Industrial design engineer Wouter Kets doesn’t really have an affinity with cars. “Ask me to name all the latest Mercedes or BMW models, and I wouldn’t have a clue.” An appropriate answer for an interior designer who works for Audi. How a graduation project based on the design for a car seat can lead to an international career and finding the love of your life in Beijing.
He is calling from Ingolstadt in Germany, home of the headquarters of German car manufacturer Audi. “I’ve been back since last year’, says Wouter Kets, ‘they wanted me be to based here again.” Before this, he was based in Beijing, China, where they have completely different ideas about design and you have to learn how to survive on chicken’s feet and deep-fried scorpion. “Some people struggle with those sorts of cultural differences, but it was an aspect I really enjoyed”, he says. “They were the best three years of my life.” Not least because this was where he met his partner – also Dutch – with whom he now has a two-year-old son.
China is the biggest market for Audi; it is bigger than Europe. The car manufacturer sent him there in 2011 with two colleagues to set up a design studio. “We had to translate the Chinese design philosophy as far as possible into concepts for Audi.” He says that, looking back, this inspired the company’s automotive designers all over the world. “Chinese designers have a slightly fresh perspective on the car brand; I can’t quite put my finger on it.” He has traces of a German accent, which is not surprising, given that he has worked for a German company since 2001. He currently manages a 200-strong team responsible for designing the interior of three models that Audi will be developing in the next few years. Yes, there is already plenty of his work to be seen, he admits modestly. “I designed many of the dashboard elements in the Q3, and I kicked off the design for the new A4. You can see the results of my work driving around on the streets. That’s really great.”
And this from someone who ended up in the world of car manufacturing by chance. “The TT had just been launched. For me it was a fantastic example of product design. I applied for an internship, where I worked on my graduation project, a design for a car seat. Two weeks later the boss called me – the company’s seat designer had resigned. I was given a contract straightaway.”
As a Delft engineering graduate you are something of an outlander in the automotive industry, according to Kets. “Most of the designers there graduated from renowned design schools. The standard is extremely high. But Delft graduates understand design and they know about technology.” The Delft approach has also stood him in good stead. “I learned to structure the design process so that it doesn’t become chaotic, and so that you know precisely when it will be complete. I still benefit from that every day.”
Name: Wouter Kets
Place of residence: Ingolstadt, Germany
Marital status: Relationship, 2-year-old-son
Study: Industrial Design (1994-2001)