Interview with Dirk van Braeckel, Head of Design at Bentley Motors

I was lucky to speak with Mr. Dirk van Braeckel, Director of Design & Styling at Bentley Motors. Here’s what he had to say about his job at Bentley, the tools he uses to do the fine work, and the future of the luxury automobile business.

Mr. Dirk van Braeckel began his automotive design work with Audi working on external design after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London in 1984. Then, in August 1999 (after Volkswagen purchased Bentley a year earlier from Vickers plc), van Braeckel joined the British based company Bentley as Director of Design & Styling. In 2008, van Braeckel was awarded the European Automotive Design Award by Designers.

Bentley Continental GTC

Lauri: Bentley has developed into a brand representing the ultimate in luxury and quality. How do you integrate that into each car designs?

Dirk: It is Bentley’s Ultimate Luxury and Quality that our designs have to communicate and a perception of Quality is fundamental to the way I design.

We design with authentic materials for the interior such as top quality leather, real metal, real natural wood, lamb’s wool carpets and so on. We also strive to use each material in a way that makes the most of its natural properties – wood for surfaces that should feel “warm” to the touch and so forth. Ultimately, we design the ambience of the environment you enter when you close the door of your Bentley. It requires a combination of aesthetic design and craftsmanship to deliver this.

For the exterior it is important to create a “Must Have” factor. The impression of relaxed power, build quality that is second to none, simplicity and character all create a desire to admire and own such a car as a Bentley. Its understatement and sportiness creates admiration rather than envy.

Lauri: How long was the process of design for the Bentley EXP 9 F (shown below)?

Dirk: The process of the design of EXP9F was not very long. We spent about 7 months in total including the build of the actual show car.

EXP 9 F launch at Geneva Motor Show 2012 

Lauri: What distinguishes luxurious design from common design?

Dirk: Luxurious design captures the imagination and creates a desire which a common design can’t reach. It works with the best materials to create a real value and is linked to brand values, whereas a common design will mimic luxury and be more fashionable to create an interest.

Lauri: Is the luxury car industry conservative? If yes, why?

Dirk: The luxury car industry is not conservative in my view. Or at least it does not have to be conservative. If I look back at the launch of the Continental GT in 2002 it was more of a revolution for the brand and a unique car in a market niche which nobody recognized until we did. That is progressive and arguably even experimental.

Lauri: What is the innovation in your work?

Dirk: To keep re-inventing the Bentley Brand in new products.

Lauri:  Where do you get inspiration?

Dirk: I get my inspiration from the Bentley brand itself with its iconic road and racing cars, art, architecture; all things beautiful…

Lauri: How much freedom do you have in creating new designs?

Dirk: At Bentley we tend to design the ultimate desired exterior and interior and then work out how we can engineer and build the car. This often involves using innovative technologies such as superformed aluminium.

Lauri: What is the Bentley car design process?

Dirk: Our design process is a mixture of classic methods and CAD-based work. I am responsible for the package and architecture of the cars and also the computer surfacing. With the design process starting with the architecture and proportions, we do volume models to get an idea of the stance and appearance of the car. With clay models we work the character and aesthetics of the design and ultimately interact with the CAD world to work the lines and surfaces to perfection.

Lauri: What are you working on at the moment?

Dirk: Today I am focusing on the productionization of our SUV Concept, EXP 9 F. Some new models are already designed and released to engineering while others are the advanced design stage.

Lauri: What CAD solutions you are using? Which other great tools/solutions you are using in your work?

Dirk: We work with Alias and Icem Surf for surface models. For engineering it is Catia V5. The designers also use Photoshop a lot to create realistic renderings of their ideas.

Lauri How many designers/engineers you have in-house?

Dirk: In my design and concepts department we have about 110 people. Designers, clay modellers, surfacing people, alias modellers, feasibility, package and concept engineers.

Lauri: Are you using outsourcing?

Dirk: The design department only outsources hard model build. All design work is done in house at Crewe.

Lauri: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Dirk: The most challenging part of my job is the level of expectation of our customers and the on- looking world. The expectations of something special and iconic are very high. Our success has always driven us to do even better with the next car. That is the real challenge.

Lauri: What qualities must engineers have in order to work for Bentley?

Dirk: My department is Styling & Design, so I can only talk about the people in my team. The key quality for our designers is an appreciation for heritage and tradition combined with a passionate for modern, flowing design and a creative flair. Our team designs cars that reflect our past whilst looking to our future, blending sculptured lines with traditional Bentley features – the round lamps, upright matrix grille, etc. Apart from their technical skills, our designers must also have an appreciation for the engineering beneath the skin of the car, and be able to work well with teams from across the Engineering department and the rest of the business.

Bentley Continental GT V8

Lauri: Which direction do you think that luxury car design is heading?

Dirk: Luxury car design is very much in demand again. Markets like China have grown beyond the vision we had just a couple of years ago. Such markets want our brand and products but also have their own cultural views on luxury and how this is seen within society. This will be the biggest influence on luxury car design in the next years.

Lauri: Thank you so much for this interview and I wish you creative success in your future work!

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  • William

    Great interview and very interesting reading.

  • Manolis Theofilos

    Very nice entry. It is nice to hear what CAD software leading companies use, what is their philosophy when designing new products and what they are looking for in their employees.
    Keep it up.

  • Franky Devaere
  • R Venkatesh Govind

    While retaining the plush and classic styling, is it not possible to make the cars look more sleek. Have you tested out customers preferences in this?