The previous two Designing Innovation panel discussions have covered a lot of ground, from the positive effects of gaming on the brain to the issue of having many technology options available to us. The conversation will continue on Saturday, August 16, with the third discussion in Ford and IDSA's Designing Innovation series. The event will take place in Austin at IDSA's annual conference, The Exchange, but you can tune in to a livestream of the discussion right here on our Designing Innovation channel starting at 12:20ET.
You may remember panelist Kevin George, Design Manager at Ford Motor Company, from our recent dive into concept cars, specifically his role in designing the new Ford Edge. George has worked on all kinds of automotive designs—even the kind we spent our time playing with as kids—and worked a brief stint designing amusement parks and commercial spaces. We spoke to him about his experience creating concept cars, the toughest detail to design and what he's looking forward to during the panel discussion. Remember: If there's a question you'd like to ask George or anyone else on the panel, submit your query on Twitter using the hashtag #designinginnovation for a chance to get your answer.
Core77: You were designing toy cars for action figures early on—do you have a favorite car that stands out among the rest?
Kevin George: I really enjoyed designing R/C cars because they are so empowering to a kid. We created one R/C that had huge tires, so big that when the car crashed and flipped over the car body still did not touch the ground and you could keep on driving. A child's excitement over a new R/C car can quickly turn to frustration when the car gets hung up on an obstacle, but that never happened with this toy and the kids felt like they were expert drivers literally right out of the box.
What are some of the similarities and differences of designing cars for toys and designing life-size models, aside from the obvious size difference?
Whether toy cars or passenger cars the design process starts off just the same. You need to identify the core message that you intend to communicate and the experience you want for your customer. With toys the message typically has to do with recreating the adventure, conflict and drama of the film property. Then you add play features that go beyond the film and allow the child to make up their own plots. For passenger vehicles the core of the design is the type of experience you want for the driver and what image he or she wants to project. Once you have identified the core message and the target experience you can begin to design the physical elements that support that story, feeling or experience.
The differences between the two disciplines has to do with the complexity of passenger cars, the importance of occupant and pedestrian safety and the longevity these products need to have. It takes a very large team with many varied and specialized roles to develop a car and the process takes years.
Need for Speed miniature edition; R/C cars ready to race.
These discussions have covered a lot of different topics so far. What does "designing innovation" mean to you?
For me designing innovation is a process where you set an ambitious goal and then totally immerse yourself in that subject. You absorb as much as you and your designers can take in and eventually you begin to make associations and connections that others may not have seen. That's invention. Equally difficult is the implementation of that invention in a way that improves the life of your customer. Only then does it become innovation.
What's your favorite car and why?
Wow! There are so many. Really, It comes down to an emotional connection. I feel strongly about the cars I saw when I was too young to drive. I always liked the early Mustangs and Corvettes because it was so clear how they should be used. Lots of people feel the same way about trucks. When you see a car and can imagine how it will change your life, you're hooked.
Are there any lessons/skills you pull from your days working on amusement parks and commercial spaces that translate to what you're currently doing?
Sure, emotion trumps logic. Why else would we stand in those long lines?
You just finished working on the Ford Edge. What are some of your favorite aspects
of that design?
I think we struck the right balance between retaining what's best about the recent Edge designs and modernizing the rest. For example, we retained the physical connection between the grille and headlamps but added our own ideas about refinement of the grille bars and detail design of the headlamps. We designed a dynamic tail lamp graphic and added depth so that those graphics became sculptural. I'm looking forward to seeing those elements rushing past on the road.
The Ford Edge
Where does the inspiration for concept designs come from? What would you like to see more of in these designs?
Ideas for Ford concept vehicles typically spring from an insight about a specific customer. We look at societal change as a predictor of potential unmet needs. With that in mind I could envision customers looking for a more tailor-made product. I'm interested in how we could deliver a reconfigurable design.
Is there any one detail in designing a car that takes much longer than anyone would guess?
Mirrors. Outside rear-view mirrors. They look so simple, but they aren't—trust me. I know more about mirrors than I care to.
When a lot of people hear the phrase "concept car," their imaginations go wild. Is it hard to scale back and create realistic concept designs? I can imagine that the temptation is great.
It's a slippery slope. Sometimes it's appropriate to really push the limits of the continuum. The risk is that fans of your brand will feel cheated when nothing from that fantastic concept is ever available to them. I think what you see much more often is a concept being used to test a theory about the direction production design may head. Concept cars allow us to try out new ideas before we lock in a production design.
The mysterious outside rear-view mirror—sounds like a design school project op to me.
What's your favorite part of designing a car?
Mentally, I like the process of discovery. Learning from the customer or from your coworkers and growing as a craftsman is always energizing. Physically, I love to tape on the clay model and work with a really skilled modeler to build out a form from a sketch. I can get lost in that activity and when we take a break we look up to find everyone else has gone home!
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming panel discussion?
I'm curious to know how other design teams explore the relationship customers have with their products. That understanding is key to creating objects that have real value.