11 July 2018
An interview with Stefan Handt, Head of Design Daimler Buses, regarding the new design of the eCitaro
Mr. Handt, first of all: What three words would you use to describe the design of the eCitaro?
Modern, clear and inviting.
You have been in charge of design at Daimler Buses since March of this year. Were you able to contribute to the design of the electric Citaro in any way?
It is true that I am relatively new in my position. But I began to spend one or two days a week working on design for Daimler Buses in November 2017, which meant that I was able to work on the design of the eCitaro. Therefore, I can stand next to it and say that Jörg Albers and the rest of the design team did a great job, in which I have also had a part.
What do you think is special about the eCitaro's design?
The special thing about the vehicle is that it has a very clearly defined design. There is a large black surface at the front where the glass meets the bow door. This is enclosed by a frame that continues toward the rear. So a "band" entwines the whole bus, giving it a very modern appearance. But it is certainly timeless rather than trendy.
What I also like is that it very much reflects the brand identity. You can see that it's a Mercedes. In addition to the large star at the front, the decorative elements have been interpreted in a very modern way. It also differs significantly from the conventional Citaro, for example. This means that the municipal authorities and transport operators can also make a very clear statement: "We are thinking of the future! We are powered by electricity!"
The new eCitaro is also a piece of mobile architecture that is open and transparent, and therefore very inviting.
What is your personal design highlight in the bus?
For me it's clearly the front. It has a lot of finesse. There are also things that you can discover at a second glance. I like that. These are transparent bodies that are vapor-deposited on the back, that is to say chrome-plated. This creates a bit of magic for me. The impact is different from every perspective depending on the light.
You just said that the eCitaro makes a very inviting impression from the outside. Is this also reflected in the degree of comfort?
I certainly believe that design can help the bus to appear and actually be more comfortable, as well. Initially, there is the purely visual impact. The new interior ceiling makes the bus seem much more spacious and - above all - more tidy. This means that there is also enough space to allow your eyes to rest. Instead of being flooded with excessive details, the interior has a certain tranquility about it. I have also had the opportunity to take a ride on the bus, and the natural ease with which the bus drives is truly inspiring. It glides effortlessly. And this is something that ultimately also enhances the comfort.
Is the noiseless driving or the fact that it is an electric bus specifically reflected in the design?
Very much with respect to the exterior. In the interior by contrast not so much, of course. But, it is very clearly expressed by the exterior through the clarity and "cleanliness" of the design. This underscores the topic of electric propulsion.
Let's talk about the interior again. Besides the interior ceiling, the seating arrangement is very conventional, for example. Wouldn't it have been possible to take a more radical approach, similar to the Future Bus?
That is correct. But for me it is the next step. We have to consider how we can offer alternative interior concepts. Transport operators are also only interested in conventional concepts at present. The new technology is presenting customers with new challenges for the time being. The question is what demands we want to place on them. If all sorts of other things are different in addition to the technology, this may be too much.
For example, we have made a conscious decision not to create a new driver work station that looks different. This is simply because the driver should feel at home to a certain extent or find things that are familiar to him/her. When a new technology is introduced, it can inspire certain fascination but also create fear. It is simply something new.
How does a designer work? How is a new design like the one for the eCitaro developed?
For us as designers it is important to dream things first. It's a bit like acting. You first need to slip into your role. What kind of a bus is this? Who uses it? What kinds of people are they? What is the city like? And this produces mental images, which then have to be brought into focus. It's like a filter that you use to narrow things down.
Everyone has to be involved in this process. It's no good finishing the design and then presenting it - you have to share your thoughts with others and get their opinions. It's exciting to see how things are being questioned and can potentially result in something completely new.
In addition, I am convinced that in any kind of development and therefore also in design the willingness to fail quickly is important. Only in this way you may get to new things and shift the limits of the possible.
And, now, to close with a completely different question: What would you be if you weren't Head of Design at Daimler Buses?
Now this is a very good question (laughs) I had two career goals before I became a designer. First, I wanted to be a rally driver. My mother tells me that I did actually become one, but that is another story. Then I wanted to become a pilot, but the thought of doing so in the military or in an airline was somehow not mine then. Thereby it was obviously for me to become a designer. If I wasn't a designer now and had to give it up – I don't think I could. You stick with what you know. I would enjoy converting motorcycles, but then I would ultimately design again. So, to be honest, I don't really know. Everything is as it should be.
Mr. Handt, thank you for this interview!