Spin the wheels of design

Mladá Boleslav, 12–14 September 2014


Petr Hrdlička, Škoda Auto designer


I know that your dad was a very well known celebrity in the automotive industry. Did it mean that from a very young age it was clear to you what you would do when you grew up?

Yes, it was entirely clear to me. When I was still a small child, my dream was to sit in a truck among my toys and play with them while riding in it. But then everything changed, because of the events of 1948. I studied at a grammar school and was an honours student, but I knew that if I only studied there I would not be admitted to university. So I decided to acquire training. In 1948, I joined AZMP, Škoda, as an apprentice machinist and car mechanic. I eventually made my way from there to an industrial school, which was another odyssey, and then I made it to the Research Institute in Prague. Then I "boxed my way" from Prague to technical school.

We already know that your educational journey was complex, and so I am interested in hearing whether your experience as a labourer assisted you at all when you became a research worker.

It was absolutely priceless, and I would even recommend it to everyone. I even believe that everyone who has studied at industrial school must have already studied elsewhere, so it was a completely understandable decision. School is still the fairest institution that exists in the world. And when your teacher realises that you know something, then he will not expel you. But in real life, they can fire you even if you don't do anything wrong. So confrontation with actual life is crucially important. That helped me later, because I served as a supervisor. I implemented the entire gearworks and welding facility for the MV1000.  I supervised 260 workers, and we began from pure concrete and installed everything machine by machine. The fact that I knew what it was like to work as a labourer and among them helped me tremendously.

The most important design in your life, the Škoda Favorit, stood with you on the podium during your presentation for Meet Czech Design. What was the assignment, when you began creating that car?

The assignment was to create a design, which was very modern even by today's standards. We had targets and goals, according to which the car should not cost more than CZK 36,220 and should not weigh more than 680 kg. We also had limited investments and work capacity. There were limits to what tasks could be completed and what would not work. The limits were very tough, but that made it all the more interesting to develop the model.
The period of time devoted to it was quite short. We received the assignment in March 1983. I was not yet officially an employee but I went to Geneva to negotiate regarding the design. I met Bertoni, and I asked him if he would work for us. Everything happened quickly, but otherwise it was a wonderful period, because people were very enthusiastic. And that kind of enthusiasm and cooperation among everyone and the effort to see something through is what gives you a boost. And when you're doing well psychologically, then you don't feel tired.

What does design mean for you personally as a designer?

Design is about feelings. It's about emotions. I was pleased when I was at a demonstration event for the Mercedes C class. The main representative of Mercedes at that time said a sentence that I remember to this day: "The product isn't everything, but there would be nothing without the product." And for a product to be successful, it must have good service. The brand must have a good name. It must be reliable and of course interesting.  All of these things go together, because design is emotional. 


Interview with Lukáš NachtmanN, head of the Škoda Auto archive


What can we find at your Škoda Auto archive?

We archive everything here related to Škoda Auto's past. These include items from the company's very beginnings, ranging from Václav Laurin's private letters to the contract between Laurin and Klement, stating that they intended to do business together, to materials from meetings of the Board of Directors. However, the most sought after materials include those containing details about vehicles and how they looked when they left the plant. 

At Meet Czech Design you gave a presentation about vehicle advertising posters. In what year did Škoda Auto begin using printed advertisements?

The history of Škoda Auto's printed advertisements dates back to the company's very beginning. Laurin and Klement immediately knew that this was the approach to take. Since Václav Klement was a bookseller, he knew his way around. He published in particular in the Czech magazine Sport a hry and subsequently began putting out his own catalogues, prospectuses and price lists. 

Did Laurin and Klement have something like a promotion department already in the beginning?

In the beginning they did not have a promotion department, but instead only the director general's instructions applied, and everything depended on the printers, how the printers coped with graphics, what fonts they chose, what frames they chose and additional elements. These included, for example, the famous small hand with a finger pointing to a certain milestone. Academic painters were eventually asked to help. The promotion department in Škoda Auto was established only later, during the Communist regime.

What era was the advertising that you personally liked the most?

I most prefer the older era. Art Nouveau is beautiful, as are works from the 1930s. Some of the advertisements from the 1950s were nice as well.

If someone wants to examine the history of advertising, where can he go?

A couple of years ago, we published a book about advertising, and I sincerely hope that a few copies are still available. Those interested can also apply to study the archive. Simply write to the e-mail address archiv@skodaauto.cz, and we will respond to your request, regardless of what it relates to, such as examining historic advertising.

What does design mean for you personally?

I believe design is beautiful. This includes the beauty of curves and human creations, whether they are cars or an elegant lady's clothing.



Interview with Jozef Kabaň, Škoda Auto Chief Designer


You sometimes use the term "Škoda Auto DNA". What is characteristic for Škoda Auto, and what is its DNA?

DNA is a very important element for creating any physical object. DNA plays a major role for us during interconnection and/or combination of the rational world with aesthetics. It serves as a guide in the world of all possibilities, in a way similar to a navigation system, which gives direction. In Škoda Auto it is the purity of shapes. Examples of characteristic elements include the vertical grill and the clear position of the emblem on the hood of the car. However, there are more such elements. A very well known one is the C graphics of the rear lights, which have a very elegant appearance both during the day and especially at night.

Could you explain for non-experts why a concept such as vision C or vision D is important?

Visions have a very important role in design. They point to the next direction of the brand in its desired continuation, but they also kind of act as a bridge for future clients, who will have a chance to get an advance impression of what their future vehicle will be like. We can already observe vision C today in the new Fabia, and of course it will be much more visible in the new Superb.

Your presentation at Meet Czech Design was called Point of View. One of the points it focused on was that everyone likes something different. How do you cope with potential criticism from the general public?

Criticism is an excellent phenomenon. We do not live in a dictatorship, where there is only one correct point of view. Take the issue of colour, for example. Perhaps there are a lot of people who like white, and those who like black will not be very enthusiastic if you decide to buy a white car. We are diverse, and life truly is not only black and white, but is colourful. I hope that people will continue to praise our vehicles, but that they will not conceal their criticism.  It is not necessary for everyone to like every car. Each design should fulfil the expectations of the people who most closely identify with it personally.
By creating our designs, we are trying to create products that do not cause polarisation. We are not a premium brand that focuses too much on a narrow group of customers.  We want to catch the attention of a large number of people, and therefore, so that design is not all that everyone talks about, it is important for it to be very strongly tied to functionality. Please realise that not only what you see, but also how it works, may help you deal with the inner struggle between rational thought and what your heart tells you.

This goes nicely with the question that we ask all guests at Meet Czech Design, which is simply: What does design mean for you?

Design personally means more or less everything for me. I grew up in it, I live for it, and I hope that I will continue to do so. It is an aesthetic view of the world around us. It is something small, which may be what makes people happy.

What was your first car, and why did you choose it?

My first private car was a Golf, and I chose it for quite a simple reason. I wanted it. I wanted it, and I was lucky that it was mine. Unfortunately, I was not the only one who wanted it, because not long after I bought it someone stole it. Someone wanted it as much as I did, maybe even more, so in the end that joy continued, even though it caused a little trouble for me.

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