Leather Design - Creating Trends

Interview with Beijing Global Times, 04 June 2012 (click for original Chinese article)

(translation in English below)

First time meeting Patty Yuan was in April at the Beijing Auto Show. Patty is the only Chinese-American designer at the world's largest automotive leather supplier, Eagle Ottawa. First impression was simple and fresh. At an early age she immigrated to United States with her parents. When speaking Mandarin, she sometimes needs to think a bit. Amongst the foreign designers, she is different. We get her insight on the familiar yet unknown field of automotive interior leather design.

Patty's background is Product Design. Before joining Eagle Ottawa, she was once Color & Materials Design Intern at Nissan's Southern California design studio.

"That was my first introduction into the world of color design and how complicated it was to design a car. That was an amazing experience!"

Her experience spans soft goods, hand-made products, travel accessories, packaging and shoe design at reknown brand Hugo Boss. Last year, she joined Eagle Ottawa, returning to the auto industry and now living in China.

"I'm so excited to be here. I've always visited China regularly in the past, but it is so different to live here."

Patty describes automotive leather design as a similar process to product design.

"First we need to understand the project, including the type of vehicle, the customer brand, etc. The customer will also share their concept and thoughts. Then we propose designs including colors, grain and surface effects such as custom perforation. We communicate possibilities using a mix of flat drawings, digital renderings and physical samples. Designers often ask 'What if?' so the design process is long and goes through many proposals. After the design freeze, we start on production development."

We ask what her ideal car interior is like.

"It must be custom and unique. I am intrigued by surfaces with different tactility and appreciate natural materials and handmade details. Interior must compliment the exterior. It is sleek, sexy, and feminine. Leather is semi-aniline, pink-nude color with subtle iridescence, has custom perforation and contrast piping. Intricate cutouts or special layering design may be interesting for bolster or door panel area. Instrument panel is thoughtful, easy to use, uncluttered, and has beautiful user interface graphics. Roof liner and flooring compliment the rest of the interior. Seating is simply ergonomic and comfortable. Its construction and styling compliment the rest of the interior."

Outside of work, she enjoys making things.

"My mom was a seamstress, so I learned to sew since I was little. I have a lovely clutch and tote which I use often, custom made for me. Before moving to Shanghai, I learned to silk screen and use a laser cutting machine. Combining the two techniques, I made and sold some recycled paper calendars and cards and decorative wooden accessories. Next on my list is to take a pottery class."

Patty noted that any design shifts will happen incrementally in the automotive industry.

"I see so many Chinese car owners using different ways to personalize their car. That's exciting. OEMs should be more bold in proposing different designs for the China market. However, some design elements may be beautiful on their own, but may not have the same appeal in a car environment. For instance, the dragon and phoenix are significant Chinese symbols. But how many people will actually buy a car if these are in the car interior?"

Her outlook on the near term is a continued trend toward light colors such as light beiges and creams and an increase in browns.

"This is possible with anti-soiling technology such as our Ansole product."

Slowly the industry needs to look more into personalization at a mass production level.