Rivian is really an unusual automotive company, even going so far as to have the design team freely interact with the media. Normally, this would cause an automotive PR hack to freak out or at least have a jump in blood pressure worthy of a trip to the ER. But, this is the 2018 LA Auto Show, and Rivian is embracing honesty in the product and the people that are breathing life into a new company, and two new products.
Four fresh faces are given the green light to share their experiences and vision at Rivian. Matthew Braun / Interior Designer, Paul Hoste / Exterior Designer – R1S, Luke Mack / Exterior Designer – R1T, Sophia Park / Color/Material Designer casually discuss their adventure into the land of EVs.
Interviews and images by John Grafman
AutoDesignO: At what point did you get involved with the company?
Paul Hoste: I started working at Rivian about a year and a half ago. Last two Junes ago. I actually used to work at FCA, I did a lot of Jeep design, and then a year and a half ago made the jump over to Rivian.
AutoDesignO: At what point was the project at when you joined the company?
Paul Hoste: We were at a point where we were starting from zero. We were developing a brand and developing two products at the same time. It was exciting to start from nothing. We’ve been used to just design a product – design vehicle, but a lot of us were involved in actually shaping a lifestyle brand.
AutoDesignO: Can you tell us a little bit more about the project and what you’ve been doing on it?
Matt Braun: Well, I’ve been, specifically, supporting some of the components. So, I worked on the steering wheel, the stalks, and the seats, as well as the floor system, and some of the other storage compartments.
AutoDesignO: What do you like about this project?
Matt Braun: I like this project because it’s genuine to our customer, and it solves a lot of problems that current vehicles don’t do for our customer now.
Finding Something That Was Undeniably Us Was A Challenge – Hoste
AutoDesignO: Is it a little unusual because you had a blank slate to start with?
Paul Hoste: It was a little daunting actually. A lot of times when you work at an OEM, or a company that has strong heritage, you have cues and a strong past to rely on influencing your future products. At Rivian starting from scratch, it had to look new and fresh but also we wanted it to be simple and something immediately recognizable and a lot of times in the beginning of the process you draw something and you’re sketching and that looks too this, or it looks too much like that. So, finding something that was undeniably us was a challenge especially knowing we wanted to keep it simple.
AutoDesignO: Tell us about some of the challenges you faced at Rivian in making this product come to life?
Luke Mack: We started with a blank canvas, like Paul was saying, but just starting a brand that had a unique appearance, and just a unique place in the market is super difficult because that’s what companies define themselves on. Having to just do that really quickly, all of a sudden, so yeah it was a huge challenge.
I agree personally with the brand … I agree with it – just this idea of going into nature and getting out of the city, and especially right now where everyone is on their phone and they’re so focused on society and all that. Actually going into nature, and there’s a vehicle that allows you to do that and actually encourages that. I think it’s a really unique place to be in for a car company.
Adventurous Because That’s What We Are Aiming For – Park
AutoDesignO: Can you tell us a little bit more about the challenges you faced at Rivian compared to say some other companies?
Sophia Park: The challenge I met is, creating strong brand identity through color and materials design from the scratch.
Sophia Park: The main strategy behind the CMF design is a combination of the premium-ness and the utility. So, we want to combine a utility environment, but still looks very premium, very inviting, and also very adventurous because that’s what we are aiming for. We wanted to bring some more outdoor inspired color/material choices for the vehicle, and that’s what we try to achieve.
AutoDesignO: Were there certain challenges, either with the company, with the direction they were going, or with what you wanted to implement, and having the higher-ups green light some of your choices?
Matt Braun: So, I’ve been at Rivian for about 3 and a half years now, and we have been on a few different paths. But, with the new team coming in, these guys here (Paul Hoste, Luke Mack, Sophia Park), a little over a year ago, well, almost two years now … having a team that’s aligned and knows the customer and the direction that we needed to go, I think is definitely the most important thing.
Unique And Something Simple Enough To Actually Be Recognizable – Mack
AutoDesignO: Was there something in specific that you worked on that you feel like it nailed it?
Luke Mack: Well there was a feature, the side bend feature and I had a line that went around it that defined it, and it points out basically that there’s other features that allow different types of storage, which encourages different types of use cases. So, I think some of the line work and the design celebrates the different aspects of what makes it unique.
AutoDesignO: It’s a very clean design overall, actually on both Rivian vehicles. Was there a fight between delineating (too much) character as opposed to just trying to create a cleaner vision?
Luke Mack: I think cleaner is always better personally, and I think it resonates better with people because it’s a quicker … You can easily identify it when it’s clean. I think like as a lot of designers always say, well if you can look at it once and then remember it and if you can draw it on a napkin a day later, then that probably means that you did something unique and something simple enough to actually be recognizable.
AutoDesignO: How difficult was it at Rivian to come up with those particular choices when there’s so many different ones out on the market?
Sophia Park: Even though it looks really, really premium that’s actually really easy to clean because we strategically used a premium vegan leather (PU), so you can just clean it with soap and water. It’s very clean and it’s very durable, and the floor material we used the brand Chilewich. I’m not sure you’re familiar with that. It’s a flooring and outdoor mat material or outdoor furniture. It’s really durable and you can just take it out and just wash through the water. It still looks very modern because it’s a modern textile. So that’s what we pushed for. Overall, our materials choice is very premium looking, but it’s still very functional and utilitarian.
You Don’t Have To Be Reluctant On Throwing Gear Into Your Back Seat – Braun
AutoDesignO: Did you do a lot of market research to get to this point?
Matt Braun: Yeah. I think there was a lot of market research involved. I mean, I didn’t do the market research, but we just knew our user, and knew that there was a void in the space, especially with electrification. A lot of vehicles people use now are electric. There are great products now, but those cars don’t have the capabilities that the Rivian has to take you where you want to go.
AutoDesignO: How did some of the work you are doing express some of the direction the company was going?
Matt Braun: Like Sophia was saying, with the materials, it was really cool to leverage some of the materials that our customers are using, whether it’s the gear that they have, or the things that they wear. And bringing those materials into the interior really helped out with things like clean-ability and durability. The super fabric on the seat back is highly durable, so you don’t have to be reluctant on throwing gear into your back seat and it scuffs up your seat back. People are really reluctant to do that stuff. All of the high-wear areas on the interior are down low, for scuffing, kicking, and all that stuff, collecting dirt. And everything up high is kind of more of a premium vegan leather, the wood. So, it was a nice arrangement of where the materials should be, from a practicality standpoint.
Rivian Is Scoring High Marks In Design, Technology, And Brand
The R1T and R1S (truck and SUV) are certainly giving the major OEMs a run for their money in terms of styling, fit, and finish. While the production models are just a year or two away, these are causing a stir at the Los Angeles Auto Show today.
Find out more at Rivian.com.