NOV 16th 2015

Mystery Monday: Cynthia Charwick‑Bland – How to Design a Car Interior

 Mystery MondayCynthia Charwick-Bland was born in Baltimore, USA and spent her childhood in Denmark, returning to the US for high school education and university to study Industrial Design. Returning to Sweden in 1981, she worked at Volvo for a year, then went to Saab and subsequently joined a British design consultancy, IAD (International Automotive Design). After a few years with Daewoo, she returned to Saab and designed the Saab 9.3 cabriolet interior, moving on to Volvo Cars for the YCC (Your Concept Car) and Volvo Trucks. For the past 3 years she has been working at the Royal College of Art in London as a Vehicle Design Tutor.


The early influence of my childhood in Denmark brought about a love of nature, Lego and Scandinavian design. Designing on paper and then making models out of card or wood, taking mechanical devices apart to understand the workings, painting and drawing comprised my early life. My father was, and still is, my main inspiration as he is an engineer, craftsman and lover of British cars. Early in my career, I designed both exteriors and interiors but came to specialize in interior design, most likely due to my love of furniture design, love of materials and pushing the boundaries of engineering for the sake of design. 

As I learned only recently during a lecture by the eminent designer Ross Lovegrove, the early influences that shape you as a designer never really leave you, you simply perfect your technique and your visual aesthetic through the years. What made you a designer in the first place, that passion, continues to influence you throughout your life. It helps inform your opinions of shape, proportion, innovation, interesting use of light, materials and aesthetics.

One of the most wonderful aspects of working in the field of automotive design is to be able to take an ugly bare chassis and clad it in the fine clothes that make it aesthetically appealing. Like a couturier, the more you know about your field the more you are able to maintain a consistency of quality and detail and, like an architect, understand the sensual effects of light and texture.

Volvo YCC Concept Interior

Believing in oneself, as a designer, is key to a successful career as I tell my students at the Royal College of Art.  Push the boundaries, create, experiment, question and be passionate about what you do.  You can never go wrong if you go with what you feel is right.

The car interiors I have designed are influenced by my Scandinavian aesthetic; calm, clean lines with honest materials. This is best showcased in the Volvo YCC, a concept car that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2004.

Too much car design today is visually noisy not only on the outside but on the inside too.  An extreme example of this is the new Lexus LF-NX Hybrid.

BMW 7 Series Interior

Too many designers become influenced by what they see as the latest trend, which can lead to a lot of unmarketable design. Thank goodness there is still a lot of good design out there; take the new 7 series BMW. Attention to quality, customer wants and needs, a clean, inviting interior that screams luxury can be found in every detail.  This direction, I believe is what the automotive design world will embrace throughout its product range.  This is what customers want, a new luxury that caters to their needs.

I believe that every once in a while, over-complicated design makes it into production and then a calmer approach, a look back at how the brand has developed and what was important, what made that design special is harked back to and rethought.

A bit like fashion really. 

Photography courtesy of Volvo and BMW, lead image by Andrez Otrebski, licensed by GRR under Creative Commons 3.0.

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