Shaping the Future 3: Narayan Subramaniam

DTW has approached another design student to find out what they think. This time we have put questions to Narayan Subramaniam who is a multiple-award winning design student, currently at work on his second MA in design at Umea, Sweden.

Ferrari Impulse Concept
Ferrari Impulse Concept

So, what sort of career has our subject had so far? In 2012 Narayan won the Michelin Design Challenge and his work was shown at the Detroit Motor show. Last year he won the First Moves award. In 2007 he claimed first prize in the All-India Engineering Competition for the best functional prototype. This list is much longer than this selection.

Narayan has an impressive portfolio of internships and work placements including Volkswagen, Daihatsu and Mahindra, to name but three. DTW is especially interested in Daihatsu who had an interesting niche in small vehicles. Underpinning Narayan’s design skills is a foundation in mechanical engineering. We think this is a major advantage in car design as it is often necessary to lock horns with engineers.

2014 Narayan bike concept
Often their favourite answer is “no”. With a technical argument a designer can often think of a good counterargument. At the moment Narayan is working on his MA project at Umea Institute of Design Sweden. That project is a conceptual urban commuter.

DTW: Some say car design is an “art”. Do you agree?

Narayan Subramaniam (NS): Very much so. We really have to look at what art is, at its very core. It is a work of pure emotional expression that evokes a strong emotional response in the minds of many others. This is essentially what car design has evolved into, over the years.

More and more people perceive their car as an extension of their personality and not just a box on wheels. And it is ‘art’ that is responsible for this transition.

 2104 Narayan Adidas Cross Bow

DTW: Which particular designer or company’s work has had the biggest effect on your generation of stylists?

NS: Well, when I think influence, the first thing that comes to mind is the ‘BMW i series’ Right from the concept stage to the production cars, they have done a splendid job and been one of the pioneers in making electric sexy. It is not just a beautiful car that they have created. The bigger success is bringing about that change in the mindset of people regarding electric/hybrid cars.

DTW: Which manufacturers show the most potential in the next 10 years?

NS: I believe we are witnessing a very interesting era in vehicle design. Markets and economies are opening up, with a lot of knowledge sharing coming to the fore of late. Most of the strong, successful companies of today would no doubt do well but what is really interesting is the emergence of new players in the market, coming out with really exciting products, ranging from personal mobility concepts to complete cars. I believe a lot of these smaller players will have a huge role in defining the future of mobility.

Narayan Subramaniam
Narayan Subramaniam

DTW: Now that the centre of gravity in car design is shifting away from traditional centres like Italy and the US, where do you see its re-emergence taking place?

NS: Asia is well poised to be the epicentre of change with regard to transportation. One of the important reasons being the population density as well as need for large scale solutions. Necessity, as we know is the mother of invention, and this ‘problem solving’ approach, hand in hand with art is quite a potent mix

 2014 Narayan Ferrari Impulse large

DTW: Whom would I like to work with? Why?

I would ideally like to work with a group of people who are passionate about making a change, challenging current ways and creating something that makes a much larger impact than just a good looking car.

One of Narayan´s reference cars, the 2010 Citroen Survolt.
One of Narayan´s reference cars, the 2010 Citroen Survolt.
...and the 1967 Alfa RomeoTipo 33 Stradale.
…and the 1967 Alfa RomeoTipo 33 Stradale.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Shaping the Future 3: Narayan Subramaniam”

  1. My answer to the question of whether car design is an art, is that it isn´t. It´s a craft, but no less worthwhile or interesting for that.
    Architecture, that other great profession, also is seen as an art (by architects and others). So, car design shares that same sense of needing to claim to be an art as architecture does.
    I was originally trained as a car designer which is really a specialised branch of industrial design. Now since I work as a design researcher and educator, I see that even if building design, car design and product design must draw upon art methods, they really are crafts since they must work towards some practical end.
    I just had a discussion about this with some designers an hour ago. The art element in design is critical. If the art aspect of car design was removed, you´d have unbuyable vehicles. That aspect of car design, the art bit, makes people admire vehicles – say, the refinement and sculptural finesse of a good Audi interior, the lush shapes of the Citroen above – that´s only arrived at by being as serious and sensitive about aesthetics as a fine artist is.
    I recommend people read David Pye´s The Aesthetics of Design on this subject

    1. Cars are not art. Cars are design. The blend of aesthetics, technology and of course, business.

  2. I wouldn’t deny car designers the right to think of themselves as artists, since many of their aesthetic decisions use the same criteria that artists use. However, to me, ‘art’ isn’t an elevated term. You can have bad artists. As a rule of thumb I’d say that to be art, the object’s primary purpose should be just that. But that’s a 20th/21st Century viewpoint. Much traditional European Art had a primary purpose to record, to celebrate and to worship. Some contemporary art has a primary purpose to make social comment. So, in the end there’s no fixed cut off point, so call yourself an artist if you want but, without diminishing the skills involved in any way, I’d side with Richard and say ‘craft’.

    But as for those people who say cars are ‘art’, absolute tosh. That’s a very superficial way of looking at a sophisticated mechanical device. To paraphrase a late football manager. Some people think cars are art. I can assure you they are much more important than that.

  3. Motivating the need to describe cars as art is a wish to say how worthwhile or praiseworthy the car in question is. I suppose another factor is that occasionally one can be transfixed by a really superb bit of automotive design and view it purely in aesthetic terms. In that sense you experience the object ‘as’ art even if it is not. For me, pure art or fine art has no other purpose but to explore some aesthetic quality or effect. The start point might be a personal experience or a political or religious message. That structures the content of the artwork. However, an artwork is doing something more than conveying a verbal message such as “I like that woman” or “Greed is wrong” or “God is merciful” or “This is a person sitting for a portrait”. It is (hopefully) making one look at the world or some part of it in a new way and transforming our way of looking and also being in itself sensorially pleasing. Cars don´t have the freedom to only be aesthetic. They don´t transform the way the world looks. They have no meaning in the same way a painting has meaning. Incidentally, my definition is problematic when it comes to abstract art. Is that art if it has no symbolic meaning? Can a painting with a lot of deep red make you re-evaluate the colour red? Discuss.

  4. There are people who’d put their motorcycle on a stand in the Living Room. Others make a coffee table base from a BRM racing engine. I don’t deny other people the right to get pleasure from this, but it seems a waste. It leads to the Pebble Beach mentality where cars are restored to a cosmetic state well beyond their original one, and upholstered at enormous cost with leather made from the inside flippers of virgin emperor penguins. But when the restoration shop approaches the owner and suggests that they should machine a new crankshaft to stop that vibration at 1,500 revs, the reply will be that they never exceed 800 revs on the lawn at the concours so save the expense.

  5. I think polishing is understatement. On a professional level I have the highest respect for the skills of the people who restore such cars. But for me the knowledge that I had a Figoni et Falaschi bodied tourer that I (if no-one else) knew had a rat box of an engine, or suspension so soft or stiff that it would chuck the car off the road at normal speeds would be a complete humiliation. Sorry if we seem to be digressing from Narayan’s interview, but in a way the same questions arise as to how suited a car should be for its primary purpose – which isn’t to impress your peers.

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