How to design a truck

Designing a truck is not just about refining the shape of the vehicle or upgrading the driveline, but about optimising each element from top to bottom to make it suit our constantly changing global marketplace. According to Rikard Orell, Design Director at Volvo Trucks, creating the new FH therefore proved to be a significant design challenge.

“Coming up with solutions where design and function go hand in hand was one of our most important tasks,” he explains – revealing that it took just over five years to complete the truck after the first sketch was made. “The design challenge we were given was to create something that was exciting and fresh, while at the same time retaining and carrying over all those elements that were so highly appreciated in the previous model,” he says.

As a result, the Göteborg-based design group had to find a solution in which all the individual parts of the truck worked smoothly with each other and created a single “cohesive feel”, as he puts it. Every visible surface, inside as well as out, was examined in minute detail by the design department. So too were the sound and feel of each button and control system, the structure of the textiles used and even the in-cab lighting.

“There is sometimes a misunderstanding regarding design that it’s simply about appearance, about colour and shape. The reality is that design and function must go hand in hand. The designer’s task is to come up with solutions that make all the component parts of the truck – both the hardware and the software – join together in a single, cohesive visual and functional entity,” Rikard says.

One early stage of the design process required the design team to find an expression and an identity for the new truck. Shapes and lines were exaggerated with the aim of finding the overall visual message that the team wanted to convey. “The first thing that was discussed was the various technical needs, but the basic drive during the concept phase has consistently been to advance and to increase the cab’s interior volume.”

Team member Asok George, Chief Designer Exterior at Volvo Trucks, was tasked with translating that message into a design concept. Inspired by Volvo’s proud heritage as well as Scandinavian culture and design, Asok also quotes actual drivers as an inspirational resource.

“As the work progressed, the sketches moved into computer-generated models and the design took on more realistic lines,” he explains. “In the field of design, it’s often all about the details. When you look at the truck it should have a design that instinctively feels just right.

“It’s the basic shape, the stance and the proportions that are crucial. All lines and curves should flow naturally and there mustn’t be anything that disrupts the eye.”

In order to achieve this, the design group used both full-size and scaled clay models. “Because even if modern computer programs help the designer to visualise his or her visions and ideas – the virtual tools are not always enough,” explains Asok. “In the computer, the designer uses more of his or her analytical skills, but when working with clay models it’s more emotional, everything comes from the heart. For me it’s the combination of these two approaches that generates a perfect design.”

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