“So you actually make the entire car in this plant?” Damen designer Lucas Zaat (r) has trouble believing that Dutch car manufacturer Donkervoort builds its racing cars out of engine parts, steel tubes, carbon fibre matting and countless nuts and bolts – and that all the work is done by hand by a team of scarcely 20 craftsmen, one of whom is designer Jordi Wiersma (l).
Lucas is Design & Proposal Manager at Damen, the global market leader in shipbuilding, with branches in 37 countries and more than 7,000 employees. “Of course, it is a highly complex matter to design and build ships in general, and especially offshore ships. Even so, I am envious of Donkervoort’s knowledge capital. The cars are developed by a small team.”
Donkervoort is certainly no run-of-the-mill car manufacturer. Its exclusive sports cars are renowned for their phenomenal performance. The powerful engine and lightweight body deliver a pure driving experience. That feeling is enhanced by the fact that Donkervoort models do not have ABS, power steering or other electronic driving aids. “Our cars are no-nonsense vehicles. Everything is geared to delivering a top performance,” says Donkervoort designer Jordi Wiersma. “I think the same is true of Damen.”
“That’s absolutely correct,” confirms Lucas. “Our work is also judged on functional criteria such as power, speed, manoeuvrability, capacity and stability. Every new design starts with a list of technical criteria that the ship has to meet. The list can run to a few hundred sheets of paper.”
“Let’s not forget the safety and environmental requirements, which are perhaps even stricter,” adds Jordi. “That’s why we’re launching the GTO, a new car that complies with the strictest standards and will replace all previous models.”
Beauty and emotion
The two designers start their conversation by exploring differences in their work. Are cars tested in wind tunnels? Lucas asks. “No, too expensive” is the answer. Is the carbon fibre that makes up much of the Donkervoort body sufficiently fireproof? “Of course. The fire safety rules are sacred.” But it soon transpires that both regard the design as more than the sum of functionality plus regulations. The conversation quickly moves on to beauty and feeling – to “evoking emotions”.
“A Donkervoort is more than a means of transport,” says Jordi. “Our buyers aren‘t looking for a new car – they’re looking for a unique experience. They want the old-fashioned pleasure of driving, to feel the steering wheel pull in a curve, to be pushed back into their seat when they accelerate. In order to give them that, our cars have to be powerful and lightweight. But we can also give them the same sensation with our design. Our cars ride very low so that they hug the ground. At the front end, the Donkervoort resembles a predator in the wild. You can feel the same untamed power behind the wheel.”
Functionality versus design
“The design gives the car a unique look that’s immediately identifiable,” notes Lucas. “People can spot a Donkervoort from a distance by the way the tyres stand out from the body. We want to do the same with our ships. Our latest model, the AHTS – Damen’s first fully customised deepwater Anchor Handling Tug Supplier for the offshore industry – has a strikingly high prow and a stern as straight as an arrow…” “Those freestanding tyres are mainly meant to reduce the weight!” Jordi interrupts. “But it also gives the car a classic look, and that fits in with our philosophy of delivering an authentic driving experience.”
“Well, our unique, straight prow is also a functional feature,” says Lucas. “The ship has a longer waterline and that’s why it performs optimally at different draughts. The chine also considerably reduces the impact of waves slamming against the sides. But it’s the design team that has to drive innovation. As a rule, technical engineers aren’t inclined to push the boundaries. They stick with what they know. Designers, on the other hand, always want to use their experience and insights to try out new things, and what’s important then is to strike the right balance between innovation and ‘proven design’.”
Our buyers are not looking for a new car – they’re looking for a unique experience.
Donkervoort designer Jordi Wiersma
“I don’t design a car on my own,” says Jordi. “I am constantly consulting the production unit. After all, my ideas have to be feasible down in the plant.” “Designing a ship is, of course, a question of teamwork – that’s the basis for a quality product,” says Lucas.
The golden section
Lucas and Jordi agree that technical innovation and expressive design should go hand in hand. Expressiveness should not, however, be confused with unnecessary details or flashy spoilers. ‘No nonsense’ is a favoured approach for both designers.
“We can now manufacture the entire body out of carbon fibre,” says Jordi. “That makes the most outrageous shapes possible. Instead, the GTO has clean, modern lines. That’s our way of showing that this car is more advanced than the models it’s replacing. On the other hand, we don’t make a display of the software that tunes the engine.”
Lucas says that Damen’s design team also considered the lines of the AHTS. “This is the first time that we cast a sidelong glance at the ‘golden section’, which prescribes the ideal proportions between the hull, the deckhouse and the wheelhouse. It’s an unwritten rule that if a product looks good, it often performs beautifully too.”
Expressing your core values
“A design communicates not only that a product is innovative – it says the same about the entire company,” says Jordi. “We can express our brand’s core values very effectively in our designs. Joop Donkervoort built his first sports car in 1978 in a simple shed. That first effort grew into a unique make that offers a pure, almost raw driving experience. That’s why the shape, with its long bonnet, alludes to archetypal racing cars.”
“Damen symbolises quality and reliability,” says Lucas. “The AHTS 200 looks robust, but in fact it’s really a high-tech ship. We prefer to stress calm and simplicity. That’s why we’ve remained a family business since 1927. Damen doesn’t make things harder, it makes them easier – fit for purpose. That’s the key to success.”