Theme: Glamour – Car Designers

There’s nothing like spending weeks at meetings to discuss technical issues of draft angles, paint finishes and packaging requirements. Car design isn’t all glamour.

Malcolm Ward of Opel explains a design detail: opelpost.com
Malcolm Ward of Opel explains a design detail: opelpost.com

But it has that too. Car designers get to see and shape the future, travel to car shows in nice cities and Detroit and wear striking shirts as well. Like the performing arts, car design mixes episodes of gruelling tedium with bursts of flamboyant style. Creativity is really about doing something very boring for a very long time so that someone else gets a nice visual surprise. The shirts, car shows and interviews are a payoff for all the drudgery that is required up to the point the project is revealed. 

Luc Donckewolke: boatinternational.com
Luc Donckewolke: boatinternational.com

That said, not very many car designers reach the level where they are let out of the glaring neonlit world of offices in dreary industrial areas such as Potsdam, Warren or Basildon. The daily routine is much like that of many other office workers: park the car, go the office, pass through security and drink coffee all day long. With markers, Autodesk Alias and Photoshop for company. Repeat until your frenzy of sketches has been picked over by management and handed to a studio manager to mangle with the help of the people from production who always veto the idea for the platinum roof panels.

Some of the glamour of car design comes from the associations with the creative arts and perhaps the more reliable income stream that comes from being able to draw cars nicely compared to making paintings of roadkill and dismembered tubes of paint. Car designers live in a curious world of controlled creativity, focusing incredible efforts on redesigning something we all know well within stringently imposed limits. You have to push the boat out a just a little bit and do it with style, panache and attention to detail.

Part of the job is probably to look the part, to fit in with a group of people who are talented but insecure. In a sense the car designer is the joker inside the court of the car company. The deadly serious suits in the management suite are aware they need the inspiration of the designers but also don’t know how to judge their output. Is that design a piece of brilliance or some kind of aesthetic commentary the customer will run away from? Hence the insecurity of the car designers, both with respect to the aesthetically ignorant managers they answer to and with respect to their peers. You can understand the need to look stylish, to cut a dash.

Author: richard herriott

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

7 thoughts on “Theme: Glamour – Car Designers”

  1. I saw Harris Mann on a TV show on Sunday and he did not conform to what you’d expect a car designer to look like … but then something similar could probably be said of at least some of his designs. He was doing his usual defense about the Allegro, brandishing the much brandished sketch of what he drew before engineering/ accounting/ management got their hands on it. A bit sad, really.

    1. Harris Mann has the misfortune of being asked to defended a thing he did not do. He drew some racy sportscars and modern family cars and the dunderheads at BMC Leyland Rover ARG spoiled them. I would like to invite Harris Mann to m house and apologise for all the stupid things people attribute to him.

    2. Can I come too Richard? Harris Mann seems to be a hard-working and talented designer who had the misfortune to work in British manufacturing at a time when it was run by graceless and mean-minded dunderheads. It’s easy to suggest that he could have been more forceful in defending his designs but, really, back then a stylist didn’t command the respect they do today. And even his designs as realised in compromised form hardly seem dreadful when you compare them to some of the overstyled incoherences that come out of today’s studios.

  2. Despite my comments to the previous post about (shamefully) not taking my industrial design education seriously – or maybe precisely because I wasn’t taking it seriously – I deliberately went out and bought a suit and turned up wearing it on my first day at college. I did get the idea that, for a short while, I fooled some of my peers and teachers that I was the real deal, though longer-term exposure will have convinced them otherwise

    I partly understand why designers feel they should package themselves, and that their sartorial style should be used to judge their abilities but, basically, it’s nonsense. Some of the most brilliant and exacting scientists have no personal elegance at all. The idea of Schreyer and Donckewolke both being at Kia / Hyundai conjures up notions of a movie set in the auto industry, possibly a cross between Zoolander and American Psycho.

    1. They dress in a formal and flamboyant way. Harley Earl also dressed up in grand style. My guess is that they don´t look like this when inside the studios. Still, the t-shirt will be a 90 euro Hugo Boss t-shirt and the jeans 200 euro jeans made by a brand miles above the highstreet of Ordinaryland.

    2. The signifier of any immediately post-war, creative male was a bow tie, probably combined with a pipe. Worn with a formal suit this marked you not as an outsider, but it did suggest a tamed ability to be just a little different. Today the bow tie has been replaced by other items (roll neck shirts, trainers, a hat?) but that balancing act carries on.

  3. One of the obvious ones is to wear running track footwear with the suit now that ties are apparently passe. The simple single-breasted suit never goes out of style and is probably the best way to signal taste and discretion. Have you noticed Gandini prefers a dark suit?

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