Interface Design by Saab

Before Saab made cars, they made jets. The very first Saab car was designed and hand built by 16 aircraft engineers. Only one of these guys had a driver’s license.

Still Saab always has an uncommon design philosophy. Citing their own words a Saab design differs by the following essentials: ‘Clean, aerodynamic lines, efficiency and functionality, and innovations beyond what people would expect from a car’. As user interface designer I have been always been interested in developments in the automotive industry. More so since many user interface developments started with the development of fighter planes and spacecraft. Saab develops both.

The Aero X is a good example of Saab’s design approach. What strikes me professionally is the design from inside out. Of course this is intended to tip a hat to Saab’s aviation heritage, with those fighter-jet cockpit doors, and no standard buttons and knobs. Yet don’t let the smooth, clean, and aerodynamic design make you think that it is just a branding statement.

Let’s take a look at the doors and windscreen. These are connected. Instead of using conventional doors or even gullwing doors, it uses a cockpit canopy where the entire top section of the car is opened. There’s no A-pillar, which offers the Aero X’s driver a full 180 degree vision. Secondly it facilitates entry and exit from its low-slung cabin. Intelligent choices.

Cockpit doors open up and out on a light carbon-fiber body to reveal the Aero X’s sci-fi interior. It has a 7-speed manual transmission controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. The instrument panel is made up of three-dimensional graphics on plastic, with light-emitting diodes inspired by Swedish glass innovation and precision instrumentation design.

Saab Areo X Button
Saab Areo X Button

Is this button where you would expect the clutch on the middle console the ejection seat? No, here resides the power switch! Although the coloring is the questionable, my attention was attracted to the icons around the switch. These seem to come from a pretty bad clipart package. Ok, it’s a concept car, yet regarding the inside-out design philosophy these details do matter.

Saab Areo X Speed Indicator
Saab Areo X Speed Indicator

Although it’s not the head-up display you might expect for a low altitude bird like the Aero X I really like the design. The speed indicator works like an altitude meter in aviation and scrolls vertically. The typography emphasizes the same connection. It’s futuristic too. Yet it lacks the strong character that is evidently present in the rest of this brightly designed car. I wonder if Bryan Nesbitt himself supervised these details.

Saab Areo X Concept Car
Saab Areo X Concept Car


In my humble opinion Saab comes close to an honorable purpose. The Aero X seems a good candidate to become the iPod in the automotive industry. Implementing the strong underlying concept into the user interface might take this design to that next level.

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Saab Aero X
Saab concept cars

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