Designer Spotlight: Joshua Reer

Joshua is an automotive designer from Hannover, Germany. He has worked on interior designs for Byton, Infiniti and Groupe Renault. We interviewed Joshua to find out where he gets his inspiration, what motivated him to become a car designer, and how he thinks working in VR will change automotive design.

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Designer Spotlight: Joshua Reer
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Why did you decide to become an automotive designer? Can you tell us a bit about your career? 

I have always wanted to do something creative. I pursued architecture and interior design early on, but then I chose to educate myself as a car interior designer. The two have a lot of similarities. Especially these days, as car interiors are regarded more as a living space than just a driving space. 

I’m pretty happy that I chose this route of car design, because there is a lot to learn and many challenges to face. The standard of design is quite high, and the design process in car design is sophisticated. I feel like it is a great foundation to learn from. 

What do you find the most interesting part of working on the interior of a car? 

The experience you create for the user. In the interior you have a lot of different parts that you have to match together to create one convincing and understandable picture. That makes or breaks the experience. From the moment when the user gets into the car, the feeling he gets and the way he perceives how to operate it, that’s the most interesting part for me. 

How did you find the transition from your education to working in the industry and having to put those skills into practice? 

The good thing about our education is that you usually get the opportunity to look into the industry by doing an internship. Also, you have people coming in from the industry to teach you at the university. You can get a pretty good picture from very early on. I recommend everyone to do an internship or a student working job to find out how the industry works and to learn from the best. 

In terms of the transition, in my eyes, you always have to learn, you always have to improve yourself: no matter if you’re a student, if you’ve just joined the company, or if you’ve been working there for ten years (the last thing is a guess, as I haven’t). Especially in design, nowadays with all these new tools, you always have to be open to adjust and to learn new things. 

Were there any big changes from your workflow at university to working in the industry?

At school the work is a lot more conceptual, I would say. In the industry you are faced with a lot more constraints when you do a production model, which you aren’t faced with when you do a concept model at school. But that is where you learn how reality works and what is possible and what not. 

What constraints are there in the industry that prevent people from trying out new ways of working? 

The automotive industry is a slow changing industry – at least that is how it is often perceived when looking at the past. This is also due to the fact that the processes are quite sophisticated and thus not as easy to change from one day to the next. It is possible to implement something new, but it takes some time until you can really start using it. And on a day-to-day basis, there’s isn’t much time to implement something new, because in order to start using a new tool, there has to be a really intriguing factor to it, and you have to give people time to look into it. 

Even with Gravity Sketch, it’s a super-easy tool to learn, very intuitive, but even then you have to give people the necessary time. And of course it differs from person to person, how a tool is perceived, and how easy it is for them to use it. 

Do you see any resistance from older, more experienced designers, to new technology like VR? Are people stuck in their ways? 

I think no one should be forced to work with a specific set of tools. Especially in a creative environment the choice of tools is also a part of everyone’s creative process. To a certain extent, everyone should be free in their choice of tools. It’s not solely a generational question. It depends on the individual and their background. 

How has your personal workflow evolved from being a student to now being a professional designer? 

In a professional production setting, the leeway can be quite different. That is one of the bigger changes after being a student and then going into a real job. In university you don’t have these kinds of constraints a production project brings with it, which is logical. A car takes a long time to do, and in university you don’t have so much time. 

So part of what you learn on the job is: the production constraints, working with a package, restricting yourself on a package and still trying to do something that makes good design sense, which is very new to some people when they come from school. 

When you start a new design process for a new vehicle what’s your process? Do you still start sketching with pen and paper, or do you jump straight into 3D?

I use everything at my disposal. I always have paper around. If you have an epiphany paper is still a great way to visualise it. Another situation is working directly on an engineering package. In that case it can be good to throw some 3D surfaces in, to make sure that what you imagine is feasible. It really depends on the stage of the object you’re working on. One time, we had a new interior challenge, and the task was then transferring a Photoshop sketch of an interior into 3D, which I did in VR. That was a great use of VR in my eyes, and a lot of other people saw the value in it too. 

Can you explain how an interior design team works? Do different people have different tasks, or do you look at it more holistically? 

At the beginning of a new interior project you have a briefing and a so-called “design challenge.” Often multiple designers can participate in that challenge, so people use their own process, their own tools, and they propose ideas based on the briefing. This is the part of the project where the scope of ideas is the widest. From this challenge there will be a selection, and based on this selection, (it really depends on the company and project how long this process is, sometimes there are pre-selections, and then further selections) a number of designers are selected to continue. 

Then there is a more detailed stage where modelers and designers use 3D to create a virtual model of the interior. If you have more than one proposal at this stage there is another selection. After these steps you have one design that is chosen to be refined for production. The main designer who created the original proposal, remains working on the project. Additionally, other designers and modelers join to support her/him working on different parts. There are many sophisticated parts in a car interior – the steering wheel, the seat, the buttons etc. – one person can’t do it all. 

Have you noticed any interesting automotive design trends that people should be looking out for? 

Certainly, autonomy has been shaping a lot of design concepts coming out now. Also, what’s recently been coming up more and more is the idea of last-mile commuters, or smaller mobility solutions. 

For example, SEAT made an electric scooter very recently and that was certainly not the first one I’ve seen. The industry is branching out in terms of mobility solutions. 

Do you see electric or autonomous vehicles impacting the way you design? Will it constrain you or open up more possibilities? 

If you have an electric drivetrain, the vehicle architecture changes immediately. As a designer, you always have to work within the range of a certain package, and this package defines a lot of things. So with an electric car, you may have no tunnel because you don’t have a gearbox, so what do you do with the space? 

In the Byton M-Byte for example, you have a completely open footwell, so a driver’s and passenger’s feet could touch. It gives a feeling of spaciousness that you don’t have with a gearbox in between driver and passenger. And this spaciousness you can design. 

Have you had the chance to work on any electric or autonomous vehicles? 

Yes, the Byton M-Byte is an electric vehicle. 

Have you had a favourite project that you’ve worked on, in university or at work? 

I try to enjoy every project. Sometimes you have certain smaller things you have to do day-to-day that you don’t favour so much, but there’s always a lot of interesting things going on. And there’s always something to learn, which is the most important thing. 

You’ve mentioned the importance of willingness to learn new things. What other qualities make a great designer? 

This is a difficult question, because there is no single golden rule for being a great designer. Especially because the job is a team effort. For oneself, it is important to accept the trial and error process that it takes to become a designer. Young people especially, need to accept that it’s a longer process. You have to learn that you’re going to fail and have to try again, and learn from that. Sure there are certain rules for design, certain rules that the great Dieter Rams wrote, certain rules about aesthetics and symmetry, but they don’t solve every design problem like a math formula would solve a math problem. It’s a process of trial and error. And having a good team for feedback and support is crucial for every design project. 

When were you first exposed to VR? 

In 2017, I was with friends messing around in VR. We were curious and trying stuff out and then basically after that I got my own headset. 

When did you first try Gravity Sketch? 

Also in 2017. 

At which point in the design process do you start using Gravity Sketch? 

I sometimes start right in the beginning, during the so-called “ideation” phase. Specifically in the car industry I like how it can improve the communication between the designer and the modeler. 

How does Gravity Sketch help the communication between the designer to the modeler? 

With Gravity Sketch being an agile and lightweight tool, designers can use it without being held back by the complexity of other 3D tools to communicate directly in 3D. Of course this possibility already exists but in my eyes not as intuitive and direct as Gravity Sketch offers it. 3D to 3D communication just has less barriers than 2D to 3D. And especially with VR the possibilities to assess the design while creating are immense. 

Do you ever use VR for design reviews? 

For design reviews, 100%. I think this stage is more established than anything else in VR in the industry right now. For example, VRED plus VR is used all the time to have reviews and sit in the interiors. But drawing something directly in VR is not that common yet. 

You’ve mentioned that you have lots of constraints as an interior designer, for example ergonomics. Do you use VR to help you figure out the layout? 

Constraints aren’t necessarily always a negative thing. Ergonomics for example, are a very important factor because they serve the safety of the passenger. The company’s conduct studies on how you can reach certain things, where your head can go, where your head shouldn’t go. And that’s quite crucial, I would say. 

As a designer, in VR, you can roughly estimate some things. But in the car industry precision matters, so you won’t be able to measure something just by reaching out in VR and saying “okay this is my reach radius and that’s the constraint for the production model” – that’s not gonna work. But it’s certainly something that helps to perceive the space that you’re designing better, because you’re in it. 

What, for you, is the main benefit of working in VR? 

The immersive feeling that you have when creating. Especially if you have any kind of interior, the feeling for space is just different if you are designing it while standing or sitting (or laying) in it. 

Are there any challenges you find working in VR? 

Speaking for the industry, in terms of workspaces, creating something in VR is too inaccessible. It’s not like I go to my desktop and open Photoshop and then I start. Usually, if you want to use it, you have to walk somewhere else, grab the only headset in the office, start a different PC, and then transfer your files onto this PC – that takes way too long and is too complex. But if we could have a headset on every desk, it would be like double clicking the Photoshop icon. And that would make VR much more accessible to everyone. 

Do you ever get any comments from people who think that VR isn’t a serious tool that professionals could use? 

It’s still not very well-established in the industry, as far as I know. At least not for creation. Sure some people are curious about it. They are suspicious about it and ask ”how does it work? Will it really benefit me?” I wasn’t in the industry back then, but I’ve heard it was very similar when Photoshop and Wacom tablets appeared for the first time. There were educational courses and some people didn’t go because they thought “this is a weird thing that we won’t need.” And now everyone has a Cintiq. So maybe that’s part of the process. 

Where do you take your design inspiration from? 

Architecture, interior spaces, furniture – all these things are definitely a source of inspiration for automotive design. But these days, you have input from everywhere. You have pictures, moving imagery, audio everywhere, and everything can be taken as inspiration for something that you’re doing. For me it’s very crucial how you use these things for inspiration, not only where you find it. As you can find it everywhere, it’s key to know how you choose it and how you use it. 

If you want to see more of Joshua’a work, you can find him on Instagram @joshua_reer and on LinkedIn.

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