Watch episode 2, where Anders tries out Britta’s job at Special Vehicles, click here.
Surface designers – the ones creating the car from scratch
These people are responsible for every corner, swoop and line you see on a car, yet their profession is one very few people even know exist.
When you look at a Volvo car – the beautiful lines of the body, the impeccable Thor’s Hammer headlights, the clean interior with all the nifty details – every inch is carefully crafted by our surface designers. Surface designers, or “digital modelers”, use computer-generated 3D simulations like a pottery molds clay, creating models that link the worlds of the designer and the engineer.
At our design centres, everything from concept cars to accessories are modelled in this way. The design of production cars like the award-winning XC40 takes place at our main design centre in Gothenburg. In the first phase of creating a new model, a small team is created consisting of the designers, one or two surface designers, a physical designer, a representative from Colour & Trim, and a studio engineer. The team work together to map out the overall look of a new car.
Many ideas are tested, discarded, discussed and reworked until a digital draft version of the vehicle is finalised.
“At this stage the surfaces are still rather rough, so it’s more like a very advanced sketch of the car,” says Fredrik Wallmander, head of the Digital Concept Modelling team. “In the next step the surfaces are perfected and made into what we call an “A Class” surface, which is visually and mathematically perfect.”
This second phase is called A Class Modelling, and while the first concept modelling phase might have only one or two surface designers on one car, this phase can have up to fifty surface designers working on one model. They dive into the detail, perfecting the design of every curve on every part of the car. Once they are satisfied, these shapes will carry all the way through to the finished cars in production.
Because of the collaborative nature of the job, communication skills are key for surface designers. They also need to be able to handle stress well, have an eye for aesthetics, and be happy to invest a lot of time in front of their computer, perfecting designs. A normal day consists of around six or seven hours of intense design work, combined with one or two hours of meetings with a small team.
The surface designer role is never dull, thanks to the ability to work on different projects and different phases of the production cycle, from revolutionary new concept designs to detailed A Class modelling.
“For me this is a larger and more entertaining world than I had imagined,” says Surface Designer Anders Magnusson. “It combines technology and design, and you are part of the actual birth of our cars. I really love it.”
Facts: surface designer
– Surface designers are educated at selected design universities, and in special vocational schools.
– The automotive industry is one of many business areas actively looking for more surface designers.
– Volvo Cars has 80 surface designers in Gothenburg, Sweden, 7 in Shanghai, China and 1 in Camarillo, USA.
– The software programmes used are mainly Maya, Alias and Icem Surf.
Volvo Cars employees who are interested in trying a job swap themselves, read more here.