“Running a project at Porsche Digital means you are pretty much a founder”
Norman Friedenberger is part of the Vehicle Solutions Portfolio at Porsche Digital. As a Product Owner, he runs his very own project called “Soundtrack My Life”, which explores the possibilities of adaptive sound in the mobility industry. Music is a common element in Norman’s career. He almost even became a classical musician. In this interview, he tells us how he came to Porsche Digital and what keeps him going:
Norman, what is your job at Porsche Digital?
I am a Product Owner at Porsche Digital running a project with the working title “Soundtrack My Life”. The project is focused on exploring adaptive sound and its possibilities as a driving centric experience. There is obviously an added value to adaptive sound in general and I am aiming to find the best possible use case as well as where it makes the most sense for the technology to be utilized. We have spent quite some time conducting research in different project stages, pivoting the concept and so on. We have also managed to extend our expert know-how around the topic, which helps us to steer it in the right direction.
What is the most crucial skill for doing a great job in your role at Porsche Digital?
Running a project at Porsche Digital means you are pretty much a founder. You create an idea and you try to make it successful. Nothing is going to happen just like that. Kicking it off is one thing but to keep it going is another. Most KPIs you would put in place when developing something “out in the real world” apply here as well.
The quality gates for projects are pretty high and they are tough, so you need persistence and foresight to see what’s necessary and needed in order to move forward. But it’s not only about your genius idea. You have to create a solid fundament for your “baby”, spread your vision and find answers to all critical questions — and that takes time. That’s nothing you can accomplish in just four weeks. So, don’t take your eyes off the radar, be creative, pivot, explore every path you can and be patient.
You worked for big global brands, consumer electronic giants, corporate research labs, and creative agencies worldwide. What was your biggest achievement or favorite project?
I certainly had a couple of great moments in my career. It started with programming flight management computers and flight simulators at Airbus in the early 90s, followed by working for digital agencies when the term “new economy” was literally just invented, shortly after HTML has been introduced to the world and the internet age began. It’s kind of crazy when you imagine how we have lived without mobile phones and programmed computers with punch cards back then.
If there was anything truly outstanding for me, then it was my work for Sony Computer Science Labs in Tokyo and Paris in the field of interactive music and tangible interfaces. This was a pretty special time because it showed me, that it’s absolutely possible to follow my passion for music and sound in my professional working environment. I’ve had the chance to work with amazing artists like Hans Zimmer, Peter Gabriel, Kraftwerk and others.
“If you don’t manage to manoeuvre yourself and your work through good and bad days, then you won’t succeed.”
What I have also learned — sometimes the hard way — it all comes down to the environment you find yourself in at a given time. At the end of the day, it’s a people’s business and if you don’t manage to manoeuvre yourself and your work through good and bad days, then you won’t succeed.
Looking back on your career, sound and music have always played a major role. What sparked your interest?
Like most kids, I have started to play an instrument in my early childhood. For me, it was the piano. I seemed to have a talent for music because I’ve succeeded to participate in the renowned international Robert Schumann competition at the age of twelve and was offered to study classical music in a masterclass at music university in Dresden. Even though I had successfully passed the bloody difficult admission exam, I didn’t start my studies because practising every day for many hours, while my friends were going out and driving their motorbikes, was not how I imagined my youth to be. If further pursued, I could have become a classical pianist, but my life took a completely different route.
At the same time, when most of my teenage friends were about to discover pop and hard rock, I have started to get interested in electronic music. Making music always remained a hobby but I am running my own audio and video concept art project until today. If you like, find my works on your favourite streaming platform, just search for Norman Fairbanks.
Why did you then decide to join Porsche Digital? What is your motivation to be a part of the Vehicle Solutions Portfolio?
If you’re a manager running a company, you’re naturally stepping a bit away from the action. You’re still part of the frontline but you’re not so deeply involved anymore in all the bits and pieces. So, after years of running managing positions around the globe, I really found myself kind of being back in my early days.
Working with Porsche Digital opened up a completely new chapter for me. For the very first time in more than 20 years, I got to work on the level of projects again that I have left long ago. I have welcomed that as a truly unique chance. When I started, I was given a green field to create a couple of ideas from which I thought could bring benefit to the organization. My current project was one of those ideas and so that’s what I am passionately working on right now.
What do you think: What role will sound play in the future of mobility — especially in your job?
Every new development, technology or concept is mostly driven either by a great idea or invention or because of specific economic or social requirements. Many things developed within such a framing follow rather practical reasons. Let’s take the non-existing car sound of e-cars. To give e-cars sound is an obvious need. As a driver, you want feedback from the car and as a pedestrian, you need to be able to tell when there is a car approaching, out for safety reasons.
I am interested to look into the aspect of mobility but with a slightly different view. I don’t want to build a better or different version for something already out there. I want to create something new. The journey might be a bit harder though because you already think about a solution for a need that is yet not existing. And that’s natural because the only thing we can do is to measure everything based on our current knowledge and experience. But speaking about the future of mobility is nothing where we can look back on decades of know-how and user research, it’s all-new.
The future of mobility with relation to sound will bring some great new experiences, new musical formats and a new way to listen and enjoy music. If you will, I aim to find a contemporary substitute or way (let’s assume listening to a record on a record player still is the incarnation of pure listening pleasure) that incorporates today's ability of technology and data. Giving the listeners the chance to steer their listening focus with playlists and offer billions of tracks available at their fingertips is one view. My view is, I’d like the listener to become the compositional element, the centrepiece within a musical creation process, while they’re just living their life, driving their car or simply doing nothing — wherever they are. To me, that seems like an exciting goal to strive for.
Which advice would you give to your younger self?
Stay focused. Embrace change. Always look for the right place, giving you the opportunity to learn, to grow and to bring out the best in you.
In one word: How would describe yourself?
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