The Ideal Image
of a Utopia

Designing an entire automobile brand. From a blank sheet of paper. Sounds like a lot of fun. But also a lot of responsibility. We spoke to Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar and chief design officer of Volvo Cars, about exactly that.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Polestar

Design makes the difference – and understanding the value of design is a key factor for a company’s success. So it’s only logical for a designer to not only create a homogeneous product portfolio but to also shape the entire brand world while he’s at it. Successful fashion and luxury companies do this with an all-encompassing concept and correspondingly consistent brand and product experiences. From product and advertising to events, outlets and packaging. Works great, as we all know. The automotive world is still a bit behind in this respect. Except for Polestar.

Thomas Ingenlath, as chief design officer at Volvo Cars and CEO of the Polestar subsidiary, is the aesthetic and charismatic authority responsible for designing an entire new automotive brand.

Thomas, you’re CEO and creative director all rolled into one. Is that a good combination for a brand?
Thomas Ingenlath: I think I should qualify that statement a bit. You make it sound too much like a one-man show, which it isn’t. With Maximilian Missoni as head of design and Pär Heyden as head of brand, we have two creative minds on board who, like me, believe in the brand and whose job it is to develop and build that brand. This is a good combination precisely because Polestar is such a design-driven brand with high aesthetic standards, and also because this purist thinking extends much further into areas that go beyond design. As CEO, I make sure that all our decisions are weighted accordingly.

You’re an automotive designer, but here you are designing an entire brand world. Are things today as you imagined they would be, or were there lots of surprises?
Creative power and creative will are still the essence of my work, today as they were ten years ago. That’s even more important for a new brand like Polestar, because people don’t expect it as much. What’s more, I consider it a key advantage when intuition, creative power and the flash of inspiration are a natural part of a CEO’s work. Creativity is important for every CEO; very often it probably is even the driving force, not only for me but also for CEOs with no design background. Though I’m probably a bit more familiar and professional in dealing with these things, even if perhaps I take them for granted. (laughs)

"I consider it a key advantage when intuition, creative power and the flash of inspiration are a natural part of a CEO’s work."

Thomas Ingenlath

So what exactly is the pleasurable thing about this very difficult position? What about it is fun?
I think it would be a bit crazy and perhaps quite unexpected if I said it wasn’t any fun, right? Because ever since Luigi Colani, people have thought of designers enjoying their work and having fun while creating all sorts of things. And Colani never grew tired of drawing comparisons between voluptuous human bodies and the objects that a designer creates. He called it biodynamic design. His philosophy stands in extreme contrast to the very rational and scientific approach of the Bauhaus, for example. The truth can probably be found somewhere between these two extremes. In my opinion, it would be wrong to take a firm position for one or the other.

For me as a designer – and this applies equally to my role as CEO – what makes design fun, pleasurable and enjoyable is when you can recognize and understand its persuasive power and credibility. I have to examine many things on the basis of very concrete, rational considerations before I go ahead and design. If I succeed, and if I do so with passion, the result will be convincing. And that is what makes me happy, that is the creative power that has always been inherent in the basic human need to create. Not only to create some thing, but also to create something sensual, something beautiful, something appealing and aesthetic – therein lies the power of design, and in my opinion this is also the main reason why design has become so important in recent years.

"I have to examine many things on the basis of very concrete, rational considerations before I go ahead and design. If I succeed, and if I do so with passion, the result will be convincing."

Thomas Ingenlath

In other words, the act of creation is what constitutes happiness. And it is not the exclusive preserve of the designer.
Absolutely. This sensual experience of creating something beautiful also exists in mechanics or in the engineering profession. In many areas, however, it has somehow been pushed into the background. Lots of people think that the design itself is the beautiful thing, but I have to disagree. [laughs] Of course, it can be satisfying to sketch something beautiful, but the real beauty is in seeing something in the end that wasn’t there before. And it is beautiful, and it is functional, the ideal image of what one imagines a utopia to be like. And that is true for me today as much as yesterday.

Is this also what sets a designer apart from an artist?

→ Read the full interview with Gerard Butler in rampstyle #21

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