Saab Automobile’s Brand Design Chief Interviewed

Posted on 13. Jul, 2009 by in 2000-2009

Simon Padian, Saab Automobile AB’s brand design chief, has been recently interviewed by Michael Vaughn of the Toronto, Canada based Globe & Mail news source.

Padian began his career with Saab Automobile AB 18 years ago in May of 1989 as a designer this year, effectively marks his twenty-year anniversary with Saab.

In this interview, Padian responds to a number of questions. There was one question about the Vermont Professors, that I have to chime into here. Today, it is pretty much inaccurate these days with “Vermont” college professors driving Saabs, or even in New England for that matter. College professors rarely fall into the category of well to do “modern individualists” these days, which is the new target audience that Saab Automobile has been pursuing since the late nineties. This is a far cry from the targeted market from before when that reference was more accurate due to the quirky nature of the vehicles, so when the vehicles changed, so did the targeted marketing, and of course the customer base then followed suite.

In the meantime here are a few of the questions and answers, for more please visit the website for the rest.

Vaughan: I’m no designer, but when I see a Saab it seems like I’m looking at the Scandinavian school of minimalism on wheels. I’m sure you don’t take your design cues from an Ikea bookshelf, but what does inspire you when you design a Saab?

Padian: The biggest inspiration for Saab design is our unique heritage and identity.

Did you know that the first Saab vehicle was designed by aircraft engineers who had never built a car? The result was a vehicle that shared many design characteristics of an airplane, including the overall shape of a wing and a “cockpit” that envelops the driver.

Saab has continued to evolve the design language from our aircraft experience, including integrating elements such as wraparound windscreens, joystick air vents, and cockpit-inspired interiors, as well as the intuitive way information is submitted to the driver, night panels, and heated and vented seats that help keep drivers comfortable and focused on the road.

Add to this a Scandinavian design philosophy that emphasizes simplicity and purity in form, colour and function, and you’ve got a Saab.

Vaughan: Saab is one of the smallest auto makers in the world (126,000 cars sold last year), and thus by definition is a niche car. So who are you designing for? Is Saab still for university professors from Vermont?

Padian: Actually, Saabs have proven to be particularly popular with journalists

What’s interesting is that we’ve found that Saab drivers all around the world share a strikingly similar make-up: creative, active, confident, and often entrepreneurial.

These “modern individualists” are the same people designing Saabs, so in essence you can say we’re designing vehicles for ourselves — which makes our jobs very enjoyable.

As for the profs from Vermont, given the personality traits I just described and the climate and recreational activities found in the northeastern United States, I wouldn’t be surprised if they still drive Saabs, but they aren’t the only ones.

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