Automotive design engineers look to many sources of inspiration when creating interiors. Years before a new model reaches the market, designers must select fabrics and materials for the interior trim. They have to know which colors and patterns are going to be popular with customers 5 to 10 years in the future.

“Our ideas give an identity to the car and its atmosphere,” says Oona Scheepers, head of colors and interiors at Audi AG (Ingolstadt, Germany), which many obervers consider to be the benchmark. “We have to consider the longevity of our products.

“It’s not like with fashion, where you buy yourself a new blouse, dress or jacket, and then hang them up at the back of the wardrobe after a year because they’re no longer fashionable,” adds Scheepers. “A car is too expensive and too durable for that. Not everything that happens to be in fashion at the moment can be transferred to the car.”

Scheepers and her colleagues evaluate social trends, visit furniture and textile fairs, and study the fashion, design and advertising industries. In addition, they are influenced by nature, art and architecture. More and more interior designers are taking design cues today from consumer electronic products, such as cell phones, computers, iPods, MP3 players and wristwatches.

Interior designers must choose between a large amount of natural and synthetic meterials, ranging from metallic surfaces to wood inlays and leather to plastic. The challenge is to find a solution that’s aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective.

“We have to take in everything that is happening around us like a sponge,” says Scheepers. “We think four to six years ahead. It is important not to chase after existing trends, but to set your own.”