StudioSyn has signed some of the most interesting design projects in the last few years, receiving more than one award for its creations. An important point of reference for those who believe that in the upcoming years, the clash between the different competitors will have design as the ground battle.
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli
APRIL 2016 – Anyone who have worked for a long time in the recreational vehicle industry, or simply follows it as an amateur, cannot fail to recognize the great strides made in recent years in the design field. Of course, we cannot speak of an ultimate change, as the car world is far distant, perhaps unreachable. However, something is changing; at least, some companies have understood that it is worthwhile investing in design. Thus they have outsourced their projects to external firms, specialised in industrial design related to the world of recreational vehicle. An example of this new-born phenomenon is the StudioSyn, Rüsselsheim. Located in the heart of Germany, this design firm, founded in 1992, started its business with the design of items aimed at home furnishing and joyned the RV industry in 1996, with an assignment from Tabbert and Wilk involving the study of a fabrics collection. In a few years StudioSyn expanded its experience with different projects aimed at furnishing KnausTabbert Group models, including the interior design of the T@B, the tiny, unique retro-type caravan. In 2007 the company received its first assignments concerning a comprehensive design of the vehicle, which was not limited to the interior but involved also the outer shell with the various construction details: the L, and XL versions of the T@B were thus created as well as the valuable Tabbert Paganini, which allowed StudioSyn to fully shows its caliber and talent. In 2007 the firm started a collaboration with the Hobby group, which quickly led to the creation of award winning models recognized by the specialized critics (Caravaning Design Award) as emblematic of a new way of conceiving caravans and campers: Fendt Brilliant, Hobby Premium and low profile Hobby 600. Also awarded with the Caravaning Design Award we find some models commissioned by KnausTabbert Group, such as Tabbert Great Puccini and Knaus Van TI, both dated 2012. The experience gained with the KnausTabbert group reaches its peak in the Caravisio concept, exposed at the Caravan Salon of Düsseldorf in 2013, where the public and the press could see it in its full magnificence. A habitable trailer definitely detached from the stereotype of the traditional caravan, with shapes resembling those of the nautical and automotive design: aerodynamic frontal side, with terrace equipped with pull down element, large sliding door that leads to a kitchenette appealing not only for the avant-garde shape, but also for the cutting-edge equipment (glass ceramic cooking hobs, sink and shower equipped with soft touch controls, an ceiling projector that conveys the images to the large porch window … ) and furnishing items skillfully designed (folding seatback sofa aimed at using the seat on two opposite sides). Many of the stylistic and furniture innovations Caravisio features were then taken up by the new version of the Eurostar, Knaus top of the range product (Red Dot Award 2013, Honorable Mention). However, we cannot forget the StudioSyn 360° collaboration with Niesmann&Bischoff, which affected not only the vehicles exterior and the interior, but also the exhibition booths and the catalogue graphics. This collaboration culminated in two icons of the Third Millennium motorhomes: Arto (Red Dot Award, Honorable Mention 2014) and Flair (Red Dot Award Winner 2015 for “the high quality of design”). The design of the entire motorhome Morelo series in 2013 (exterior design), the redesign of the T@B caravan, 2015 edition and the interior of the Knaus BoxLife van (at the beginning of 2015) complete the company profile, besides the overseas experience involving the exterior design of the Unity model produced by Canadian Leisure Travel Vans. It is also interesting, however, to mention the recent start of a massive collaboration with the Hymer group (which, incidentally, is also part of Niesmann&Bischoff), with the HymerCar-brand Salish Sea concept (modular furniture for Mercedes V-Class), the redesign of the Burstner Aviano and more. StudioSyn is able to provide its customers with exhaustive answers to their requirements through an accurate design that, starting from small constructional details may even embrace the entire vehicle. From the furniture items to the external optical units. The latter is the true vehicles distinctive trait, and for this reason StudioSyn collaborated on several occasions with major companies in the industry such as Hella and Jokon. The StudioSyn experience is not limited to RV sector, but also embraces other areas, like the nautical sector with projects aimed at Riva and Bennetti shipyards. We interviewed Tom Klueber-Voss, CEO of StudioSyn.
When was StudioSyn established?
I founded the design studio in 1993 after my apprenticeship as a carpenter and subsequent study as an industrial designer (Klüber Design at the time). In those days, I was motivated by the opportunity to bring furniture ideas to life in conjunction with partners and to act independently as a businessperson. We initially worked for the furniture industry (upholstered furniture, office furniture and household furniture).
Why did StudioSyn enter the field of recreational vehicles?
Even at the beginning of my studies I had a dream of one day designing yachts and structuring small living areas as perfectly as possible. The caravan manufacturer TABBERT became aware of us in 1996 due to our involvement in the furniture business. Initially, we designed the fabric collections for the next few years and redesigned the caravan furniture piece by piece. Ordinary people, influenced by the press, equate good design with “good form”. What is design and when does form follow function in the design of a motorhome or caravan? Design currently has many functions. In principle, design connects the product, its functions and the people who use or view the product. Functionality is very important in a sophisticated product like a motorhome. Product language manifests these functions. Design must be fun and can be very emotional given appropriate styling. And last but not least, design must strengthen the position of the manufacturer’s brand. However, commercial success is always important for STUDIOSYN products. There is a big difference in terms of image between some products of the late ’90s and some examples that are actually wonderful, and not even twenty years have passed. Moreover, in addition to beautiful motorhomes there are still rather ungainly vehicles. How much does it cost in time, experience and people to create good design, and how is this rewarded by the marketplace? Investments in good design always pay off. Unfortunately, the caravan industry deals very poorly with the copyrights of the designers and their competitors. They have copied and plagiarized for decades wherever possible. To be sure, this saves development costs in the short term, but leads you to abandon innovations to your competitors. Thus, in the long run, your own brand becomes ever weaker, while the competition gets attention through innovative products, increases design expertise for the brand, and increases its own added value in particular. Investments in good design lead to lasting success. This is quite clear with our customer Niesmann+Bischoff. For 6 years, they have taken great care to pay attention to good independent design. The products are extremely successful and the brand has since become the hottest brand in Europe.3) In the automotive world, design is everything, or nearly so. On the other hand, things are just getting started in the field of motorhomes and caravans. What are the differences in terms of culture, design and production processes? One cannot really compare the automobile industry and the caravan industry. Both produce highly complex products, but the automobile industry produces millions and the caravan industry a few thousand. In principle, we deal with large manufacturers in the caravan industry. Vertical integration, process reliability, the level of automation, and productivity in particular are markedly worse here than in the automobile industry. Considering that a run of 50 identical vehicles is really something special, we do it quite well. The crucial difference, however, is that in the automobile industry, they design and sell a brand. In the caravan industry, we sell motorhomes. When this is done consistently for decades, as in our industry, the individual OEMs’ products are interchangeable, and added value from a good brand image rests at the lower margin of its potential. All marketing tools (including professional caravan product design) should be used to serve the advancement of the brand. We could still learn a lot from the large automobile brands in this respect.
In the RV world, does it make sense to create concept vehicles, prototypes to be presented at shows to impress the audience? Or is it too expensive?
What is the payoff in terms of image versus experiences that can be useful for future vehicles in a production run? In the consumer goods industry, it is especially important to define goals, dream dreams and signal that the caravanning vacation style has advanced and is sustainable, and to do so on the basis of average product qualities. Here, too the question of costs and benefits is answered through the sustainability of one’s own corporate strategy. If a manufacturer seeks short-term success, it won’t want to define goals for the future and spend money on them. However, long-term strategies are an important basis for security and dependability even today. A good example is our latest study for HYMER, “SALISH-SEA”. Hymer is currently considering new paths in the panel van segment. A manifestation is the Salish-See study based on the new Mercedes V class. Market acceptance was researched sampled and tested. It gave rise to a discussion at the company about the subject, yielded approaches to solutions, and brought attention to the brand.
You also worked with an American company. What are the differences compared to European companies?
We are noticing that European and particularly German products (automobiles and household furniture, for example) are very well-respected in the U.S.A. This is the result of the above-average level of design in Europe, if nothing else. The American caravan market is comparable to ours 15 years ago. The products are very conservative, production methods are very traditional, and design obviously plays no great role as a competitive advantage. The market is expanding, and customers have become accustomed to average quality, so no one needs to try to innovate. Our customer LEISURE is a small, discriminating manufacturer of high value motorhomes. Leisure distinguishes itself with its affinity for design and with its quality standards and is very successful in doing so. It also shows that ongoing efforts regarding good design pay off. 6) What have been and what will be major changes in the design of camping vehicles? For motorhomes, we will see ever more integrated design. Better aerodynamics, reduced fuel consumption and less wind noise are also becoming ever more important. As far as I know, we are the only design studio in the caravan industry that optimizes vehicle designs using a virtual wind tunnel. In the interior, future spaces will evoke a small apartment and will be less informed by the look of special caravan furniture. In the wake of the “dynamic trend”, caravans are once again being designed to look more “relaxed”. Living circumstances at the camp site will again stand at the center of exterior design.
Flat vertical sides: an insuperable limit?
No. We are now working with one of our customers on a completely new architecture for side walls. Technologically, a solution has been found. We are now merely working on process reliability, and we are experimenting with the new alternatives for exterior design. You will be surprised.
How much and in what way does the chassis influence the design of a motorhome?
From the perspective of the designer, the crucial drawback of today’s basic vehicles and chassis is track width, which is too narrow. The wheels are too wide in the wheel well, and handling in curves is correspondingly poor. The Ducato is still the best vehicle with respect to track width; that it is the market leader is no surprise. Here, the goal of the design is to conceal the limited track width as much as possible through intelligent design. There are several perceptual effects that we can make use of to solve the problem. One can see this particularly well in the front wheel arch of the new Flair from Niesmann+Bischoff.
Is it more difficult to design a motorhome or a caravan? Why?
The goal in the interior is roughly comparable, even though the lowerable beds, which are ever more frequently required, represent a particular challenge. As a general rule, the caravan offers more vehicle width that the motorhome, so we interior designers must sometimes perform magic in the motorhome.
What are the elements of an RV on which it is easier to work, and which ones are difficult to change? Why?
I would like to answer the question considering the different vehicle categories: Panel vans are the most difficult to design. Here, nearly the entire geometry is predetermined by the basic vehicle, and the manufacturer’s design is limited to color and trim, and at best a customized roof. I think this is fully resolved in the latest generation of the James Cook from Westfalia.The semi-integrated give us designers considerably more options even though the basic vehicle is the dominant part. Here, the goal is often to integrate the required height skillfully and give the vehicle good proportions. This can be seen in our IXEO with the new longitudinal lowerable bed. Here, the lowerable bed is integrated flush into the ceiling, which leads to considerable vehicle height. The design uses special coloring, corrugation and various “muscle fibers” in order to aesthetically reduce the perceived vehicle height using these horizontal patterns. The “battle royale” for us designers is the design of a Class A motorhome. Here, one can reveal the DNA of the brand consistently and such that the brand vision is characterized by high recall value. A unique multifunction light in the rear, unique headlights, a brand-distinguishing daytime running light and a unique nighttime look for the tail lights demonstrate the possibilities.