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Intelligent design: interview with Patrick le Quément

Image of catamaran designed by Patrick le Quément
The Outremer 5X Catamaran designed by Patrick le Quément and VPLP, voted European Boat of the Year 2013 and Multihull of the Year, USA 2014

Thanks to the vast experience in design and quality accumulated over the last 42 years, Patrick le Quément has become an innovation and design strategy consultant. On becoming Industrial Design Director for Renault, a position he occupied for 22 years, he convinced management to place design at the heart of the group’s company strategy. Anticipating consumer’s expectations, he is the designer responsible for developing the Twingo.

With many strings to his bow, Patrick le Quément has returned to essence of his profession by drawing and creating Outremer catamarans for Grand Large with the naval architects at VPLP and Lagoon catamarans for Beneteau, among other activities.

Patrick shares his vision of design today with the Urban Design Observatory.

Patrick le Quément, you are currently an innovation and design strategy consultant for companies across the world in a wide range of areas from electronics to hotels and transport. What kind of vision of design do you offer these companies?

I assist different companies with their design and design strategy in countries like France, but also China, Japan and India, as well as for a very large European company.

The help I provide differs from one company to another. For car companies, I provide expertise based on my many years of experience in this domain, including 22 years at Renault. For other companies I share my savoir-faire in design management, especially for small and medium-sized companies to help identify their strengths.

I make them do exercise that at first seem very simple to identify the key words that define them. I’ve realised that business owners who have created their own company often find it hard to define their own identity. Afterwards, they often come up to me saying they had never asked themselves this kind of question.

We worked together in small groups, with or without the company owner, to identify the four key words that represent the company’s values. This exercise is done orally with the aim of finding a very limited number of terms.

To take this further, I talked to them about my experience with the Japanese linguist Takao Suzuki who wrote a fascinating book entitled “Words in Context”. He explains that, for example, if we don’t pay attention when translating a word from English to Japanese we can end up with five or six different definitions, which requires us to delve deep into the dictionary.

Image of Twingo designed by Patrick le Quément

The first Twingo – Renault

It is therefore also important to describe a word’s context, what it means but also what it doesn’t mean. The idea is to end up with a list of no more than four very precise words that represent the company and that can be used in the brand strategy. These words may, of course, be adapted or changed later on. What is important is to find the key characteristics and consider how each of them can be promoted.

I always use this technique whether working for a boat construction conglomerate or a high-tech European company. Of course, this is just the first step. It is an opportunity to brainstorm collectively and I think the notion of the “collective” is essential.  I am inspired by the following phrase from Enzo Ferrari, “The team has replaced individual genius”. This idea has had an important influence on my work and I believe that it is very important for the future.

How can innovation and creativity be fostered in French companies?

I think that the values of innovation and creativity are already widely promoted. My aim is to promote the unique qualities of France in relation to other countries, because France has a strong appeal and capacity for expressing concepts.

Historically, tradition and decorative arts are often placed in opposition to concept and innovation.

Before the war, French vehicles were dominated by tradition, for example by Figoni & Falaschi, whilst in parallel Gabriel Voisin was constantly trying to be more innovative. In architecture, this was the era of the magazine “Esprit nouveau” founded by Le Corbusier. This reminds me of his definition of design as being “intelligence made visible”. In France, we want a “cult of intelligence”, which manifests itself in a desire to innovate within companies. I myself am heavily influenced by this idea.

Renault design by Patrick le Quément

Renault Initiale Concept Car, 1995

To get back to the question, I encourage the companies I work with to design products that meet current judgement criteria, in particular regarding quality. I started working in a sector I was unfamiliar with, sailing, to monitor quality because I’d managed the quality department at Renault for four years. I was contacted by Grand Large to implement quality procedures for the Outremer, Allures and Garcia boats. Leading on from this, they asked me to design new boats for them. I think that it is very important that innovation and quality go hand in hand, without this we run the risk of losing our way. Innovation needs to be integrated into an overall search for quality.

Why would small or medium-sized industrial companies call on the services of a designer to guide them in their company strategy?

I don’t think companies usually contact a designer to guide them in their strategy. It usually happens in one of two ways.

I’m contacted by company managers who are already reviewing their design process. In this case, the manager may contact a designer to continue developing their strategy, which is what I recommend.

Alternatively, I’m contacted by managers who, through pressure from the media or colleagues, use a designer for the first time. For them, the designer is a privileged partner who is integrated into the overall strategy. I usually work with companies in this way. They have realised that in order to meet the challenges of exportation, design needs to be included in their strategy.

 

Trawler designed by Patrick le Quément

Trawler Garcia GT 54, voted best European Boat of 2013

I add value based on my experience in this domain and my international career in Germany, Great Britain, the United States and Japan. I’m most successful, and fulfilled, working for these companies. It is very difficult to survive without taking the importance of design into account. Today, it is no longer possible to make badly thought out, unappealing or poor quality products. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable.

You founded The Sustainable Design School with two partners, Maurille Larivière and Marc Van Petegem. This school teaches all about sustainable design. Do you think that sustainability will be a priority for designers in the future?

Contrary to what some people say, there are very few schools that focus on sustainable development and this why I decided, with the other two founding members, to make it the foundation of our teaching. We want to explore innovative and sustainable solutions that are people-orientated.

We receive students from different backgrounds such as business, sociology and technology. We also have students from different companies. The aim of the masters is to develop a multidisciplinary approach. We think that this I essential for the future.

Drawing by Patrick le Quément

First drawing after 15 years, 2009

During the drawing classes and the more traditional classes offered by all design schools the focus is placed on understanding the problems facing the world we live in. This is often referred to as “eco-design” or sustainable development. We work with companies like Toyota, Schneider Electric, Hermès, Renault, SITA-Suez Environnement and each project is very different. Renault loved the project developed for mobility in India and asked us to undertake a second (and soon a third) stage of research.

We work with the Sustainable Development and International Relations Institute, IDDRI linked to Sciences Po, on questions such as how to make issues relating to the ecological changes easier to understand. This school is one of the most wonderful projects I’ve worked on.

To conclude with a theme that is important to the Urban Design Observatory, what do you think of changes in urban transport?

I live in two very different places – Garches near Paris and Cassis in the south of France. In the first, I have access to an exceptional network of trains, underground and (often neglected) buses. It sometimes hard to find an occasion to use my car. On the other hand, in the south, public transport is lacking and it can even be difficult to find a taxi!

I’m lucky enough to travel a lot and I’ve been able to observe different kinds of transport systems. There are countries like China where the desire to own a car is so strong that the number of vehicles is exploding. Yet, I don’t think that the future of our cities is linked to the car. In the future, we will find effective public transport solutions that reduce distances to a maximum. As for walking, our aging populations will without doubt be unwilling or unable to walk long distances or for significant lengths of time.

In cities like Paris or London, we have incredibly effective underground systems even if the materials are often old and lack inspiration. Many products continue to be updated by engineers without consulting a designer. It is high time design played a more important role when developing these materials.

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