Ferrari's car designer on the future of motoring elegance
Paolo Pininfarina, head of the design company behind many great Ferraris, believes success lies in innovation
Automotive styling is still at the roots of what we do and it's a distinct and very complex discipline. But the process also has much in common with the creation of other products. If you can design a car well, why not a yacht, a crane or even a skyscraper? My family's approach to design has evolved with every generation – my grandfather was an entrepreneur and visionary, my father was an engineer and I'm more of a car designer by trade. Every generation sees you refining the house style.
Fortunately for us, car design around the world is getting worse. Every year I look around the Geneva motor show and find that very few car companies can pull off elegance. It seems that to sell a car these days, you have to do something crazy or a bit aggressive and I am always happy to get back to the Pininfarina stand.
I think the problem is that design generally is too influenced by contemporary trends. It's rare to come across a design you know will last. And while we glorify the past – the 50s and 60s in particular – we do so for a reason: there were master designers working intuitively, without as much input from people in marketing. Of course, marketing is important to channel the desire of consumers and then set a brief for designers, but they should leave things to the creatives because they have a different sensibility.
The situation is complex, but we need to allow creatives to be strong again – you have to take risks. Some of the biggest challenges Pininfarina has had, in design terms, have been met by the most innovative – and so the most risky – solutions. But there is always the worry that you're going to put off the more traditional consumer. We did a kitchen in the 90s which was a completely new idea, but the design is still selling now. But designs don't always make it, naturally. We designed a skyscraper and I thought 'they're never going to build that' and, while I was right, it became an icon of futuristic Italian architecture and has had influence.
You can even innovate with something like a door, a product that has been largely unchanged for centuries, but our new door is like no door before. I'm convinced that you have to do things in a new way. We've just tried to re-think the electric bicycle, which people may think is odd from a company known for working on cars, but bicycles and other sustainable forms of transport are how we're going to get around cities of the future. You have to be new, but you also have to be relevant.
PAOLO PININFARINA is the head of Pininfarina SpA, the Italian firm that's created the look of most Ferraris and vehicles from many other car-makers. Latterly, Pininfarina has become a more general design covering other transport, interiors and at this April's Salone del Mobile, even an innovative 'flexible' door; pininfarina.com