On Wednesday May 7 at 6:30pm PDT/9:30pm EDT, we'll be hosting a livestream of Ford & IDSA's design panel featuring Nathan Shedroff of the California College of Arts, Yves Béhar of Fuseproject and Freeman Thomas of Ford Motor Company. In anticipation of the event, we caught up with Freeman Thomas, Director of Strategic Design at Ford Motor Company, on his job and what it's like designing cars from start to finish. Read on and make sure to submit any of your own questions on Twitter using the hashtag #designinginnovation.
Core77: Can you share a little bit about your job and your favorite/least favorite parts of it?
Freeman Thomas: I wear a lot of hats: I am a coach and a mentor—I like to get my hands dirty in the design studio. I produce a lot of thumbnail sketches, I participate in team brainstorming and design debates, I create 3D models, I pitch and sell my design ideas to management, and most importantly, I actively avoid boring conference calls.
The aspects that I love most about my job are designing, creating and interacting with other creative souls. The most difficult part of my job is finding enough hours during the day for pure moments to create.
You have been quoted as describing design, in the purest sense, as a "rebellious act." What's the most rebellious design you've created?
The most rebellious design that I have ever created was the original Audi TT.
And is the Audi TT your favorite car design?
My favorite car design is the Porsche 356.
So who all is involved in the car designing process and how do the teams work together?
Since we have reversed the equation from 20% global and 80% locally customized design to 80% resonating globally and 20% tailored to local needs, our studios work in tandem. Regardless of the studio that the vehicles come out of, our designs are unmistakably "Ford."
In the early stages of a program, sketches are submitted from our studios globally and there are many designers involved in the review process. Once we select a final winning theme, the team of anywhere between 5-20 designers—the size of the team depends on the program—works together to deliver the final design. Throughout the process, there are multiple rounds of reviews with different company executives. Ultimately, Ford's top management has final say.
Can you dig into more details of the design process? Like any design undertaking, I'd imagine there are many drafts.
Before we put pencil to paper, we need to understand who we are designing for—a well-designed car needs to take into account who it is designed for so that we can tap into their aspirations. Once we have a good sense of the target audience, we move to sketching on paper, often times using digital tools for sketching as well. We generally create a bandwidth that stretches our designs across two extremes (see image above) that would be appropriate for the vehicle and for our brand. This helps us select a few themes that we would like to further develop—which ultimately leads to the final, winning theme.
Precision, artistry and craftsmanship are an integral part of creating a beautiful design. We create full-size clay models, using machines as well as hand-modeling to develop the surfaces of the car. At the same time, digital modelers create a virtual 3D model on the computer. Once the refinement process is completed, the final surfaces of the design are released to the manufacturing teams. The manufacturing teams develop the parts for development and production. Since design isn't just about styling products, our designs go through multiple rounds of testing. It is also about functionality, real problem solving and finding the best possible answer available.
Make sure to tune in to Core77 on Wednesday, May 7, at 6:30pm PDT/9:30pm EDT for a livestream of Ford and IDSA's design panel featuring Yves Béhar of Fuseproject, Christopher Williams of Lime Lab and, of course, Freeman Thomas.