Guiding lights

Designer Lukas Rittwage created the Audi ‘eyes’ – the brand’s new headlights based on the four rings

When Lukas Rittwage talks about the Audi eyes he designed, his voice fills with a profound, inner satisfaction – and yes, a good measure of pride. ‘The pupil in the centre gives the car its focused gaze,’ he says, pausing briefly to inhale, as if savouring the thought, ‘and anyone who looks into the Audi eyes falls under the Audi spell.’

As a member of the Audi lighting design team, Rittwage was assigned a challenge: design a pair of minimalist, eye-like headlights that have the potential to become a truly iconic Audi feature. The result? A simple yet striking lighting design element for future vehicle generations. In short, the Audi eyes. They already grace three automotive studies – the Audi skyspheregrandsphere and urbansphere concepts.

Extraordinary challenges call for ideas to match. Instead of starting with sketches, Rittwage took a graphic approach: ‘Right from the start, I knew I wanted to use our brand logo as the basis for the design. That’s because I believe the Audi rings are one of the most striking trademarks in the automotive sector, boasting not only huge recall value but also impressive graphic clarity and power.’

To Lukas’s mind, the Audi logo consists solely of the basic ring shape and the overlaps. Even so, that gave him ample scope and he began to experiment. All the while, he kept asking himself: how do you create something that looks like an eye? By making the two central rings bolder, he noticed that they gained greater depth, projecting into the foreground and popping into focus. And when that happened, a pupil instantly leapt into view. He covered up sections and either fine-tuned contours or focused on areas: ‘The aesthetic of the Audi lighting design gives us free rein in terms of form, space and lines. I specifically went for a completely new look and feel.’ With that in mind, he accentuated the circular areas where the rings intersect. And hey presto, the Audi eyes emerged – round areas enclosed by rectangles.

‘Even though I highlight only two rings in the Audi eye, I felt it was important to keep all four rings in my mind’s eye,’ says Rittwage. In other words, when the eye is fitted into the lamp, the pupil sits at the centre of the Audi eye but the headlight’s full span corresponds to the length of the Audi logo. The upshot is that the two outer areas provide space for an additional daytime running light as well as coming-home and leaving-home functions. As Rittwage explains: ‘A key consideration in the design process was making the most of the lighting innovations achieved over the past several years. After all, digital lighting design allows us to rethink illuminated areas.’

What makes Rittwage’s graphic approach so successful is that, by combining the basic circle shape in the parallel lamps, he kills two birds with one stone. Firstly, when it comes to adding the finishing touches, the design’s flexibility allows for the use of recesses, different mouldings and special details in developing a precisely conceptualised look that gives a sporty vehicle a distinctly different air to, say, a compact class car. When the intersection between the two Audi rings is positioned higher on the horizontal plane, the eye appears rounder and more relaxed. By flattening out the rings’ curves or setting the intersection at more of an angle, he creates a more focused look. Sometimes the pupil is slightly larger, sometimes slightly smaller. Secondly, the eyes ensure that, from a distance, there is no mistaking the distinctive presence of an Audi car. Rittwage puts it in a nutshell: ‘It all comes down to the expression that arises from the overall look of the symmetrical headlights when coupled with the single-frame grille and vehicle’s proportions. We always use lighting design to bring out a vehicle’s character and give it a face.’

As a parting shot, the grinning Rittwage shares an anecdote: ‘For me, Audi has always been the automotive brand whose design best embodied Bauhaus thinking. It’s a design idiom that informs a straightforward aesthetic. When we presented my Audi eyes concept to the Head of Design, Marc Lichte, he said, “This is exactly the kind of Bauhaus approach and Audi logic that defines our brand.” For me, that was the ultimate validation. It was an incredible moment and very emotional, because I was born within sight of the Bauhaus building in Dessau.’ And with that you realise that any sense of pride Lukas feels is definitely well deserved.