It takes a sense of professional self-preservation as well as some self-restraint to not blurt out the names of my favourite competitive cooking TV shows while halfway through an interview with Genesis designers Luc Donckerwolke and SangYup Lee, but as the two describe the way the luxury brand develops new ideas through its three design studios situated throughout the world, it’s all I could think of.
Luc Donckerwolke is the Chief Design Officer and an Executive Vice President at Hyundai Motor Company, while SangYup Lee is the head of the Hyundai Design Center and a Senior Vice President at Hyundai Motor Company. Both have the design chops to lead Genesis towards a unique vision of “young luxury.” And the final look of the new GV80 SUV is a result of internal competition between the trio of design studios.
Teams in Korea, USA, and Europe are all sent a briefing of what the automaker is looking for in its next vehicle and have a set list of criteria and motifs to hit. This is done for the interior and exterior of the vehicle. My morphed-by-TV mind can’t help but think of the cooking show Chopped, where chefs are given a basket containing four mystery ingredients and are expected to create dishes that use all of them in some way.
The Ingredients of a Great Dish
In the GV80s case, the studios were told to use the following ingredients: the two lines that are now found in the LED headlights of Genesis’ vehicles as well as the crest grille. The two elements actually roughly make up the Genesis logo, so it makes sense to ensure the design studios incorporate these motifs. “We stated ‘two lines are us’ [at the reveal of the GV80] and that’s quite a statement,” says Lee. “That means we’re going to stick with two lines for generation after generation.”
Donckerwolke added that these elements were something that each design had to have and that it’s essential to the design DNA, but that’s all they did. “The execution was up to them.”
This approach to having a design competition is how a brand like Genesis can make an impact on a tough and crowded field. Competing with the likes of the Germans and Japanese who have been doing this for a long time isn’t easy, but Genesis has been keeping up, which is even more impressive when you consider that all the sedans in the lineup were not originally designed as Genesis products. The GV80 is the first to be designed from the ground up to be a Genesis, which is why it’s so important to perform this design duel among the studios.
Lee explains that the Genesis way of doing things is a bit different than the rest of the Hyundai group vehicles, which are more mainstream. “We rely more on each regional studio to come up with the customer lifestyle for their targeted customer,” he says. This isn’t the case for Genesis, which is designed to be the flagship of the group’s design.
Coaches and Jury
But beyond the duo of designers sending out the docket for the GV80, they also travel to each studio on a regular basis to check in and coach the team’s vision to completion. Both Donckerwolke and Lee have a lot of experience and history in the industry, penning some iconic designs. Donkerwolke is credited with the Lamborghini Murcielago and Gallardo as well as the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car. Lee’s design work includes the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro and Bentley’s Bentayga SUV. Having these guys groom your work isn’t far from having Jamie Oliver and Wolfgang Puck checking a contestant’s plate on an episode of Chopped.
“Each studio gets to make a proposal,” says Donckerwolke. “We are looking and evaluating the potential of these proposals. We are following the work by visiting the studios, we don’t leave them alone.” Because Donckerwolke and Lee drop by all of the studios, they give hints about what the others are doing and ensure that the different proposals are not all the same. “We steer them, we evaluate them a few times, to make sure that they are all at the same level of execution.”
When the winning design is picked, the team’s head designer is sent to the design studio in Korea to develop the production design and carry it through to the end. “We don’t believe in having just one superstar designer,” says Lee. He explains that the designer of the winning design is supported by Lee and Donckerwolke and the rest of the company. “We believe in a superstar team.”
The Resulting Vehicle
Lee also pointed out that some of the studios definitely have their own flair on design. “From the US, they bring a more rugged design; and the European studio, sometimes a bit sportier; and the Korean is somewhere in between. The GV80 had an interesting outcome: the chosen exterior design was created by the California studio, while the interior design was completed by the Korean team.
The resulting vehicle incorporates those signature motifs in a pretty natural way. With the exterior design, this is obvious: the two LED lines on each headlight that then flow throughout the body, showing up on the fender garnishes (which double as turn signals) and appear again in the taillights. The exhaust tips are also in the same shape as crest grille, and the pattern found in the grille interior (Genesis calls this the G-Matrix) is found on the 22-inch wheels.
But it’s impressive how much of these elements are found inside the vehicle. The diamond pattern in the grille is found in the cabin on the leather upholstery and on a few of the textured metals.
This whole process is completely different from what some other brands do. Donckerwolke pipes in saying that other brands have a main studio doing all the design for a car, while the other, smaller studios are doing things like concepts that may not be completely necessary to the entire company.
The creative minds at Genesis are now hard at work on the next model, through this same process. “The luxury car industry is doing just fine with us or without us,” says Lee. “So we have to make something very special for our customers of these more expensive cars. When you see our smaller SUV, don’t just imagine a smaller version of the GV80. Sure, it will have the two lines and the crest grille, but it will have a different, distinctive character.”
It’s not easy for a new automaker to quickly make an impression but Genesis is on the right path thanks to its design process. Where some automakers will let their top designers execute their top vehicles, while Genesis is looking to collaborate and bring the best out of all of its designers from all over the world.
The competition among the studios makes a lot of sense from this perspective. It’s 2020 and diversity plays an important role for the younger generations, be it young people, or young luxury automakers. This diversity, thanks to its teams across the world, is Genesis’ special source of inspiration. “This is what makes us strong,” says Lee. “For me, diversity is the main source of the creative process.”