SAIC have just launched a new advanced design studio. The open plan arrangement with designers’ zones, review areas, chill out space and groovy chairs providing a creative environment on prime Maryleborne real estate in the middle of London. A confident statement of intent, attracting design talent along with high expectations to define the future SAIC products.
When I started Drive and was shown impressive facilities of OEMs like Volvo or engineering firms like Magna, it made me wonder how a design consultancy like Drive can compete with the major automotive manufacturers and their studios.
The answer of course is we don’t.
Major car companies carry out most of their design work themselves, with dedicated design departments capable of handling every aspect of the design process.
But few car companies do not use the services of external car design consultancies for some smaller projects or as a validation of their internal designs, whilst many smaller niche car companies use such consultancies to supplement their more limited in-house design facilities on larger design projects.
In most cases the reason we get shown around a company’s design facilities is because Drive is working with them or about to. They see that Drive has something to offer them and they want us to work with their teams to stimulate creativity and maximise the design output. Whether it be for market insights, a fresh design perspective or simply additional digital resource we are able to provide focussed and professional expertise.
As with the studio space, I question ‘how can we compete’ when recruiting creative talent, when automotive OEMs can offer so much in terms of employment, facilities and certainty of projects well into the future.
Again we don’t compete, what we have to offer is different.
We are an efficient studio that has a welcoming, creative and professional atmosphere. We work with numerous brands so it is unlikely that we will designing a similar face of a car or grill for long. The type of work is varied, and is more likely to be concept ideation than production detailing. The projects will cover a large spectrum with mobility solutions, aircraft interiors or maybe another supercar inspired Track-tor (see here) being as likely as the next production SUV.
A consultancy environment like Drive’s isn’t for everyone, but the constant change benefits our creative team keeping them fresh, interested and gaining a breadth of experiences that differentiates them from other designers. The very skill set that many design chiefs look for in their next hire, indeed two former Drive employees will be able relax at the new SAIC coffee bar.
It is the diverse experiences that attracts our clients and benefits their projects as they get new perspectives, fresh ideas and insight from our broad knowledge gained across different industries and clients.
So if you are looking for some creative input for your next project or if a consultancy environment is somewhere you would like to work, come round for a chat. We don’t have a coffee bar but we do have a fantastic café around the corner.
(SAIC Design Advanced London top image – photos source SAIC)
I can’t believe it has happened again, Heart breaking. This is my original article I wrote on 28th May 2014.
Reading the headlines on Friday evening I was dismayed to hear about the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, one of the most important and historic Art Nouveau buildings in the UK. It has been admired and critically studied by architecture historians the world over, becoming Charles Rennie MacKintosh’s most famous piece of work despite it being designed early in his relatively short career. It was considered a very bold building when constructed, but many now consider that it marked the beginning of modern architecture with its asymmetrical frontage and complete lack of adornment.
Despite its age though, there is one distinct aspect of its design that still remains highly relevant today : it was the overall coherent approach and the completeness of the design that made this design truly special.
If you were to label Mackintosh or the School of Art a brand, everything about the building was completely on message. From the relatively austere brickwork façade on the outside, to the individual details and fittings that appeared inside, every part of the building was designed to complement other parts. For example, there were no standard door handles, or gutters, or light fittings. At least not the ones on show. All these items were individually designed and manufactured for their sole use in the School of Art. Everything looks like it belongs and has been considered from the outset with the design being seen as a complete whole, not just a building made from a collection of parts. Even more special when you realise the budget was a fairly modest one.
I see cars as being very similar. They have a huge part count, but every part must contribute to the overall story which consistently reinforces the brand message. The form, the materials, the execution of every little part must live up to the customer’s expectations. Even down to how a switch feels when pressed. Whilst this isn’t surprising or revolutionary, it’s all too often overlooked, especially in an age where project costs need to be tightly controlled.
I truly hope that the fire hasn’t completely destroyed the school, and that damaged areas can sympathetically restored, so those that haven’t been able to visit can see for themselves the true depth and coherence that is apparent in this masterpiece.
For more information on the GSA, and the restoration work they are now faced with you can visit : www.gsa.ac.uk
I often get reminded, here at Drive, that design is all about opinion, so here’s mine on the dark and scary world of job applications. So you can take some of it on board, all of it on board or none at all and prove me wrong.
It’s the age old and favourite past time of anyone seeking a career in the automotive industry, the application phase. From designers to alias modellers, we are all aware that our industry doesn’t tend to favour the conventional CV and cover letter with a careful placement of buzz words/phrases like ‘I can manage a team of people and take on individual responsibilities’. Although these are areas we all have to consider, at the end of the day, the dreaded ‘P’ word is what we are all thinking right now….your Portfolio. So let’s start with my do’s and don’ts of the most important aspect of an application.
First of all, know who you are applying to, if all you have is speed boats and lawn mowers in your portfolio then I would say it is quite rare that an automotive studio will consider you. Research the studio / brand and try your best to think of what they might look for in a candidate.
“You are only as good as your worst piece of work”. This cannot be said enough, and I wish someone had told me this at university too! As a designer especially, your portfolio will mainly be put under the eyes of other designers, we love looking at them, we want to be excited, we want to see that sketch or render that inspires us and then we will want you! So let‘s throw away lifeless package drawings of translucent, colour filled boxes that say “batteries” or “motors”, and the 97.5 percentile Dutch males that you’ve squashed into your vehicle, we can save all this for when we actually have to face reality, when designing a real car for manufacture (and you may not even have to worry about this).
Keep your projects to a minimum, we see 56 page portfolios with about 10 projects in. These are too big to keep/capture our attention for the period of time it would take to digest that amount of information / wade through it. We are designers ourselves and therefore have to design things and unfortunately you can’t spend all day every day looking at portfolios! Now this is the hard bit, discarding older projects as your skills have improved …. nearly impossible to do sometimes as you probably hold emotions for each project as if they were your own child. They aren’t your children and they don’t have emotions, cut them out and be brutal. Do it, cut it down, get through it. Even if you are left with 3 projects, this will the make us think that you can do everything of this level.
From my own experience as a Coventry graduate, cut out the following 1. Clay head project 2. Any ergonomics based project with lights that reflect your mood 3. An alias model or render which is then repeated in different colours to show colour choices up to 5-6 times (padding out your portfolio?).
Variations of design work. The tricky creative taboo topic, difficult to answer without causing a whole world of design debates and potential Ted talks animosity establishing what design is and how we should approach it. Try to mix it up, don’t just have 3 projects of space ships and fantastic speed painting art work, show that side of you by all means it’s great to see, however try and include some good old fashioned automotive design, displaying an understanding of surfacing, brand interpretation and proportion over 4 conventional wheels.
Your portfolio should be an extension of yourself, it should be presented in a way that you want it to be. Your style should be natural rather than something that is forced. Always be honest with the way that you work, whether you are all about hand sketching or a Photoshop wizard, show how you work as we all have different ways we do things.
A great way to stay sharp, get your name out there and they really keep you on your toes. Local motors, the Michelin design challenge and interiormotives to name but a few, the briefs are usually fun, and if it is not fun then you need to twist their brief to do so! No one wants to design something boring in their spare time. These usually have no engineering requirement, package constraints or a need to convince university tutors to what you are doing, go forth and have fun!
Keep it simple, if you don’t have that much experience it’s ok, we have all been in your shoes at some point and we don’t expect to see years of experience from a student. Whatever you do, please don’t write that you have been ‘freelancing’, it’s a term we all know, love and laugh about, and it means you are probably skint after uni, living at home with your parents with a remedial part time job doing your portfolio and design competitions of an evening whilst your parents tell you that you should start thinking about getting into a different career.
My last thought on this topic, which I could probably continue to preach about for another hour whilst I annoy my collegues by seemingly moaning endlessly is this …. the self-rating skill charts!
Now I’m not sure what the universities have been preaching to the students of late, but here’s my number one pointless thing to put in your portfolio if you are applying to be a designer or alias modeller. Grading yourself out of 10, maybe out of 5 stars even, stating how good you are at alias, photoshop, design or sketching. It won’t be right, it will probably annoy someone in the studio that you have sent it to. The idea of your portfolio or data you send is that we will be working this out, and to what level we see you as and if we feel you are right for said particular studio position. Whatever you do, please don’t include ‘football’ as a skill set, to which you then score yourself higher on this than any other design skills. Makes me think you should be a professional footballer instead! Hobbies are acceptable to list, but it is usually quite boring to do so, we would like to see your character in your work.
I hope this helps you in all your applications
Have an opinion
Get a photo of you applying a tape to a clay model
Drink green tea or a lot of coffee
Be protective over your pen
Talk about sketches with emotions and feelings
Moan about all cars on the road
Try as best possible to never mention Steve Jobs in an automotive studio
Never be truly happy with your work
Keep portfolios to no bigger than 5mb (if possible)
Drive look forward to seeing the results!
We showed the taxi driver the name of our hotel and he was still none the wiser. Let’s be honest, neither were we.
At this point our bags were being taken from us, “Come with me. He won’t take you he won’t be able to find it, doesn’t have GPS I do, traffic will be light look at my rate card, I will do a deal and charge you 580CNY, see how far it is”.
“Mark, Grab the bags, keep hold of the address and we’ll get it translated over there”. It is easy to forget but something you should always do travelling to China is get the name and address of your destination written in Chinese. Armed with this, we went back to the official taxis. Our ‘saviour’ didn’t look happy but we were on route. As usual it looked busy, chaotic and no quarter was being given by any of the drivers. As we put on our seat belts there was a catch, or rather a lack of one, well the driver didn’t have his on so we should be OK.
Looking around it isn’t quite what you might expect. You will have heard there are many car manufacturers in China, and therefore you may expect the roads to be full of makes you have never heard of, but around Beijing you will recognise most brands with the likes of Ford, Toyota, VW, Audi, and Hyundai filling the motorways. So similar airport journeys in both Great Britain and China!
It is only if you go further from the centre, that the local brands such as Chery or SAIC’s Roewe become more apparent and the further you go the more the balance shifts. This will inform you and help you understand where the wealth is, who is showing off that wealth and their brand awareness for social or business standing.
The taxi driver put his seat belt on, we shared a worried glance that the journey was about to get exciting. Although the horn is weapon number one, and it is a matter of pride to succeed in or prevent someone squeezing into a different lane, there seemed to be no road rage from any of the drivers. With his GPS directing him some 45 minutes later we arrived. We waited with some interest for the usual adding up of the road tolls and meter reading. Total 120, worth the time trying to communicate with the girl at the information desk!
Although a very short visit on this occasion, we did have a day between arriving and our presentation, so we took the opportunity to visit the incredible Great Wall of China and walk along a 4 mile section and back, a great experience.
Then later that day we visited the centre of Beijing to see some of the sites as well as some older parts of town. With a state occasion taking place the level of excitement and security around Tiananmen Square was high, so we made our way to Wangfujing St., walking through the tourist ‘China Town’ with its food outlets displaying live scorpions on skewers and numerous gift stalls with waving porcelain cats. A fantastic day and a nice distraction from the following days design review.
Our presentation went well and we got an opportunity to enjoy a good meal with fellow designers, and exchange views on a number of subjects.
Overall a worthwhile trip and we set off back to the airport as our taxi driver did a good impersonation of Alonso. At drop off, the usual adding up and pointing took place. We handed over the fare, and headed off to check in. As we stood at check in a good 15 minutes after leaving the taxi, I was tapped on the shoulder by our driver. He was placing 10CNY in my hand (£1); he had added up wrong and had spent some time finding us. Refusing to keep it as a tip he put it on our bags, so a shake of the hands and he left. Another insight to this fascinating culture.
China is a very foreign country of extremes, and without visiting difficult to comprehend, but our experiences there are always educational and rewarding.
Drive has provided consultancy services to many low volume vehicle manufacturers and during that time has built up an understanding of the challenges that these businesses face in developing and establishing a successful vehicle in the market.
Niche vehicles have always provided opportunities for entrepreneurs to build successful businesses but now more than ever they are providing a solution to specific transportation problems. This is leading to opportunities for OEMs to use niche vehicles to expand their brand into new markets, become leaders by redefining a market or exploiting new technologies.
Low volume vehicles provide unique challenges in the product offering, manufacturing constraints and the commercial demands. Drive have been involved in numerous programmes and have built up experience of the various approaches to the business proposal, from designers wishing to produce their concept, technology led business opportunities and brand experience products. Spectre Cars, Delta Motorsport, Magna Styer, Zenos Cars, Caterham Cars and Lightning Car Company have benefitted from Drive’s expertise at various stages during their projects.
Whilst the funding for niche vehicle projects is provided from varying sources depending on the circumstances, the necessary underlying business case has to be rigorously tested and proved just the same, before investing of valuable time, resources and money. Drive’s in depth experience can help build the background to the project, give crucial investor confidence in the participating parties and provide experience and guidance throughout project timeline.
Through the development and refinement of the design our experienced team maintain the initial design intent whilst answering the engineering and economic challenges posed by these unique projects.
Drive’s understanding of the difficulties facing niche vehicle manufacturers (NVMs) trying to establish a company or product make them ideal partners to be involved in the development of a robust product concept and commercial strategy, whilst helping identify design and manufacturing efficiencies through collaboration with strategic partners.
Not every venture can be the success that everyone is looking for but minimising the risk by being fully aware of the undertaking at the start, with suitable gateways mapped out so that owners and investors can make informed decisions before embarking on the next phase, help to increase the chances of a sustainable business.