Reflections on AIF 2021

Brandy Ryan July 15, 2021 10 min read

The 2021 Automotive Innovation Forum is the opportunity for the Automotive Design team to share updates, tease new releases, and connect customers as a community. This year’s focus was on the future of automotive design, and we caught up with Automotive, Concept Design and Extended Reality VP Thomas Heermann and Director of Product Management Marek Trawny to hear about how it went and what they hope customers take with them.

Brandy: So: you and your teams just finished another virtual Automotive Innovation Forum (AIF). Unlike last year, your team has had a full year of being on camera, doing all their presentations and client calls that way. How do you think it went?

Marek: I think what’s most interesting about it is that you get so used to this new way of working, as opposed to last year, when it was an unexpected situation that we had to learn how to deal with quickly. We’re now in the rhythm of virtual presentations—obviously all our customer meetings are being held virtually, and we’re doing everything online. So, this made it, for me and for the team and I think for everyone involved, just a lot more natural.

Thomas: It’s a really good way to reach a lot more people who would normally not show up in person at an event. That’s really, really good—especially because they can choose how they take in the content. They can attend, they can watch it while offline. It’s a really good way to communicate deeper stories with our customers. I think definitely sitting face-to-face with somebody and talking, having a casual beer and being together is a different way of working. But being at home and doing this digitally, I think, is a good way to increase our reach as well. It’s a great way to talk to more users than before.

Brandy: Having watched the presentations, I can say everyone seems so natural, Like, they’re just having a conversation with someone in front of them instead of, you know, there’s a camera and they’re looking at it. So, hat tip to your team for that.

Marek: Yeah, and also what I would like to add, even as we’re getting used to this new way of working, I’m incredibly looking forward to meeting customers in person again and having the side chats at the coffee machine and those kinds of things. I’ve been missing that a lot, actually.

Thomas: The social tissue is missing in these conversations, yeah.

Brandy: But we do the best we can in this context. What was most memorable for each of you at this year’s AIF?

Thomas: I would say, of course, the customer presentations are always the big highlight. It’s especially important to see the Design Studio as the theme for the majority of presenters. Like the topic of the Design Studio is seen by senior executives as important, and the speakers reflected this kind of importance to those companies.

Lukas Fäth, VRED Keynote Presentation (AIF 2021)

Marek: The key highlight are the customer presentations, but also, I think, how everything came together in the end—all those little wheels, everything, the gears coming together and the customer presentations…. They amplified our story, how we placed our message. All this is hard work for many people. Everyone’s really enthusiastic about getting this thing pulled off the ground, and then when you’re there on that day and you see everything come together, it’s really exciting.

Brandy: I’m not sure people realize that it’s five months’ intense work leading up to this. The kick-off meeting for the team was in January, I believe.

Marek: Yeah, and I think the planning, like the basic planning, even started around autumn last year.

Thomas: There’s a lot of preparation there.

Brandy: And it pays off, because it was a really seamless set of presentations.

Thomas: Yeah, I think it pays off. I think it also pays off to go the extra mile in production quality. It’s not somebody reading a PowerPoint. Really, you want to engage, like an actor with the audience. That makes a big difference as well.Brandy: Yeah, you can actually see Phil Botley on a stage somewhere, doing Shakespeare. He just has that natural chemistry with the camera.

Phil Botley, Alias Keynote Presentation (AIF 2021)

Thomas: And Lukas really likes talking to the camera. Personally, I would say the Linkage presentation was the most interesting one for me, especially seeing Kevin Richards on there. When I started with Alias 20 years ago, Kevin Richards joined us the second year as an intern. And just 20 years later, he is the same. Casual, cool, confident.

Kevin Richards, Linkage Presentation

Brandy: That’s amazing. Did anything about this year’s AIF surprise you? Was there something unexpected when you saw it all come together, or some part of the planning process that you weren’t quite expecting?

Thomas: Definitely on the unexpected side was good numbers. We had more people subscribing to it than before, which is a good surprise,

Brandy: What was the total number?

Thomas: We had over 575 people attend live, with many more continuing to watch on-demand at and   

I would say the Agile Design Studio message really resonated through the entire event. Of course, with our presentation, the technical presentations. But even the customers, to varying degrees, reflected the same story back to us as well, in their own language.

Brandy: That’s when you know you’ve hit on something really resonant, something compelling for people—that everyone’s telling their own iteration of it.

Were there any surprises?

Thomas: I guess the only downside to virtual events is that you don’t get the initial report after your presentation. Like, it’s delivered and then it’s over. For a live event, afterwards people come up to you, they respond with questions, you see the audience reacting…. Here it’s just … done. And on to the next.

Brandy: Yeah, that is one of the real challenges of virtual. Hopefully before too long we will be able to meet in person again.

And that leads me to my next question. AIF is typically the start of ACX product launch activities. What else is planned?

Marek: So, the next step definitely is our Automotive Launch Tours, where we look forward to hosting sessions with our customers, which then would also include talking about the future, talking about roadmaps. And critically, I think, this is where we can have discussions with our customers here about their point of view, about their challenges and how we can work together on solving that. That’s the main part now coming from our end.

Brandy: One of the things we’ve heard a lot from customers over the last year – Hill Helicopters, Kia Germany, Lucid Motors – is how impressed they are by Autodesk’s responsiveness to customer feedback. They tell you something isn’t working, or they wish it could do this. And you hear them – it’s addressed in the next release or being developed. That’s huge for them.

Marek: Good to hear.

Brandy: Marek, you mentioned the Automotive Launch Tours – how are they going to work this year?

Marek: We’re still finalizing details, but what I know for now is that customers will have a kind of à la carte menu of different items to choose from, to really cater for the interests. This is what we’ll do moving forwards, where the account teams will work closely with the customers.

Obviously, the main points are, for example, what we call the Design Studio Executive Roundtable, where Thomas and I sit down with our customers and have discussions about futures and challenges and those kinds of things.

And that encases the Roadmap Presentations from the Product Management team and what’s there. We’ll also have the whole raft of all the technical presentations, which really go into detail about how everything works, how the workflows are set up. We want to make sure that the customers can really get the most out of our solutions.

Brandy: If a customer is interested in learning more, who do they contact, how do they find out about the ALTs?

Marek: They should contact their Account Manager.

Thomas: Yeah, connect with your Autodesk Sales Representations if you want to hear more about the product details.

Brandy: Perfect. And talking about this year’s releases, what are some of the highlights?

Marek: For me, it’s how I’ve been seeing how all those workflows come together more and more, how we’re delivering on the needs of our customers on, let’s say, an end-to-end process in the Design Studio, and helping generate those efficiencies overall. In the end, that consists of lots of individual different features, but each can only do so much on its own. What we’re seeing is the importance of having all those things come together. From there, we work on addressing the challenges of our customers and making their life easier every day, because every click takes time.

Thomas: What I like the most is, there’s the core value of Autodesk and the Alias and VRED products, and we keep innovating in and around our core functionality as well as our core value proposition. Concept design with SubD, for instance, or technical surfacing. I think we are innovating around what we are known for, to our customers’ delight. And that goes for connecting workflows, as Marek noted, suddenly it’s bringing everything together in the design studio for an end-to-end design process.

Brandy: There’s also the element of democratization, which we hear from Lukas’s keynote on VRED, and we’re hearing it about XR within Autodesk as well: the goal of making some aspects of these tools and features available to more people.

Thomas: Absolutely. We know the importance of making our tools, technologies, and data available to more users in the design studio and beyond.

Brandy: Final question: what do you hope our customers will take away from this year’s AIF? What are the key takeaways?

Marek: For me, it’s really important that although we’re digital, we still have the sense of community. Everyone on our end is working with every bit of their hearts, behind the scenes, delivering on our plans and seeing how our customers pick this up and use it. And this has to work in two directions, right? So it’s our customers and us together making those achievements. We’re so invested in what we do here, as well as our customers, because they use our tools every day. We’re both dedicated, and I hope that this comes across in this kind of virtual event, that we’re still this community and we still have this ambition

Thomas: It’s good to see that we deliver value to our customers. It’s not about features and functions anymore, I think – it’s really making a difference to the users, the community, I would say. Our customers want to make sure they stay up-to-date with our products, because you don’t want to miss out on key changes that will impact their business.

Marek: Yes: leverage the opportunity of adopting to our new releases as quick as possible to make sure to turn the efficiency gains we deliver into reality at the customer side.

Brandy: Any last thoughts?

Thomas: To add to Marek’s idea of community—we are community, so stay connected, reach out. It’s important to hear from you, our customers and users.

The AIF Keynote presentation, Alias Keynote, VRED Keynote, and Shotgun Keynote are all available on demand. Check them out, and stay tuned for more updates, deep dives, and inspiring stories about the future of the Design Studio.

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