have something really good that keeps in line with our company philosophy.

CBD – Thank you very much for the interview, Patrik!

For more information on Pansar visit www.pansarsweden.com.

(Image Courtesy: Pansar Sweden)

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