“I do not copy any Harvard blueprint; instead I try every day to lead my team through fact-based discussions. In this process it helps that people feel how enthusiastic I am. I stand behind every decision. My colleagues learn that immediately. ” Wendelin Wiedeking, CEO, Porsche, 1993-2009.
The industry that best exemplifies how brands are built based on design is the automotive industry. On a theoretical level, the premise of making a car is simple: a few engineering principles need to acquire material form before they can be assembled to configure what is known to be a car. But what determines how good this car is in terms of performance and aesthetics?
In other words, how does one organize all the engineering principles to come up with a particular operation? Subsequently, how does that operation manifest itself from the drafting board to real life? What makes everything work? It is all in the execution. Design is what makes things not just good but great.
Porsche, one of the most revered brands both because of its long history but also because of its achievements, has proved time and again that form both stems from good design and expresses good design. Architect Mies van der Rohe’s dictum “form follows function” has found its perfect manifestation in Porsche 911, a legendary car that has been in production since 1963 and has been evolving ever since.
According to Fred Heiler of the New York Times “[w]ith improvements in tires, brakes and suspension systems, cars were now able to corner and stop so hard that the engine would starve for lubrication as oil sloshed away from the supply tube of the circulating pump. To prevent this, the 911 engine was given two oil pumps, one to keep a reservoir tank full of oil and a second pump to feed oil from the tank to the moving parts, regardless of cornering, acceleration or braking forces. This so-called dry-sump system also eliminates the deep oil pan that normally hangs below the engine, making it possible to lower the mounting point and improve handling.” (Fred Heiler, “Timeless, but not frozen in time,” The New York Times, Automobiles section, May 26, 2013).
What this means is that a mechanical problem that others had tried to solve by reconfiguring the car’s only oil pump, Porsche solved by adding a second pump. By doing so, it dramatically altered the configuration of the engine; the engine’s operation; the engine’s performance; and the mounting between the engine and the chassis. The latter directly affected the appearance of the car, which was now configured to be lower, a trait that is associated with racing cars because the lower the engine the better the handling in great speeds. In other words, what is aesthetically pleasing in a racing car’s appearance is also a safety feature. Form follows function indeed.
Porsche has never really deviated from this recipe. The brand’s executives respect the nature of the product (racing car) and, over the years, have introduced innovations that begin within the product’s core: its engine. And since changes in the engine have a ripple effect on every single part of the car, as already demonstrated, alterations in the car’s appearance have occurred but have been minimal. These minimal modifications have allowed the brand to adjust to the times and always look contemporary while also remaining true to its original shape and lines.
That’s good design. And good design is what makes a brand timeless and consistently relevant.
© Thomaï Serdari