Philipp Siebourg of Huemen, Harman’s in-house design agency, explains the future of in-car entertainment
Harman is well known in the automotive industry for its quality sound systems but what other work do you do?
It is important to know just how committed Harman is to the design of the total interior environment of a car, and the total travelling experience. Although we engineer the absolute best in sound systems, and design the most artistic speaker grilles, we do not limit ourselves to designing holes!
As we move from a device-centric world to a user-centric world, our vision is that Harman products and solutions are designed around the person for a truly personalised, intuitive and immersive experience. We see design becoming a key competitive advantage, especially in automotive.
To that end we are launching a world-class in house design agency with Harman’s current staff of over 300 designers. It’s a very exciting evolution, and one we believe will absolutely differentiate Harman from others in the category. The response from our customers has been extremely positive. We’ve been engaged in several programmes already with OEMs, including BMW, MINI, McLaren, Volvo, Jeep, Maserati and Kia. Our designers maintain a strong and deep connection to their brands, but also to the brand goals of the OEMs we serve.
We maintain automotive design studios in Munich, Detroit and Suzhou in China, working in close cooperation with OEM teams, and have expertise in materials for Harman brand components as well as OEM materials and assemblies. Couple this with a deep understanding of vehicle architectures and an OEM can approach Harman with confidence, knowing our designers and engineers can be an effective complement to their own design staff throughout the design process.
Harman designers and engineers also have the ability to provide a range of services to an OEM, from touchpoint engagement with the vehicle design team, all the way to a step-by-step development process with vehicle designers and suppliers.
Harman owns a number of different brands. What are these, and how do you distinguish one from another?
It may surprise our colleagues to find out just how broad and deep Harman’s expertise extends into quality automotive sound environments. Harman owns brands such as JBL, Harman Kardon, Lexicon, Revel, Mark Levinson, Infinity, and AKG. Additionally we license the following brands for automotive application: Bang and Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, Classé, Polk, Definitive Technology and Canton.
We maintain individual designers for each brand, and these designers create ownership for their brand. Each brand maintains individual design guidelines. These are expressed in the individual components, the materials, and the engineering for each brand. Our strong brand portfolio also allows us to work well with OEMs across categories, and provide the best fit between audio brand and OEM brand, from entry level to luxury vehicles.
Your Configurable Entertainment interior buck is your latest concept. Could you describe it?
The Configurable Entertainment concept anticipates a time in the near future when many will subscribe to car services rather than invest in car ownership. But they will still desire a quality and personalised travelling experience. The Configurable Entertainment environment is aimed at shared fleet organisations like Uber and Lyft. It would allow these shared mobility providers to provide customisable in-car brand and entertainment experiences through a single set of hardware and adaptive software.
For example, it allows one rider the experience of a JBL audio system, while another can select a Harman Kardon experience all within minutes of each other, and in the same vehicle. This is achieved by proprietary, shape-shifting speakers that can dynamically morph from one configuration to another. Sound tuning will also adjust with the user’s preferred audio brand. Finally, brand-themed lighting and graphics can shift with the chosen system to continually reinforce the brand experience.
Can you describe the design process for the Configurable Entertainment interior buck?
It was important to Harman to construct our own interior buck to provide a brand-neutral environment to demonstrate these new technologies and experiences. Our marketing, technical and design teams coordinated on the user-experience design from the beginning, imagining and visualising a configurable entertainment environment.
After initial sketches we began building the buck with our partners at Prefix and refining the speakers and hardware. This phase of the design process involved daily cross-disciplinary meetings to assure alignment of mechanicals and acoustics.
After we felt the design was right, we contracted the final construction of the interior buck to a Detroit-based model building studio, with oversight by the Harman team.
Could you describe a typical journey in the Configurable Entertainment cabin?
We envision a scenario like this: in anticipation of an evening out for dinner with friends, one would order a car from your favourite car service. Embedded in the car service is a link to Harman’s personal preference panel which would store your audio/video and entertainment preferences. These would be securely stored in Ignite, Harman’s secure cloud platform, and would follow you from vehicle to vehicle.
Once the car arrives, the doors open and your chosen Harman audio environment would welcome you with the appropriately tuned sound system and travelling environment. For example, in our Configurable Entertainment system, one can choose between a JBL system and a Harman Kardon system. If the Harman Kardon system is chosen, a soft blue lighting scheme will greet you. The speakers morph to Harman Kardon profiles and the viewing screen rises to allow you to enjoy a movie or concert video in relaxed comfort.
Alternately, choosing a JBL environment morphs the sound system to a more dynamic environment, the better to broadcast concerts or experience video gaming play while travelling. The ambient light is orange, providing an energetic glow to the JBL sound environment.
We think that many such scenarios will be possible in the future, a shared vehicle from car service that morphs itself into a personal entertainment environment for the optimal travelling experience.