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201408 May

ian kettle volvo car group

Ian Kettle
Exterior Designer,
Volvo car Group, Sweden

Ian Kettle is a British car designer currently working for Volvo Car Group in Gothenburg, Sweden. Studying at both Coventry University and the Hong Kong Polytechinc University before graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and joining Volvo soon after, Ian has created a large range of exterior proposals for both upcoming production and concept vehicles. Being a part of the small Volvo Exterior Design team and working all the way from initial sketch through to full size models, Ian has actively taken part in, as well as experienced first-hand, the exciting design transition Volvo Car Group is currently going through under its SVP Design Thomas Ingenlath.

Prior to graduating from the RCA, Ian’s previous experience includes periods as an interior designer at Bentley Motors in the UK as well as a product designer at various consultancies in both London and Hong Kong where he worked on an extremely varied range of projects from first class Airbus A380 cabins to consumer electronics . Ian’s passion for design and automobiles runs deep and his work has been featured in print as well as being exhibited in Germany, South Korea and China, amongst others.


We spoke with Ian Kettle, Exterior designer at Volvo about the design philosophy behind the new concepts that Volvo have shown in the past year, about Volvo’s focus on safety and also got some insight on Scandinavian design ethos.


SJ: Could you give us the design story behind the new concepts that Volvo has shown in the last few months?

IK: The 3 show cars represent the design directions that Thomas Ingenlath envisioned along with his team including me. It’s our vision for the next generation of Volvo vehicles. We really wanted to express Scandinavian identity with these vehicles. We felt that as a company Volvo had a unique opportunity to become the only Scandinavian car company, to give us a distinct edge over our main competitors Audi, BMW, Mercedes and so forth. The 3 show cars represent 3 aspects of Scandinavian culture that we want to communicate. The idea is Scandinavian authority which is represented in this kind of intellectual side of Scandinavian life. It’s a high quality life, beautiful products, and beautiful people. The second side is Scandinavian activity which represents the outdoor lifestyle we have in Scandinavia; it’s a large country with a relatively small population. We wanted to show how people who live there really enjoy taking part in nature; doing skiing, going cycling, going kayaking, running etc. The final one we wanted to do was Scandinavian creativity which was the final show car launched in Geneva this year. It represents the more wild, the more creative and unexpected side of Scandinavian culture; the kind of Scandinavian culture that’s exemplified by Spotify or Pirate Bay or Bjorn Borg underwear or Hasselblad cameras. This is almost a sexy side to Scandinavian culture. 


volvo xc coupe

Volvo's new designs are intended to be high-quality, out-doorsy, creative and sexy. The XC Coupe Concept pictured here will logically evolve into the next-generation XC90.

Explore other Volvo Concept cars, including the Concept Estate and Concept Coupe


SJ: Will we see the Polestar (Volvo’s performance division) lineup come to India?

IK: I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t tell you, I would hope so. But I don’t have anything really to do with them so I can’t really say. I would love to see them there. I love the stuff they do.


SJ: How is Volvo’s focus on passenger and pedestrian safety driving the design direction at Volvo?

IK: From a technical point of view we always have a lot of input from the safety team and it does affect what we do as designers a lot. Volvo has very particular safety standards that we must work to, that go beyond the legal requirements for a car. For instance, Volvo interior designers have very strict tolerances to work to regarding the radii of edges within the interior: any surface edge that you could come into contact with during an accident has a minimum radius set by Volvo that goes beyond the legal requirement, so that nothing is so sharp within an interior that it could cut or impale you in an accident. Because Volvo wants to have extremely high safety ratings we put those requirements in ourselves. Another thing is regarding sight lines when designing the exterior showing the amount you can see out the car and so forth, they also have very specific Volvo guidelines that we have to work towards so you get a safer vehicle. And it does drive the brand very much, as it should because it’s a corner stone of the brand.


SJ: How does Scandinavian design adapt to local market trends when being launched in non-western foreign markets? The western market has a definite understanding of Scandinavian design; I don’t think Asia specially India and China are that aware of the same?

IK: I think you are very correct in saying that. Obviously when launching in China we get a lot of feedback and there is often a conflict of interest, the value that Scandinavian design represents, not just Volvo but in general the values they represent are very much at odds with what the Chinese market wants. So much of Scandinavian culture and Scandinavian life is about not showing off too much, it’s about being humble and much of selling these vehicles in China is often the opposite. Of course that’s not the whole story, but there is an element of that. And you are right; we have to consider how valid our message is to the audience in certain countries in Asia. I think that it’s definitely a challenge for us because obviously on one hand we could completely adapt our design language to fit the Asian market, but on the other hand if you do that you will lose a lot of credibility for your design. It’s always a balancing act, sometimes you have to find a solution which can be adapted from one market to another. There may be some parts for instance that we change between an Asian market and the western market, where the Asian market might be slightly less subtle in some of its fixtures and finishes. It’s not like its being downgraded to the Asian market, not at all; it just the taste is being changed in the material finishes sometimes.    


SJ: Is there a Swedish equivalent to the Danish ‘Jante Laws’ ?

IK: Yes but I couldn’t tell it to you off the top of my head. Obviously Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland and the other Scandinavian countries they all have distinct identities, they are not all one place but at the same time when you are looking from the outside particularly from somewhere as far away as India they do have a lot of similarities and many of the values are interchangeable. Obviously if you said that to a Swedish person they would be very insulted but as an outsider it feels broadly similar.


SJ: What did you think of the conference?

IK: I think the conference has been very successful, I think the range of speakers has been very good.


SJ: What about India? Is this your first time coming here?

IK: I came backpacking to India when I was 20 quite a few years ago now; spent a few months in India , I’ve been to Nepal a few times as well ( I know that’s not the same country). I love coming to India, I love coming to Asia in general, I love the smell, I love the busyness, I love going to town I don’t want to spend too much time here at the hotel, because it is a false environment. Every night I have been here I have gone into town just to experience it. It’s great, so much influence and creativity that I can take away from here, it’s great to be in India, I love it.


Ian Kettle was speaking with Swapnil Jadhav. Swapnil is an alumnus of the Pratt Institute, USA


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Volvo Car Features

"We really want to express Scandinavian identity with these vehicles." Ian Kettle, Volvo

We spoke with Ian Kettle, Exterior designer at Volvo about the design philosophy behind the new concepts that Volvo have shown in the past year, about Volvo focus on safety and also got some insight on Scandinavian design ethos.

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