DESIGN DOESN’T HAPPEN BY MAGIC

Next time you look around and admire those gleaming new cars in your showroom, just remember they didn’t appear there by magic. They are the result of years of painstaking work by dedicated teams of product planners, engineers, market researchers, designers and, of course, the injection of millions of dollars.

So how are these new cars brought into reality?

To get a broad appreciation of what goes into producing new models, Automotive Dealer caught up with one of the doyens of automobile design, Brian Rossi, a former Chief Designer at Ford Australia and the man who also headed up the team that designed the 1988 Ford Fiesta for Europe.

We particularly wanted to know about badging and how model names are translated into nomenclatures.

 

AD:    At what point does the design studio become involved in shaping the nomenclature?

BR:    Generally it is around 12 months ahead of Job One. In a big corporate design operation like Ford, there is a team of graphic designers dedicated to and responsible for all visible lettering, signs, nomenclatures and instrumentation graphics – everything that can be seen inside and outside the vehicle.

Once the name has been approved the team is chartered with doing the best possible job of presenting the appropriate character and image suitable to the overall product design direction.

 

AD:    Who decides on the name?

BR:    It’s the result of extensive clinical market research, but that’s just the beginning. A short-list is presented to a combined management and design committee for selection.

In most cases names are well established for a particular product line.

The role of design for an ‘all new’ product opportunity is to be romantic, exciting, mysterious, trendy or whatever, to get the creative juices flowing.

How the name is interpreted or illustrated is a fascinating story.

 

AD:    What’s the next step?

BR:    Once the graphics are approved we pass these on to the metal fabrication shop, who produce mouldings, nameplates and badges that can be roll-formed, stamped end-pieces or badges die cast with enamel inlays. Final appearance approval takes about 10 to 12 months for whole vehicle sets.

This is probably the most fascinating part of the process: seeing what the craftsmen in the metal fabrication shop do. They hand-make the nameplate from solid brass, which is then chrome-plated.

Graphics and lettering can be very beautiful, especially when you see it in three dimensions curved to the form of the sheet metal. To me it is a piece of jewel-like sculpture.

 

AD:    What if you don’t like the name? Can you influence the outcome?

BR:    We can voice an opinion, but the research conducted to decide names sways the vote so we get on with it.

 

AD:    You said earlier that names of vehicles are usually well established. We know cars are named after manufacturers’ family members and landmarks like Edsel and Fairlane, but does there have to be a meaning behind a name?

BR:    Ferrari immediately springs to mind, because the old man liked horses, which accounts for the dancing horse on the Ferrari badge. The Mustang was originally related to the US fighter plane of WWII. However, because of the war connotation, marketing went with the wild horse theme and the rest is history.

Established models will have changes during their life and as new products are released they will have a designation like the Jaguar XK 120 or XK 150 as a prefix code to identify it as a sports car, whereas the XJ Jaguar series denoted the larger passenger saloon in the Jaguar range.

Ford Australia used a code system for their business plan to denote Falcon models such, for example, the EA Falcon. The E stood for vehicle size, A stood for Australia and 26 denoted the position on the five to 10-year business plan.

AD:    As an observation, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish or identify models from one manufacturer to another. Are there too many lookalike cars on the roads?

BR:    There will always be lookalike cars on the roads. Auto history of any period shows there have been similarities across brands produced from similar criteria, similar objectives, customer requirements, manufacturing and technology.

We all have the same objectives: to package similar sized engines and power trains into a finished product.

Fashion and other design influences, such as colour, materials and everything around us, like architecture, influence design. Aerodynamics, fuel economy, lighting and glass forming have a strong influence on the exterior shape and technology.

It means that designers from all manufacturers are playing with many of the same ingredients and specifications. It’s the designer’s job to fit a given number of people and their luggage into a vehicle.

This is why similar objectives bring about similar outcomes.

The fact is there are very few automobile designers in the world.

There is a fair amount of cross-pollination, for want of a better expression, because designers all go to the same auto shows and yes, they do speak to but do not copy each other.

They want to separate their brands as much as possible and protect their individual identity. That is their job.

 

AD:    What are the biggest challenges that face designers?

BR:    Every program has its own challenges. It begins with establishing the package and architecture to optimise the vehicle proportions without losing sight of the cost and feasibility issues, and program timing. Combined, they all have an indirect influence on the eventual outcome.

Possibly my own personal biggest challenge was in 1985, when I was assigned to Ford UK to form a small team to develop a proposal for the Ford of Europe Fiesta program, which became a major global product for Ford.

So all eyes were on us. The timing was critical and particularly challenging since we had a late start. In addition, we had to factor in shipping time from the Dunton plant in the UK to Cologne in Germany to transport our full-size clay model for senior management reviews.

It was hectic to say the least, but it worked out well. In the eventual market research conducted in Düsseldorf, our car scored so well that 95 per cent of everything we designed into it went into production. I am very proud of that achievement.

 

AD:    Men will often refer to their car as “she’s a beauty” or “I love that old girl”, even if they are driving a muscle car. Why do they do this when cars don’t have feminine names?

BR:    Men don’t just refer to their cars in the feminine sense; they talk the same way about their boats. I don’t really know why, other than men really ‘love’ their cars as much as they love their families.

I think market research shows that a feminine name won’t sell – but don’t quote me on that!

Women love to drive masculine sports cars like Porsche, but men don’t want to be seen in something that is feminine or whimsy.

 

AD:    Putting aside manufacturers or inventors like Rolls Royce, Ford, Oldsmobile, Ferrari, Buick and Holden, what are the standout names of cars that come to mind?

BR:    Aston Martin, Lagonda, Mistaire, Talbot, Zagato and Mangusta.

 

AD:    And the worst?

BR:    Murker, given to a Ford of Germany product.

 

AD:    So what are the biggest challenges facing designers today?

BR:    Without question it is how to encapsulate all the ingredients and requirements into autonomous vehicles. It’s such a complex exercise and a minefield. While I have time on my hands and would enjoy doodling concepts in my home studio, the thought of a challenge like this makes my retirement so much more comfortable. That gives me total peace of mind.


BRIAN ROSSI – DESIGNER

Brian Rossi began work with Ford Motor Company in the UK. After advancing through a number of design positions he was, in 1966, assigned to Ford of Australia as Design Manager to support the development of Ford’s first Australian design studio. Within a few short years this small team had a significant impact on bringing FOA products to market leadership.

In 1978 he became actively involved in the implementation of Ford design representation in the joint venture with Mazda.

The Australian-based Ford Asia Pacific design operation became very much part of Ford global design and provided an alternative resource to participate in the design of products and major programs for Ford of Europe and North America.

In 1983 Brian led the design for the EA26 program which was highly praised by Ford designers around the world and by company senior management.

Due to the success of the EA26, in 1986 Brian was assigned to Ford of Europe to form a design team as part of a major program to create a new key vehicle for the European market.

Two years later Brian was appointed Chief Designer of Ford Australia and Ford Asia Pacific, having design responsibility for all Ford products in the Ford Asia Pacific region, including joint venture products with Mazda and Nissan.

In 1990, Brian was made Design Executive Ford Motor Company, Corporate Design. Ford Corporate Design encompassed design activities in North America, Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan.

Brian is a member of the Australian Council of Industrial Design and a Foundation Member of the Institution of Design for Australia inaugurated in 1989 by the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.
Since his retirement he has been involved with several design and art-related initiatives, taking on a variety of assignments and design projects. These include exotic sports cars and illustrations of luxury yachts for specific clients. One ongoing project is the complete redesign of the original Lotus-7, first conceived more than 50 years ago.

Other key projects include design proposals for leisure craft appropriate to South West Florida waterways and for reviving the American icon ‘Indian’ motorcycle.

Ray Kennedy
Automotive Industry Observer and Advisor to the AADA

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