Driven to Write is pleased to welcome a new contributor from the world of automotive design, Matteo Licata. Today, he talks interiors.
When interviewed on the subject, most design directors will often say something along these lines: “…Of course Interior Design is very important to us, as the interior is where our Customers spend most of their time…” Yet, inside the design studio walls, the truth can be rather different. I’ll get back there later. I’ve been a car designer for the best part of a decade, and I’ve spent most of that time designing interiors. Not that I wanted to.
Nobody actually does.
Let me explain: Automotive design awareness has never been more widespread, and there never has been as many design academies around the world. Yet to actually become a full-time car designer has never been more difficult: the number of applicants and their average level is so high that competition to enter this small (and shrinking) field has never been so tough and merciless. Even to sustain the considerable pressure of the design academy environment, you need the kind of motivation that the great Bill Mitchell famously defined as “gasoline in the veins”.
In other words, you need to love automobiles more than pretty much anything else. Having said that, it’s pretty much fair to say that nobody has ever got very excited about grey plastic mouldings and faux leather, right?
Yet I soon started enjoying myself a lot doing interiors, for a number of reasons that often aren’t apparent to outsiders. Automobile interiors are complex: there are a lot of different components to be designed and the design professional needs to be very knowledgeable about manufacturing techniques, properties of each material and ergonomic principles.
While an exterior is designed as a single, homogeneous volume, an interior will inevitably be the result of many interacting objects. This makes them very rewarding to design, as during development you are constantly resolving actual problems, constructively dealing with engineering to reach the desired outcome.
For the same reasons, I’ve seen that interior design proposals tend to be less subjected to the whimsical interference of outside parties, as they are rarely under the upper management’s spotlight. When upper company management does review the projects, most of their time and attention will be focussed on the exterior drawings and mock-ups, as it’s something they think they understand (even when they don’t).
My experience taught me that the complexity of interiors make them far less likely to receive one of those blunt, “from the belly”, feedback from upper company management that can derail a project and frustrate designers immensely. Because interior designs are more difficult to “take in”, the usually design-illiterate upper company manager will often make few and constructive remarks…
Well, unless the designers made a complete hash of their work, but that’s a rare occurrence. The same is often true for the company’s design director himself, as he (this is still very much a man’s world, unfortunately) will inevitably have risen through the exterior design ranks and he’s likely to have never even sketched an interior in his life.
Yes, you read that right: designing interiors is not good if your target is a meteoric rise through the company ranks, precisely because of the situation described above, which hasn’t changed much over the years, despite public declarations of the contrary.