Geely interiors blend premium grade materials with a subtle hint of Chinese heritage to create a third living space. We talk to the design master Justin Scully about creating interiors to be proud of.
Artwork from “Journey to the West” adorns the smart modern office of Geely’s Design centre in Shanghai. Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese works of literature, a highly fictionalised account of real life monk Xuan Zang’s journey to India in search of unadulterated Buddhist scriptures. The fact the artwork in question is by Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame from the Damon Albarn scored Monkey opera makes this an even more apt metaphor for Geely.
Housed at Geely Design are a band of experts assembled from the corners of the globe and all around China intent on positioning Geely as a world class brand. Senior Interior Expert Justin Scully, originally from Wales, heads up a team of around twenty interior designers, another ten working on colours and materials, along with two for Human Machine Interface. “When we started there were only somewhere between ten and twenty people in the whole office, we’ve handpicked our designers on the way and there haven’t been many mistakes” says Justin who has been with Geely since the office formed in its original Jing’an Temple location in Shanghai back in 2013. In his team alone are people from Australia, Russia and the UK along with all over China.
One of the most important things for a design team is the operating temperature. If the pace is too slow it kills creativity” says Justin. There is little chance of that at Geely where at any one time he is overseeing the simultaneous development of at least five projects. While it is a high stakes environment the culture is one of ‘work hard play hard’ where overtime does not need to be encouraged.
Working in the design team comes with not only a high degree of responsibility but opportunity too. “This is one of the most hardcore places for industrial design in the world” contends Justin. In many of the design studios of European manufacturers, where Justin cut his teeth, it takes years for a young designer to be trusted enough to go onto clay modelling. Here at Geely even recent graduates, provided they show the aptitude, can be sculpting full-sized clay models within a few months of joining. Designers are typically much closer to the projects, which equally means there is no room for mistakes.
Car brands are embedded in a country but it is often difficult to define what makes a car from that country. “Many other Chinese brands have been too eager to copy western cars without thinking about what makes their brand Chinese” says Justin. In the current Geely range and with forthcoming models there are subtle Chinese elements. It may seem strange that a multinational team can create such features but often for foreigners they are more open to the aesthetics that make China, well China.
As a country China is vast and Justin and his team are constantly looking for inspiration. “Not long after I joined Geely we visited the headquarters in Hangzhou and I remember being shown around West Lake and seeing its famous Tang dynasty bridge. I thought to myself that could be used for our instrument panel” explains Justin. And indeed the bridge did end up as inspiration for the curvature of the instrument panel in the NL3 SUV.
“China is a non-obvious society. In Europe everything is visible but it isn’t the case here. Everything here is minimalist but there is a sophistication and detail in the small elements” says Justin. This is reflected for example in the swirling design on the speakers of the current Geely range based on the kind of symbol seen in many places in China. “We want to create a very high quality interior with the best materials but we want the occupants to know that we are proud to be from China” explains Justin. In assessing the quality of interiors Geely benchmarks against premium German manufacturers, not just mainstream producers.
Justin, who rarely gets a chance to drive in China, spends a lot of time travelling in Didi (the Chinese Uber equivalent) vehicles and so experiences many cars from the rear. In China adults use the back far more than in many countries thanks to ferrying around grandparents, or even hiring a chauffeur, so the rear is important – not just in terms of space but environment as well. Justin believes that for many manufacturers the rear is an afterthought but at Geely the back is as important as the front when designing the interior.
Interior design might not be the glamour end of car designing but ultimately for the purchaser it is the most important element as this is where they will be experiencing the car from. “It’s challenging and complicated and involves many aspects: landscapes, materials, human machine interaction and ergonomics” says Justin who is clearly a master. Inspiration comes from all around; a building on the Shanghai skyline was the basis for a pattern in a show concept. The designers have even taken to penning initial designs in the manner of the brushstrokes of Chinese calligraphy.
“We sometimes have our language barriers but out team is a very friendly, happy bunch of professionals” says Justin. Whereas in many western design departments there is an intense rivalry, here the team is more like a family working together to build a better Geely car for the future.