C4 Cactus design chief on how the Citroen combines quirkiness and simplicity

Mark Loyd: ''There are a number of messages embodied in the [C4 Cactus] design that are indicators of what we plan to do in the future.''
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Mark Loyd, the designer behind the unique styling of the new Citroen C4 Cactus -- which has eye-catching features such as bubblewrap-like Airbumps on its sides -- thinks the car fits well into the French automaker's history. ''A little bit of quirkiness is a good thing for a true Citroen,'' said the British-born head of the C4 Cactus design team. Lloyd, who joined PSA/Peugeot-Citroen in 1989 after five years with Jaguar, provided insights into the genesis of the C4 Cactus during an interview with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Olive Keogh.

Why did you choose the name Cactus?

Part of the ethos of the Cactus design project was to create something very efficient. The name was chosen because a cactus consumes little. A cactus also protects itself in aggressive environments. The role of the Airbumps on the C4 Cactus is to protect the car in the aggressive environments that are our towns and cities today.

What was the design objective?

To revert to simpler forms. The current fashion in car design is for highly developed surfaces with a lot of structure, movement and accent. The Cactus is about simplicity.

Why give the car Airbumps?

We wanted to introduce different materials and textures to contrast with the super purity of the surfaces. They are an integral part of the design. They have a protective function but they also give the car its graphic identity and make it immediately identifiable.

What inspired the Airbumps?

Shock-absorbing materials like bubblewrap and boat fenders. Things that rely on air as the way of achieving protection within a light and efficient object. The Airbumps are a Citroen innovation and were developed in collaboration with a supplier. The actual development process was quite long and complex. The challenge was producing a structure that would meet the criteria on endurance, resilience and form. Fixing them to the car was the easier bit.

The Cactus project has been going on for years. Is that an advantage?

Yes as we have had a lot of feedback since the first version in 2007. The original idea to simplify things went too far in some ways. For example, there was no dashboard and the seats were exceptionally thin. People were attracted to the concept but they were a little bit alienated when they got inside. There is a limit to how much you can take out. People still want comfort and familiarity.

Tell us about the car’s unusual cabin

We started by deconstructing the traditional interior with the aim of making life simpler and less stressed. Interiors have become highly complicated with the addition of more and more equipment such as airbags, screens, controls and instrument panels. We reorganized the dashboard by taking each element and redistributing it. For example the passenger airbag went into the roof and the touchscreen and the gear selector came out of the dashboard. This allowed us to make the dashboard super slim and elegant. But everything has its place and is easily identifiable

Meet the designer
Name: Mark Lloyd
Title: Citroen C4 Cactus design program manager
Age: 52
Main Challenge: Creating interiors that are less cluttered and confusing without sacrificing comfort and familiarity.

What do you like about the C4 Cactus?

It is relaxed, confident and beautifully done. The C4 Cactus is a super smooth pebble that has been in the river a long time. A little bit of quirkiness is a good thing for a true Citroen.

How will the C4 Cactus influence the design for future Citroens?

There are a number of messages embodied in the design that are indicators of what we plan to do in the future. The big accent is on comfort and and just feeling good being inside. Just because you have a complex machine doesn’t mean the user experience has to be complex.

What design elements of the C4 Cactus are you particularly pleased with?

The bench seat has translated very nicely to the production car. It’s not at all about putting three people in the front. If you put three people up front you make a van. It is about changing the feeling. Comfort can be a physical and a mental thing. The feeling of being on a sofa with one other person is very different to being in two separate armchairs. It creates ease.

What are the future trends that will affect car design?

For us it is simple forms to which we can easily apply new and interesting materials. It is difficult to apply materials to highly complex forms with lots of creases and in and out movement. With simplicity of form you can be quite innovative. There are ‘trends’ all over the C4 Cactus. Look at the glovebox or the dashboard or even how you close the door – with a belt that looks like it came off a beautiful piece of luggage.

This story is from the current issue of the Automotive News Europe monthly e-magazine, an exciting new product that is also available to read on our iPhone and iPad apps.You can download the new issue as well as past issues by clicking here.

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