Meeting with François Farion, Design Director, Colors and Materials at Groupe Renault
Having graduated from a major business school, François Farion decided on his career direction after a design internship. He started by exploring design from all angles, including graphic design (logos, packaging, etc.) and the design of objects (office furniture), before returning to his long-standing passion, automotive design. After work experiences at PSA and Nissan in the United States and Japan, he joined Groupe Renault in early 2018 as Design Director, Colors and Materials. Today he manages a 15-person team and manages the colors and materials teams around the world. Pausing between a meeting and one of his many visits to plants and suppliers, François Farion talked to us about his job and his profession in general.
What are Renault’s design objectives today?
My objective is to step up the evolution in Renault design. Since the post-war period, Renault has become a highly popular brand, i.e. a company that sells affordable vehicles, with choices consistent with this positioning. The arrival of the Dacia range in the early 2000s and its swift sales growth required Renault to reposition with a more prestigious range for customers. The advent of electrification and autonomous driving have brought about a profound change in our mindset and our brands. This began with exterior design, which was renewed, successfully, across the board by Laurens van den Acker. But there has also been a revolution in terms of the quality and materials inside our vehicles. Today, interior design as a whole is undergoing a revolution, from the standpoint of technologies and materials alike. It is these aspects that we are currently working on – the results of which you will see on New Clio in 2019 and beyond. In terms of technology, we are working on the interface between users and materials, the integration of screens, and light in vehicle interiors. We are seeking out materials that showcase the design with a view to building a comfortable interior, more akin to a home interior, since we are spending more and more time in our cars.
What sources of inspiration do you draw on in your new designs?
Most designers will tell you that everything is a source of inspiration! But for me, I have a range of interests that I pursue in parallel, including photography, cars and motorbikes. I like cycling and I’m also very in to audio and hi-fi, the uses of which have changed enormously with connected speakers. Following the latest developments in all these sectors influences my creative process and inspires me, for example, to create new fabrics and new trims that interact with technology. I went to a lot of exhibitions in Tokyo and I’m doing the same today in Paris. I often take notes using my camera or smartphone, capturing all the interesting things I see. This could be in home interiors or fashion, although I have fewer affinities with this last because it is more diverse and ephemeral and so not as easy to transpose to the automotive sector. But other members of my team follow it assiduously!
What are some of the current trends in colors and materials?
There are many of them, emerging or confirmed, but here I will mention just three examples:
- Two-tone, i.e. a roof color different from that of the body. This had gone out of fashion since the 1950s but Mini revived it in the early 2000s with black or white roofs. The trend helped Renault to succeed with Captur, for example.
- Warmer metals: until recently, everything was steel, black or aluminum. Nowadays, motorbike parts, for example, can be in bronze or titanium used in motorsport. Copper and brass have emerged gradually, as has chrome, which has become more “satin”, softer in terms of reflection and touch. These trims are used both for exterior colors and interior colors, for logos, after becoming popular in the jewelry sector. For example, this work was applied to EZ-ULTIMO, with a matte champagne color outside and touches of brass inside.
- Customization, which is a key aspect for customers but a real difficulty for brands. This is because diversity in interior trim is difficult to manage from an industrial standpoint, where the focus is more on volumes.
What constitutes a successful design?
That depends on your point of view. From the viewpoint of Thierry Bolloré, Deputy CEO of Groupe Renault, or that of the program director, it is naturally a design that results in success, i.e. one that touches as many people as possible, sells well and is profitable for the group. So it means making the public want to buy.
But a successful design is also one where you develop something that is unexpected for Renault customers and which they will remember many years later. For example, the “Honey Yellow” color launched on New Scénic and the “Atacama Orange” paint on New Duster have generated unexpected performances for these types of colors. Other examples include the touches of green on the first Twingo and the colored drawers on Captur, which were original but extremely popular. We have succeeded in bringing our customers colors that enliven the automotive sector dominated by grays, blacks and whites. For me, this is an example of a successful design because it touches our public and at the same time renews the range, while lending Renault an innovative and lively image through colors and materials.
The main steps in the creation of a new design
A new design is developed in step with the process for the car as a whole, taking two to three years.
The processes for interior and exterior design are different.
The team has to be ready six months before the launch of a vehicle to carry out tests at the plant.