Recently, I started talking to car designers, asking for information about their projects, the environments they worked in, and car design culture. The responses were interesting, in that most were concerned about their jobs and did not want to be identified. It was surprising that the same people who designed the Chevy Malibu, could not comment on their work for fear of retaliation. The present culture is one of people who have witnessed their friends fired from jobs, and who think they could be next. It is fear and loathing in the design studio.
John, our first designer, worked for GM, and was immediately turned off on big corporate car design. He worked on advanced design, new production techniques, and in the energy efficient sectors, but could not be more specific. For him, GM had an environment of waste and fear. Thousands of dollars spent on items for the mock up of a car, and yet pennies pinched on the final product. The environment made no sense to him as a designer, or as a consumer.
GM was the only company John wanted to work for, but when he got there in the early 1990’s he discovered a company that made poor choices in how they executed vehicles and spent resources. GM was making disposable cars, not the classics and icons of his youth.
He eventually realized that he needed to search for a design firm that had a similar attitude towards design as his own. Not satisfied with committees and bean counters, who distorted designs beyond recognition, he realized auto design was actually a small, closed world, where it was difficult to find work.
John felt that GM stifled much of the creativity needed for new designs, and the intense time constrains made success difficult. He summed it up best when he said, “A car designer left to his own devices will produce a 1966 GTO. A car designer under the control of a committee will produce a 2006 GTO.” He now works on industrial design projects.
There are still magical places where the designer rules, but not in the American auto industry. It is only through innovative design, and quality products, that Detroit will finally shake off its troubles.
Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos courtesy of GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Google Images