Anders Warming is rarely far from paper and pencil. He sketches, it sometimes seems, reflexively, to the point of distraction for his colleagues.
“I’ll be in a meeting and just start sketching, and people will say, ‘Hey Anders, that’s kind of rude’. But I am listening,” he laughs.
“Actually, sketching is something I pride myself on still doing even as I’ve moved up management levels over the years. It’s like a sportsperson who still needs their work-out. As a designer you have to be able to keep sketching – at least to keep you on a level with younger members of the team.
"I don’t feel comfortable giving directions – they’d look to me as if to say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ – without being able to grab a piece of paper and just show them.”
Warming sometimes sketches hundreds of iterations of an idea before it starts to reflect what he’s looking for. But then, as the director of design at Rolls-Royce for the last couple of years, he has to get things very, very right. That is, not least, because he’s enjoying the new experience of being told by his customers when it perhaps isn’t.
“What’s really struck me about Rolls-Royce is the connection between design and clients. We get to hear a lot of ideas and concerns [from Rolls-Royce owners]. It’s very intimate. It’s like a friendship,” he explains. “But that’s actually in line with how I like to work – patience isn’t a virtue of mine so it’s great to get direct feedback. And they’re very specific about what they do and don’t like.
“That doesn’t mean you have to take that information and say, ‘Now we’ve got to change the headlights,’ but it is honest. Do they ever come up with terrible ideas? No, never because they’re Rolls-Royce clients,” he adds with a chuckle
“Sometimes they tell me what they think we should do, and you think, ‘Whoa, OK, that’s a big one, we’ll have to think about that’. But other times you get a sense that these are people with a high degree of vision. They’re often entrepreneurs, start-up people, the kind who in their everyday life have to get things moving.”
Given they’ll be spending in excess of £380,000 for Rolls-Royce’s latest offering – version eight of the Phantom – you’d assume clients will have high expectations.
It’s a subtle update, almost a decade on, of arguably the marque’s most famous car in modern times. And that’s something of an occasion in itself – Rolls-Royce doesn’t introduce many models at all compared with other automakers, the likes perhaps of BMW, where Warming was head of exterior design, coming up with the likes of the second generation of the X3, the 5 Series and the Z4, before joining Mini as head of design.
Along the way, he’s worked for Volkswagen, the short-lived relaunched German Borgward brand and, on the side, likes to design motorcycles, too.
Still sketching, he feeds project ideas each Monday morning to his friend Edgar Heinrich – head of design at BMW Motorcycles (“and of course he just laughs it off,” says Warming, “but it’s just a hobby of mine and he can throw them in the bin if he wants, I don’t mind.”)
The Phantom was already the best car in the world; the question was how to make it better
“There has to be a longevity to Rolls-Royce cars so when one comes onto the market it will have validity for a relatively long time.
We can’t just say, ‘Hopefully this will last five years [stylistically-speaking] and everyone will be happy’,” says the Dane, who trained at the Art Centre College of Design Europe in Switzerland and Pasadena.
“The industry typically thinks of [a design as being tired] around seven years but we have to think well past that. The quality demands of this market are such that it simply can’t be any other way for a Rolls-Royce.”=
Nevermind an historic move for an historic company – the likes of the forthcoming all-electric Spectre electric is a case in point – even the upgrade of an established model like the Phantom comes with long consideration, and not least because Rolls-Royce customers tend to regard the 2013 version as something akin to the company’s pinnacle.
That’s why the new version keeps the same formula – same size, proportions, doors, seating positions, instrumentation and so on – while introducing tweaks both aesthetic and technical, the likes of four-wheel steering, which thankfully makes a 5.7m long and 2m wide car that much less terrifying to manoeuvre around an increasingly crowded city.
“[To them] it was already the best car in the world,” says Warming. “The question was how to make it better.”
If that sounds like a contradiction, Warming explains that it’s only the passage of time that allows for such improvements, given both the enhancements that new technology affords but also the progression of a design approach so that it too is in tune with a fast-changing zeitgeist.
That might be, for example, the move towards giving car buyers ever greater options for personalisation. And for the Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII that means, among other things, what it’s calling ‘the gallery’.
That’s a glass enclosure on the fascia in which the client can put pretty much whatever they want – a bespoke work of craft or art, for example, in precious metals, textiles, wood, whatever. Creating these has to be done in a dedicated ‘clean room’ so that the work is free of all dust that might, in time, show itself trapped under the glass.
“When you launch any car, you’re convinced it’s the best you could have done – and then a few years later when you bring out the next [iteration] you look back on the old one and think, ‘Wow, we’ve really moved on since then.’ It’s always surprising, but there’s a natural evolution because the goal-posts have moved again,” he explains.
“But it’s not just in engineering. Designers are agents of change. We’re expected to keep pushing things on. The trick is not to bring change for its own sake. As with the Mini really, so with Rolls-Royce, these are British brands that really require you to relish the past and take care of the heritage.”
Warming recalls being pulled aside by the marketing people at Mini not long after starting with that similarly iconic automotive brand: “‘Whatever you do, remember that Mini is Mini’,” they said, a little cryptically.
“What they meant was that you can change it – bring in those Union Jack tail-lights, for example, something subtle, or maybe something more overt – but [as a whole it] still has to look and feel only like a Mini,” he says. “And it’s the same for the Phantom. It would be so disappointing for many to introduce a ‘new’ Phantom only for clients to look at it and say, ‘Really? So that’s a Phantom now?’. That would be a bad miss for us.”
“But sometimes, as human beings, it’s the simplest changes that make the greatest impression on us,” Warming adds – and here he’s referring to the Phantom VIII’s retro-futuristic disc wheels. “You can always add more lines to a wheel design but that doesn’t mean [the customer] will be able to distinguish it from another wheel design with lots of lines. But take them away entirely, make one big disc and the effect is bold but wonderfully simple.”
Warming jokes that growing up in Denmark as he did, there wasn’t much in the way of a national car industry or, indeed, a car culture to get him excited about automotive design.
He had to be a self-starter, spending his pocket money on British car magazines at the railway station: “That was my evening literature, all Rolls-Royce and Alvis and Austin Healey.” At the same time, he says, his father had a fondness for innovative French cars of the time, the likes of the Citroen CX and GS.
“So I think my bandwidth was made to span the classic ‘car-ness’ of designs out of England but also that more avant-garde look, so if I’m asked to design today I understand the statement that a Mini has to make, but also something that’s more high concept, more high level. In the same way I like speed, doing hot laps on a race-track, but I also like the kind of car you can drive with two fingertips. I like to waft. As a car design person today you need to understand both worlds.”
Whatever you do, just don’t give this particular design person a blank sheet of paper. No matter how much he likes to sketch, he can suffer a kind of designer’s block when faced with getting down those initial lines. Mini and Rolls-Royce may seem, in design terms, about as polar opposite as you might imagine, but, Warming says, actually both brands have to work within similar parameters. And, far from seeing parameters as limitations, having them is how he likes it.
“I remember when I was doing an internship back in the 1990s and the manager said because I’d been working on this one project for so long, for the next few weeks I could just do my dream project – ‘just start with that blank sheet’,” recalls Warming.
“‘But that’s not fun!’ I told him. ‘Give me some parameters! Ergonomics, price, speed, something to work with!’. He says to me, “Just do whatever you want.” And so I did the worst project ever. I just didn’t know what to do. The thing is that to design you need to know what’s important to other people. You can’t just say, ‘Well, I like it, and that’s that’. That’s why I like the grounding heritage of Rolls-Royce. You really feel the weight of it every day. And that’s a good thing.”
For more information, see rolls-roycemotorcars.com