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Can you remember when you first
realized you wanted to be a car designer?
Strangely, it must have only been in the last 6 months of school as I made
up my decisions about my future career path and university. Originally, I wanted
to join the RAF as a pilot (probably most young boys’ dream…) but I was more and
more becoming aware of design as I was really in to art and technology. It was a
combination of my technology teacher, Neville Crouch, who started me looking at
cars and design and arranged trips up to see Coventry University and to Aston
Martin as he had noted that I had tried to draw cars in the back of some note
books, but also my will of wanting to get past the interview stage at Coventry
which was long and full of applicants. Ultimately, it went well and the people I
met were great so I decided to stick with it.
How did you prepare for applying to University?
I started to read about cars in depth, trying to draw them, watch car
related movies and at the same time, start to integrate automotive themes in
other areas of my work and hobbies. I could have certainly have done with a
website like this back in 97 when I was preparing!
Having been through the process what advice would you give to those looking to
apply in the future?
You have to have a wide breadth of work to show you are multi-skilled as I
think just drawing cars is not enough. Within that wide range ( be it fine art,
products, photography, and basic engineering) you must have some dedicated
automotive examples of course, but also have the aptitude to apply non
automotive themes and ideas. For example, whilst at school, I completed a work
experience program as a pattern maker. This is a job where highly skilled model
makers produce one-off scale prototypes ready for mass production. I was lucky
enough to work with some men who were making a scale model of a car, so I
learned practical skills such as craftsmanship and use of hand and industrial
tools. For the end of my internship experience, I was allowed to make a small
model of a car I had designed. It was basic, but it taught me some very valuable
lessons about how sophisticated vehicle design actually is.
How did you find the transition from being a student of design, to being a
fully paid professional designer?
Apart from a pay check, no real difference. With this profession, you are in
a state of constant learning, being inspired and honing your skills.
Is there a person or piece of design which has really influenced your own work?
Too many to mention; all of them extremely talented individuals, and it all
depends on the project or brand you are working for. But to those who have
helped, tutored and inspired me to continue, I am forever in their debt.
What would you say are the most important skills to learn when studying design?
Developing a personal sense of taste and style, not just appropriating
whatever you see. That’s not to say you can’t have very varied styles, but I
think it helps if you can in someway create authorship to your work. The Italian
greats are the perfect example. Others important skills are of course the basic
ones: hand rendering skills, proportion and respecting brand identity.
Can you tell us what you personally find most challenging with a career in
If you are going to be a designer, you have to believe in your work and what
you stand for. Part of that is accepting criticism both good and bad and being
able to evolve your work accordingly. But the frustration of having someone for
no more reason other than their own ego change a design, evidently making it
worse, has to be the most “challenging.” I love a challenge and working in this
industry will challenge you every day as not everyone has the same ideals and
ideas (otherwise life would be rather boring). Good leadership and clear
communication certainly helps to reduce undue challenges especially when you
realise that everyone wants the best for the vehicle and is willing to trust
hundreds of millions into your team’s work. So the ultimate personal challenge
is keeping the design true to the original sketch theme without excessive
How do you normally begin the design process when you receive a new project?
A cup of tea and think. I try to think of the user, their life, needs, etc.,
but also what is appropriate and fresh in terms of aesthetics. I then like to
throw in a random inspiration and see if something develops. Most important is a
story and linking images to this: language barriers are broken easily through
the use of some simple diagrams and some great illustrative images.
Which tools do you find you use the most?
A black medium BIC biro.
Do you consider the design process to be changing, perhaps with regards to the
growing use of computer aided design tools?
Yes and no. Obviously, lead times dictate we want more but faster and
utilising the appropriate programs can certainly be advantageous, which is
perfect for consultancy work. But there is a limit to how much you can cut away
and go pure digital before the process suffers. A computer is merely a tool and
depending upon personal preference and company process, you should use whatever
you feel comfortable with. But sometimes if you or the process feels
compromised, it is best to go back to your ‘analogue’ roots and try something
What advice would you give to those planning a career in automotive design?
I would seriously urge you to go to a university that teaches not just
design, but everything around it; engineering, aerodynamics, structural science,
materials, art history, colour psychology, branding, market analysis, and time
management. If all you want to do is draw cars, I doubt you’ll become a car
designer. Read into this quote by Olafur Eliasson and your choice is clear: “Art
poses questions. Design offers nothing but answers.” In today’s climate, I
believe we need answers more than ever.
Finally, what is the most rewarding aspect to you of a career in automotive
Sounds tacky to some, but being on a show stand with your team and seeing
your creation in front of you. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to know
that your peers and company management have trusted and invested in you and your
team to create something that is now being photographed and talked about the
world over. Some will love it, some will hate it. But that´s design, and when
you get to that point, enjoy it!
With a Masters in Design from Coventry University and a Masters in Art from
the Royal College of Art, as well as career highlights such as being part of the
team for the Mini Clubman show car shown in Frankfurt 2005 and Geneva 2006, and
most recently being the lead exterior designer for the Pininfarina B0 / Bluecar
shown Paris 2008, David has plenty of thoughts on what it takes to succeed in
design. His experiences have included working for companies such as Electronic
Arts, Pinewood Studios, Land Rover, Mini, BMW, Volvo Trucks, various
consultancies, and now Pininfarina. In this short interview we take a look at
what motivates him, as well as what he thinks it takes to become a successful
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