A couple of weeks ago I visited Pforzheim for the first time to see the transportation design school’s winter show. It’s always a fascinating experience visiting other design schools and seeing the different approaches schools take in preparing students for the professional world. This show had a particular poignancy knowing how many of the younger professionals are being laid off at the moment. Automotive design, at the best of times, is a difficult career to break in to and it’s not getting any easier for some time to come.
I may be biased given the field I work in but from where I sit, a rigorously strategic approach to car design is the way of the future. This may sound blindingly obvious to those of you working in more enlightened design disciplines but take the difficulties of GM & Chrysler as an indicator, design strategy is still an unknown tool in many circles. It also suffers from serious distrust by many of the old school car guys I have spoken to over the last couple of years
To that end I went to Pforzheim hoping to be engaged and excited by clever, useful design concepts. What I saw, while undoubtedly good looking and skilfully illustrated, was more of the same-old-same-old.
The Masters projects, presented entirely as flat work with virtual models, was primarily focused on creating interior and exterior vehicle concepts for Le Mans. Obscene (in a good way) proportions, wishful packages and wonderfully offbeat construction technologies were in abundance. And sure, there were mentions of KERS and other clean(er) propulsion technologies. I couldn’t help feeling, however, that these guys would have been better off proposing another gorgeous, intelligent city vehicle or personal/mass transit hybrid. There are so many possibilities, just don’t give me race cars.
The Diplom got my heart a-flutter with the beautiful, (mostly) professionally made models but after the reaction to the jaw-dropping attention to detail faded, the lack of depth to the majority of the projects once again resurfaced. There was a 2-seater GT, a dune-buggy, a mid-engined coupe and a couple more race cars, not ideas that are going to help us get out of the automotive rut (despite their delightful and surprising aesthetic solutions). Of more strategic interest was a really interesting take on a C-Segment hatch and an inner-city delivery vehicle. Interestingly these were the two models and designs that had been completed exclusively by students with no input from industry…
It would be unfair to be overly critical of the first-year work that I saw. These guys are still finding their feet and should be allowed to enjoy the freedoms of being a student! There were lots of lovely models and some great sketch work. As with the other courses, the aesthetic resolution of the work was beyond reproach.
It’s my sincere hope however, that in addition to learning all the manual skills they need to create beautiful vehicles (and we will always need our vehicles, whatever the type, to be beautiful), that strategic thinking becomes part of their skill set. This is very much down to the culture that is fostered in schools by the staff and I’ve no doubt that they will be wanting to give their students the best chance of surviving in the real world.
Finally, I realise that once designers enter their professional lives as juniors, there is a strict order of command and many will feel helpless to change the status quo. Don’t give up! Given enough strategic thinkers, the tipping point will come.
Just as a post script to the students reading this (are there any?), I read your boards! I love the stories behind the cars and it helps me appreciate your work, so please, please, PLEASE have your friends and family proof-read your work. Spelling mistakes can let down an otherwise great presentation.