The first two videos include Max Wolff’s speech held at Autoweek Design Forum 2012 on January 12, 2012, and a short Q&A session, with questions posted on the Lincoln Facebook page.
After the videos we report another official interview published on the new “Lincoln Now” section of the company’s corporate website.
Q&A with Max Wolff
Born from a childhood obsession with sketching buses and trucks, Max Wolff’s passion for the automotive world runs deep. “I remember the first car magazine I ever bought that had sketches inside it,” he said from the Lincoln design studio in Dearborn, MI. “I remember seeing those and thinking, ‘Wow, I’d like to be able to do that one day.’”
It’s fair to say he exceeded that goal. As design director for Lincoln, Wolff is literally shaping the future of Lincoln vehicles.
On a daily basis he oversees the design process from the exterior shape of a vehicle to a quarter-millimeter gap around an interior switch.
We asked Max to talk about the link between design, technology and craftsmanship—and how the industry has surpassed more than he could even imagine back when he was sketching in his notebooks during class.
Does the beauty of the car go beyond visual aesthetics?
Absolutely, it does. A car is the sum of all of its parts. That’s what makes a car so amazing. I think no matter what you do with a car aesthetically, no matter how good looking you make a car, it needs all of the other things. It needs the performance aspects. It needs the technology aspects. It needs the craftsmanship to go into it.
There’s no point having a beautiful looking car if it’s really badly built. There’s no point having a beautiful looking car if it doesn’t go.
And to the same point, there’s not much point having a car that lasts forever and goes really well if it doesn’t look any good. So, I think everything that goes into a car makes it a successful vehicle in the end.
What can technology do to enable great design?
The technology involved in creating a car is amazing, and one of the things we’re constantly adapting to in our process is how much of this new technology we use. Of course, we use tons of technology. And we use a lot of the same visualization techniques that you would see in movies or high-end photography or CGI.
We use software similar to what is used to create animation movies, but specially refined for automotive applications.
It enables us to see a full-size image of a vehicle completely rendered, in all of its colors, two years before it’s ever seen on the road.
We have very skilled computer operators; some have been clay sculptors and they learned this new tool and now they’re math sculptors.
What does that give you as a designer?
Developing a car with math and putting it in its environment allows us to get a feel for the car much earlier. It allows us to spot things we might like to modify early on. It allows us to do different things with design, too. I’m not sure it changes the physical—holding the steering wheel—but it definitely changes the way you interact with the vehicle.
How does technology impact the experience for the driver?
The way that we interface with devices and products has changed significantly over the last few years. We don’t push as many buttons; we’re more accustomed to dealing with screens or, as in the case of Lincoln vehicles, capacity of touch buttons in the interior.
Rather than a switch or knob, you’ll just gently swipe your hand and the volume on your stereo goes up.
It’s a little piece of magic for the customer, but as designers, it’s allowed us to clean up the interior.
Certainly, as we look to the next generation of Lincoln and of that technology, we have even more opportunities coming forward.
How did it feel the first time you saw a car you designed on the road?
It was amazing. The first car I ever worked on, I was incredibly fortunate. I got the job right at the beginning of a project. I was able to go through the whole process from initial sketch, all the way to the final vehicle. For me to go through that process in the first three years of my career was an incredible learning experience.
A lot of the creative work is done very early on and then by the time the car actually hits the streets, you’re two or three projects beyond that, but it is a great thrill.
What products excite you?
A lot of the new electronics are very exciting to see. They’re a bit faster than we are in terms of getting product to market. It excites me not only from a design standpoint, but also with what it’s going to lead into next. And what opportunities that gives me as a designer to pull into our products and, therefore, push our products further as well.
Furniture is a bit similar in that there can be breakthroughs by a new way of using material. Obviously, injection multiplastics were a huge breakthrough in furniture, as it later was for cars.
So, it’s good to keep an eye on what’s happening in that world as well, so we can bring those discoveries into the future vision of Lincoln products.
Where do you want to take the automotive design world?
I’m incredibly passionate about getting the right proportion and stance on the road. I think luxury cars exude a bit of confidence about them. From 300 feet, you should be able to tell that it’s a luxury car, that it’s a Lincoln.
With Lincoln I want to continue the great work that the team has already done. We’ll continue to evolve some of the graphics in the front and rear ends and even on the sides of the car. And then absolute attention to detail on all of the little constituent parts that make up the vehicle.
The design of the wheels, the design of the lamps; continuing to push new technology – not only technology that the customer can see, but also technology that we might use in manufacturing that enables us to do something that we’ve never done before and that’s allowed us to go to a different creative space. On the interior, more integration of the technologies that we use. And, again, attention to detail and craftsmanship.
You have to be kind of a visionary as to what people are going to want five years from now. What is it like?
Sure, I think there is that visionary aspect; there is that looking forward to what you might want to do two, three, four, five years from now, but it’s a collaborative process, too. I’ve been very fortunate in that the things that I like about cars, turns out a lot of other people like them too.
I don’t necessarily have this kind of methodology or anything, but my team and I gain inspiration from the things that happen around us and we come together. It’s getting that right mix of people and influences and then collaborating together and saying, “Yes, this is the right pathway to go in, you know, four or five years down the track.”
Fashion and product design can be big influences on some of the color and materials choices that we make. I read once that what you see on the runways today, you’ll often see in cars two, three, four years in the future. And it’s kind of true.
What’s the perfect road to drive on?
I’ve always wanted to drive on the Stelvio Pass in Italy that goes up through the Alps. Also, the Great Ocean Road in Victoria in Australia, which is where I’m from. I’ve been told that’s similar to the Pacific Highway in California. So, that sort of twisty, windy, cliff-top road next to a beach is probably my ideal road.