Interview with Page Beermann, Design Director, and Sue Neuhauser, Senior Design Manager for CMF, Faraday Future
Exclusively for K-MAG
Copyright: Faraday Future
Chris Lefteri: You developed a CMF Design strategy from the ground up, with a new brand and one particularly focused in the digital/physical world and I am really interested in how you see plastics in this brand. But let's start with an easy one – can you describe your backgrounds and your day-to-day jobs?
Page Beermann: Sure, I'm the Design Director at Faraday Future. Prior to this role, I was an automotive designer at BMW Designworks and BMW AG for 18 years. At Faraday we are very much about user focus first and deriving all our products' features and characteristics from user needs. The silhouette and proportion of the FF 91, for instance, has a mono-volume proportion, and the windscreen is very far forward on the car in order to maximise the footprint of the vehicle. This means users get the most possible interior functional space for the given vehicle size. We start with the user need and that evolves into the overall form language of the car. Our brand is also focused on digital integration and the user needs that exist around how we live in the digital world. These are the brand pillars that we translate into a design language and bring into the car. That's what I oversee here.
Sue Neuhauser: I'm the Senior Design Manager for CMF at Faraday Future, which also includes working on innovation. I have been in the European vehicle OEM world at Audi, Magna and MAN Bus & Truck in Exterior, Interior and CMF Design, before I moved to the start-up world in California in late 2010. Since than I have worked with Tesla, Neuron EV and other vehicle start-ups, including founding my own business before returning to Faraday. My experience - especially over the last 12 years in EV-start-up industry here in the US, helped me tremendously to create better creative and functional processes and being creative while innovative. In CMF Design it is important to identify and understanding future needs, markets, and consumer trends, including requirements and the ability to react to those macro-trends. We can push the boundaries in smarter and faster ways to achieve more efficiency.
Copyright: Faraday Future
Lefteri: When you were building and defining the CMF Design, what was the brief and how did you approach this idea of the user focus? Was there something in particular – you wanted the users to feel, an emotion you wanted them to feel?
Neuhauser: The brief was to create a futuristic design and user experience with a focus on tech – luxury, creating a new class defining species of vehicle. The user should get the feeling of stepping into the future when entering our vehicle. With the FF91 CMF Design we achieved a seamless connection and integration of surface design and technology elements, bringing the exterior and interior of the vehicle design together. A core aspect on our CMF approach was to achieve a design were technology and surface flow together through inside and outside.
Lefteri: Are there any examples you can cite of that?
Neuhauser: If you look at the information flow regarding the interface structure of the exterior and interior, for example – which are part of the seamless technology flow of the vehicle interior and exterior – they embed themselves into very exclusive and premium appearing high gloss piano black surfaces – the interface & information only appears when required or the screens are in use – it is about bringing surface design and technology together through smart materials and finishes.
One example is the seamless information flow on the exterior and interior. We have smart technology layers hidden in premium high gloss piano black surfaces that are part of our exterior and interior design theme. Information and interfaces are coming alive and visible when required or screens are in use.
Lefteri: And you mentioned the three key words of tech, luxury and sustainability. How do you bring those three themes together within CMF Design?
Neuhauser: First, we need to define where the future is heading and what this would mean specifically for the Faraday Future brand and its product segments. We research and analyse trends and innovations outside of the vehicle world and generate creative directions jointly as cross-functional design team. We (as Design team) - work closely with all internal departments to understand the vehicles product placement, cost, and its required functionalities to identify future technology to integrate into the car and therefor into the Vehicle Design. The customer expectation and experience regarding a "class defining" futurist tech - luxury product plays a core role in our design research and finding phase generating first concepts and moving them further along into production. The sustainability aspect and Material story is of equal importance to us and is also part of the "futuristic tech luxury" approach. We strive to find and implement better solutions that will reduce the companies carbon footprint and will have a global eco-conscious impact. From CMF Design side, we research and analyse new sustainable material solutions and design innovative materials, colors and finishes catered to the FF brand that seamlessly integrate future technologies and elevate the vehicles exterior and interior surface design.
Lefteri: Let's talk about luxury and premium. Customers obviously have very established perceived ideas of what luxury means, particularly in a car. How do you define that for something that is very much future-based? How do you re-define what premium is? In your own words, I read somewhere, you’re "redefining the world of mobility". How do you do that while giving the users a perception of premium and luxury and at the same time embracing sustainability?
Neuhauser: Luxury has redefined itself over decades and is ever changing. Time and space are in today's fast paced world very precious and play a core direction when we talk about luxury.
Offering the occupant, the perfect space and comfort to travel, rest and work in a confined space, such as a vehicle interior, is difficult but can be accomplished through innovative and modular surface design, clever packaging and an a cohesive and smart CMF Design. Setting the right mood, flavour and feeling by creating the perfect sensory and immersive experience for the user is part of how we approached the Design of our Colors, Materials and Finishes that go hand in hand with our Vehicle Surface Design. When you take a seat in the rear of the FF91 you have the possibility to recline into a zero-gravity seat position, with the ability to take all pressure of your body and putting yourself into an almost weightless resting position. We emphasized this experience with a luxurious soft and organic Leather the customer engages with, and its ability to regulate your body temperature due to its properties and the seats functionalities. This super fine Nappa Leather we designed specifically for our FF91 Vehicle is an organic and completely natural material, sustainably sourced and produced from our supplier that has negative carbon footprint. In this case Leather remains a premium and luxurious material, designed, sourced, and produced in an eco-conscious and innovative process that adds to its specific craftsmanship execution and the perceived quality which ultimately is a luxurious experience for our users.
Copyright: Faraday Future
Lefteri: And just looking at the technological part of this. There's lots of lighting in the car can you tell me about how that fits with the CMF Design?
Beermann: There's actually a lot of lighting throughout the vehicle interior and exterior. On the interior it's mostly there to support very precise control over the atmosphere. The user can select which color or mood or function they want that lighting to support, whether they are in spa mode with an intention to relax, or in a work mode with an intention to focus, the lighting scenarios support that.
Lefteri: It seems unique how you're using the lighting. You've given the ambient lighting examples. But you use lighting more so than other car interiors. Did that provide any challenges in terms of plastics and integrating technology with the lighting?
Beermann: Using plastics really enabled the use of lighting. It allows us different approaches to manufacturing and form factors and allows us to control where the light goes. It’s very strategic the way the lighting and the plastics were used in combination. To your previous point about these pillars, a sense of luxury is hard to define. You can say that a villa that's partially gilded and has marble floors conveys a sense of luxury. In the automotive world, using fine materials like leather with nice quilting and stitching, with wood décor, is traditional luxury. There was a phase for a while where carbon fibre was understood as having some luxury characteristics. If you get a chance to sit in an FF 91 you will see the approach is a little bit different. We have a layering philosophy with our design language. There's a technology layer, there's an experience layer, there's a comfort layer. We've broken that up in terms of where the materials sit. Any contact surfaces, where you're physically contacting the interior, these are really nice materials. Be it leather or PUR, we make sure the hand on those materials is a joy to interact with. You feel on a tactile level bathed in these luxury materials. Then when you interact with the information, and the displays, the tactile experience is very different. We've also made sure through coatings, and the design of those surfaces, that it’s also an exceptional experience. Touching a screen isn’t always pleasant. Running your finger across a piece of glass doesn't give you much information. We’ve done some things we can't talk about too much, to give you an FF specific haptic experience. Whether it's this tactile soft experience or whether you're interacting with the information itself.
Lefteri: It's very interesting how you address on such a fine level the idea of haptic, the sensory experience to provide luxury and premium. You mentioned wood. That's traditionally a luxury material. What did you do to replace that sense of luxury without using wood? Did you treat plastic in a certain way?
Neuhauser: We played with a variation of "man-made" materials like plastics. The overall benefit of a "man- made" material is that you can design it the exact way you need it to meet your purpose, specifications and performance – which also leads into the design aspect looking at the material appearance and how it feels. Plastics have come a long way and can cater to many aspects or functionalities as well as experience levels by integrating smart tech. They also have great weight, cost, and manufacturing benefits.
We figured that working with innovative plastics and designing those in different ways throughout the vehicle, we have the ability to create a new sensory and luxurious experience. Furthermore, we achieved to tie the interior and exterior surfaces and its technology flow closer together as one entity. Chris you mentioned Wood – I am a big fan of wood as it has a very amazing feel and sensory experience, but because it is a natural grown source it deviates a lot and make the material process of creating "identical" interior parts very difficult. This means a lot of part get thrown away not meeting the specifications and quality standards we have to go through in this industry. This also means we are adding to the landfill problem while cutting down trees. Wood is a resource that needs time and space and specific climate to grow depending on the kind of wood. An amazing alternative is Hemp wood as the plant grows extremely fast and also gives off an amazing level of oxygen and requires very little water – which is beneficial for our climate. Those materials are areas we are investigating in of course. There are hybrid solutions between plastic and sustainable wood that are now getting into more feasible directions to use and I am super interested in for the FF brand.
Lefter: So here's a tough question. Do you believe that plastics can still provide that sense of luxury even though it has a negative perception?
Beermann: I think that the negative perception is somehow from a prior era. If you're in the plastics world now, there are a million options for plastics that feel amazing to touch, and have an amazing quality when light hits them. I would say 90 percent of the time customers don't even realise they're interacting with plastics, because they think it’s metal or they think it's something else. I think that stigma is long gone for us; we don't really think about it.
Neuhauser: Yes I do think so Chris, like mentioned in a comment before – plastic have come a long way and a lot of innovation has been created with and around the plastic and its hybrid materials including 3 d printing possibilities and combining natural and man-made components. The ability to create surfaces that have an amazing smooth and silky touch while generating a soft "drag" when touching utilizing silicon coatings for example. Plastics can feel and appear like a honed ceramics but are a fraction of the weight and cost which is pretty amazing. Not to mention the anti-bacterial properties and cleanability which play a tremendous role since the pandemic.
Lefteri: Let's move on to this idea of co-creation which you have quite prominently on the Faraday Future website. Co-creation is about the customer of course but does it also involve the way you work within a design studio?
Beermann: It does. And co-creation is a philosophy. It's deeply embedded into the brand. In the past, you don't really want to create something and tell the world "this is the most amazing thing!" You need to interact with all of your potential customers and glean their knowledge and their desires. That's the base philosophy for product development at Faraday. During product development cycles – whether it's early in the ideation phase or it's later on in the implementation phase – we actually bring in groups of customers or reservation holders and we do workshops with them. Their ideas will sometimes end up in the product directly. For example, a customer was very interested in having a private environment in the rear of the FF 91. Their suggestion was to create a physical barrier between the front seat row and the rear seat row, like with a taxi cab for example. We worked through that idea with this customer, and the best solution was not physical but using audio software to create sound zones. This is the kind of feedback we get from our reservation holders, because they have very specific use cases, especially with this premium price class, and that really helps us create unique selling points for Faraday Future.
Lefteri: Does that co-creation ever involve any hands on and playing with materials? For example, with testing, even on a basic level without getting supplies, do you get samples from a CMF lab and ask users for opinions?
Beermann: For sure, that's exactly what we do. We lay out a lot of samples from our library. We do internal colour testing. We create a variety of colour concepts for, let's say, exterior paint, and then we get feedback from our customer base. We have a couple of mechanisms for that: we like to do it 1-on 1, in person, in the studio, as well as we get information through our app. We'll post different colour concepts on our configurator, and get feedback from the users that way as well.
Lefteri: I'd like to go back and touch on this idea of what it's like to start a brand and define it from scratch versus both your previous experiences where that’s a very well-established brand. Can you just describe what that’s like – what do you prefer?
Beermann: For me, that's the reason why I left BMW after 18 years. There were lots of different learning opportunities at that OEM. But I was never asked to think about defining the brand over. It was always through the lens of creating design proposals and shifting brand perception through the product design. Future Faraday was a blank sheet of paper, there was no logo, there wasn't even a name. You can imagine the amount of churn that happened, in terms of what it was really going to be about, it was so exciting. It’s a designer's dream. Because designers love solving problems. We're puzzlers. You get a kick out of solving that Rubik's cube. When there are no walls put up around you, your area of influence is a lot larger. That was really rewarding at Faraday. It took a lot of discussion with the founders and leadership, and everyone down to the engineers and designers, thinking about the market opportunity. The founder had a very clear vision of a space that was open in the market, where vehicles were not being seamlessly integrated with the technology that people use. It was very clear early on that this vehicle wants to be a super computer, and it wants to replace the cell phone when you get into a car. That's our credo. Even with a Tesla, people pull out their phone when they get in the Tesla, because the interface is what you're used to. It's more optimised for your daily life versus what's on your screen. That's the intersection we targeted. How do you create a vehicle that addresses that lack of integration? How can we bring the vehicle into the future in a way that's as easy to use as your cell phone? That's the impetus for the creation for the company.
Lefteri: Do you think that statement of the "third internet living space" captures that?
Beermann: If you're in certain circles, in certain parts of the world, that phrase is clearly understood. I'm not sure all people in the US are aware what the first and second internet living spaces are – which are home, and work, and so vehicle is the third.
Lefteri: One last question. What would you most like to see at an event like the K Show, which is a plastics event; what would you most like to see from the plastics industry?
Neuhauser: I would love to see the next level of tech integration catering not only to information screens but to active wellness screenings and sensory feedback between Human and machine, allowing the car to react and engage with its occupants though surfaces and generating a 2way path of communication. Modularity adaptability and self-healing surfaces would also be of key interest. And of course, the sustainability and eco conscious aspect of plastics of the future, showing directions to go full circle causing minimum to 0 waste, produced in a sustainable way with 0 or negative carbon foot print.
How versatile can a plastic be? There's still lots of "greenwashing" going on and I would love more transparency. Where's the future of plastics going and what are suppliers actively doing to transition to that?
Beermann: I'm equally focused on sustainability. It's not really clear which suppliers out there in plastics have the advantage. You have to do a lot of research in terms of who your best partner is going forward as you develop your product. It would be really interesting: could we have something like Leed certification, like you have for architecture, but for automotive and materials industry so you can understand who meets your needs and who doesn't? Who can allow you to create a five-star sustainable product? That would be interesting to me. I'm also interested in plastic alternatives. You have mycelium leather, cactus leather, there are also hybrids between that and plastics, you're using these natural products as substrate filler which can create all kinds of wonderful new hybrids which I’d be interested to see.
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