SANTA BARBARA, CA – Lincoln needs every advantage it can get if it is to return as a viable luxury brand in the U.S., and interior styling is an area of emphasis.

In the midst of a product renaissance, Lincoln last year launched the MKZ midsize sedan and is currently rolling out the all-new ’15 MKC CUV.

Soo Kang, Lincoln chief interior designer, says there is no hard-and-fast Lincoln design theme that will tie all vehicles together, although there are elements her team tries to incorporate into every model.

“Lincoln design DNA is symmetrical and, at the same time, clean and spacious,” she tells WardsAuto during an MKC drive event here. “Customers want that open spacious feeling.”

At the onset of the design phase, Kang says Lincoln marketers determine the target customer for the vehicle and their wants and needs. From there, psychologists are used to learn more about what designs appeal to those buyers, whether vehicles, furniture, architecture or other consumer products.

MKC customers wanted “a more fun, spirited presence,” she says.

Crafting true luxury interiors is becoming more of a challenge with so many competitors, including midrange models, offering top-notch materials and craftsmanship.

To stand out from the crowd, Kang says Lincoln interiors must appeal to four of the five senses (excluding taste) and create a specific mood and strong emotional connection with the customer.

The supple leather of the MKC’s seats is targeted toward the sense of smell, while switchgear and other components, such as the CUV’s push-button transmission, appeal to the sense of touch and hearing.

“When you touch something, you want to make sure it’s soft and premium, and if there is metal, it has to have weight to it. And when you click (the transmission) you want it to have a positive sound,” Kang says. “Those things are quite important.”

The uncluttered, clean look that serves as the basis of Lincoln’s design DNA appeals to the sense of sight.

“You can use all the beautiful materials, but if they are fighting each other it doesn’t mean anything,” she says, noting many competitors have visually appealing interiors that don’t connect emotionally with customers. “If a design is bland, plain or Teutonic, it doesn’t have a connection to you, and that’s how I like to differentiate between Lincoln and the competition.”

Designing for both North American and Chinese customers also is a hurdle. China is forefront in Lincoln’s plans to boost sales and forge a global presence.

Chinese customers have much in common with their North American counterparts, but there are a few differences. Chinese dislike light-colored interiors due to the pollution that plagues the country and the potential damage caused by smoking, for example.  

“There’s a soilage problem (with light interiors) and they don’t want that,” she says. “And they like to smoke, so we have to have a smoking package.”

The next big step in the evolution of Lincoln interiors comes with the fourth-quarter debut of the brand’s Black Label collection, a series of premium and exterior packages paired with what Lincoln says will be a higher level of “personal services and experiences.”

At the heart of the Black Label branding are three uplevel interior packages called “Center Stage,” “Indulgence” and “Modern Heritage.”

Featuring high-end materials, including Alcantara suede and premium leather supplied by Eagle Ottawa, each package is based on a theme created by four designers from Lincoln’s dedicated interiors team.

Upgraded materials are featured on nearly every part of the cabin, including key touch points such as the instrument panel, doors and console, as well as the headliner, pillars, package tray, seats, trunk and floor mats.

Lincoln officials have yet to announce what the “upgraded experience” will be for Black Label customers, saying only that Black Label experts will be on hand to guide them through the buying process.

bpope@wardsauto.com