Earning a seat at the table with Volkswagen Group Charging VP of Design Wolfgang Bremer
The man himself.
Wolfgang Bremer
29 February 2024
Volkswagen’s design veep talks research, design leadership, and gives us his hot takes on the latest design trends.
Wolfgang Bremer was always into cars. From a young age, the small details would catch his eye. He would notice how headlights or spoilers would shift from model to model. His parents, as parents are wont to do, would encourage this instinct, reinforcing a mindset that would go on to form the foundation of his career.
It’s appropriate that Wolfgang finds himself working for Volkswagen Group Charging—the VW Group’s energy and e-mobility initiative. As the VP of Design, Wolfgang leads the organization’s CX, design, and research for software and hardware.
In our interview, we discuss the importance of research in the EV space, the state of design leadership today, and design’s elusive “seat at the table.”
What role does research play in your design process at Volkswagen Group Charging?
It’s often clear to designers that research should be an integral part of their work. But that might not be the case for other areas of certain businesses.
A big part of what we are doing is educating people to understand why we’re doing research and why we should do research. Ultimately, if you don’t get the insights from customers or users, we’re just making random gut-feel decisions.
Research is also fundamental when we talk about electric vehicles. At VW Group Charging, we look at users’ current behavior, such as how they charge their vehicles. Or if they’re switching to an EV, trying to understand how their day works. Ideally, we do this by shadowing them and observing what they do, how they behave, plan their days, or think about things like “range anxiety.”
We present the insights to stakeholders to inform them. Because in the end, it’s not that design wants to decide on things. We want to work together to build the best product possible. With the right insights, we can make proper decisions and iterate. Whereas if you don’t do research, you would just be listening to somebody’s feelings or mood of the day. We would spend a lot of time planning, thinking, implementing, and building only to realize—maybe it doesn’t work the way we thought it would.
What’s the biggest problem facing design today?
One thing I learned, especially on the B2B side, is that it’s not only important how a design looks or how an experience is. Designers also have to understand the business side of things.
We need to be able to talk to respective stakeholders to make a point because how can we make a point and argue and discuss things if we only talk about pixels and how things look? You have to understand how this plays into what we do and build as a company.
We are usually good at talking with users, but when it comes to stakeholders, it depends. I think there’s room for improvement there.
What advice do you have for designers who want to get better at their craft?
Making the right decision is easier when we understand the problem the user is facing via research. To gather insights, let them influence the design, and inform stakeholders. Because, in the end, nobody is a villain. We all try to build good products, but we can only make decisions if we are well-informed.
Why don’t we do more research?
The easy answer is usually time and budget. But that’s the wrong answer because, in the end, it helps us save time and money. So, it should be the reason for doing research. Not the opposite.
It comes back on design to educate people about what we do. Depending on the company, this is where you talk about what design entails. It’s not just making things pretty as an afterthought. We start early. We want to be involved at the very beginning through research to make sense of things, understand our customers, and then feed this into the company.
How do you think about design leadership?
For me, it’s essential to see not just the design, business, and engineering side of things but also the people side.
Who are these people, why are they here, what is their goal, and how can we best use their skills? How can we work together in a way that we can achieve our goals while having fun?
What advice do you have for other design leaders?
I try not to tell people what to do. I prefer to ask pointed questions, allowing people to find the answers and learn along the way. I wouldn’t necessarily give advice, but I would ask, “Why do you think you want to do that?” Because leading design often unfortunately doesn’t have much to do with designing directly anymore, but with all these other things going on. And if people enjoy doing that and “indirectly designing” via decisions, if they are good with people and have good common sense, then maybe it’s something for them. But I would start slow and grow into the role.
Does design have a seat at the table?
It depends. Design wants a seat at the table, but design also has to earn the seat. If you are only doing design, then maybe you should not have a seat at the table. But if you can see things in conjunction with the business, product, runway, vision, competitors, and these kinds of things, then yes, you deserve a seat at the table.
Overhyped or underhyped
We ask our guests about recent and some not-so-recent trends in design, product, and research. They have to answer one question—is it overhyped or underhyped?
Parallax scroll
If it’s not overdone. Like how the Netflix app is designed. They have these beautiful cards with a shimmer on top where it almost sparkles. It reminds me of those limited edition DVD covers where you hold it to the light, and it shines a little bit. It’s really nicely done, but in a way that it’s not overwhelming. It’s there, but you only see it if you want to. If not, you probably won’t know.
AI in design
I would say overhyped at the moment, but in the long term, underhyped. There can be real benefits if you integrate it into your workflow. And by that, I don’t mean getting AI to create all the work for you but rather to help speed up a workflow or as a source of inspiration.
Dark mode
I like dark mode for certain applications. I hate it for others. It was overhyped a couple of years ago. Maybe now it’s underhyped. But honestly, I’m kind of neutral on it.
If you look at it from a design point of view, sure, it’s wonderful. If you look at it from a business point of view, you’re left wondering how much money goes into translating an app or a piece of software from one into the other. I don’t even want to think about how much money goes into that. But in the end, do your users actually benefit from it? If yes, then you should probably do it. If not, then I would think about maybe reprioritizing. Because, in the end, it’s a feature.
Big fonts
Still underhyped. I’m a fan of big fonts if they make sense. They remind me of print design for magazines, where you can really work with things.
Bright colors
Underhyped. Bright colors are really important, not only for catching the eye. You can build brands using beautiful, bright colors. Not everything has to be like a designer’s clothes—black. But anything can be colorful.
What design trend are you looking forward to?
I’m not sure if it’s a design trend, but I’m curious about what’s happening in the VR and AR space. I’m curious to see if the technology will change things, and if yes, how would it change them? What would that mean for the design industry, and how could we build for these kinds of experiences?

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