Simplicity is key
Last month, Jaguar launched the five-seat E-Pace compact SUV. Positioned as the brand’s most playful model ever, it also saw the brand focusing on a whole new demographic, the aspiring, tech-savvy young. At the launch event, I also had the honor of chatting with Ian Callum, Director of Design at Jaguar. From the designs he sent to Jaguar at age 14 to his personal 1932 American Hot Rod and being a reluctant SUV designer, this is Ian Callum at his candid best.
You sent your first design to Jaguar at 14. What inspired your early interest in cars? Or was it more an interest on the mechanical side of things?
I have always wanted to be a car designer and my first designs were actually created before the age of five. I always had a fundamental interest in both engineering and the aesthetic in equal values.
What was your dream car growing up, and what would you say it is now?
I had many dream cars when I was growing up. I loved the Ferrari 250 SWB, the Jaguar E-type and even at a young age I loved American hot rods. I still love these cars with the same passion and the same values as I did then.
What is the most fun design project you have been part of? Over the years, since you started your career, I’m sure there have been design disappointments, elements in a production car that you would have loved to change if you had the option…
The most fun project that came to fruition was the Jaguar F-TYPE, as it was a true successor to the E-type. I felt very privileged to be part of the team that created that car and it has moved the brand on hugely since it was launched. Another fun project which unfortunately did not see the light of day was the C-X75, Jaguar’s hybrid supercar which was capable of enormous speeds and developed with the highest level of technology you can imagine. Just five were built.
How integral is simplicity to you as a designer? How important is it to maintain a sense of the past to be included with the latest in tech, ever larger touchscreens included?
Simplicity to me is hugely important as it clarifies what you are trying to say. However, things that are created to look and feel or even sound simple are often the most complicated and take a long time to get right.
The sense of the past in design is important because a brand’s values are based on its heritage and you can’t – and indeed shouldn’t – change these overnight. But technology has to be at the forefront of any new product, whether this is touchscreens, connectivity, aerodynamics features or indeed anything else to aid efficiency, because the priorities of a car will change as the world moves forward.
How do you think the era of autonomous cars will have an impact on car design trends?
Initially autonomy will mean very little other than the control systems of the car will have choice and options. The first stages are crash avoidance and safety, which we already have in many cars.
The next step is the ability to let the car drive itself, with the driver operating from a driving point of view and a non-driving point of view. So various components may move away to allow the driver to have more space for other activities. But the overall make-up of the car won’t change that much because in its default form it’s still a driving car.
The following stage will be, inevitably, that some cars will have full autonomy and therefore require no driver at any time. But I still think this is going to be quite a way off. When it happens, we will be designing spaces for four or five people almost in the way you would design a living environment, where they are comfortable and able to do things that you wouldn’t normally do in a conventional car today. The features that will be offered to the occupants will become much more abundant, for example with entertainment – in effect becoming a mobile living room.
However, we have to bear in mind that people will still need to be strapped in and secure, so the idea of designing a vehicle offering free range of mobility inside is very unlikely.
What factors do you take into consideration while designing a car? Do aspects like feedback from key geographical markets play a part in the process?
The reason we’re doing SUV’s is because we do listen to people, when we go into markets. I consider myself a reluctant SUV designer. I was into sports cars, low cars, long sedans… that’s what Jaguar’s famous for. And eventually, when I listened to the markets and saw what people wanted, you realize you have to make an SUV, because that is going to make the brand work. Starting with the F-Pace, that got me enthusiastic about what we could do with something which is a totally different form. You see, the thing about Jaguar is that it’s about a little bit of exaggeration, it’s about a little bit of something beautiful and special, it’s about creating something that is desirable, and there are no absolute rules in that. So what we are looking for is something that is slightly differentiated from the rest of the world, enough for people to look and stare and think ‘I like that’. That’s how we approached this. Working on the F-Pace, we learnt a lot about the needs of an SUV, and the first thing we learn as the design team of Jaguar, was that while we love doing sports cars, you have to listen to people about practicality. I think that’s a big lesson for us.
Are there any new car design trends you’re not too keen on?
Yes, I think there is a fundamental trend at the moment to make car surfacing and shapes very complicated. It is very difficult for designers to get the exact proportion to make the car exciting, so some make up for it with surface entertainment. I don’t necessarily approve such a philosophy for Jaguar, as I believe Jaguars should be kept elegant and simple.
Car design is a hugely complex process. Would you say car designers get the recognition they deserve?
The car is the most complicated object you can possibly imagine. With so many requirements to satisfy – such as safety, efficiency, practicality, manufacturing feasibility, durability and, of course, desirability – the design process is a balance of creativity, collaboration, tension and judgement. I think designers get the recognition they deserve from the automotive press as they understand this complexity.
I have noticed that car designers are getting recognition much more widely than they did maybe 30 years ago. In 2015 I was named the UK’s most influential designer by The Drum, selected from designers across all industries, from fashion to architecture and product design. This was a great honour for me but also I believe a huge achievement for car design as a whole.
You designed the rather magnificent C-X75, which was used in Spectre. What’s your favorite Bond movie and your favorite Bond car, and why?
My favourite Bond movie is Thunderball and my favourite Bond car is the DB5, because at the very influential age of my early teens it had a significant effect on my notion of the romanticism of the motor car.
Who would you say has been the greatest influence on you as a designer? How do you stay inspired?
The two people that inspired me most as I was learning my trade were probably Giorgetto Giugiaro in Italdesign but more significantly Bill Mitchell of General Motors. I think the sixties American cars were really some of the most beautiful ever produced. I was also heavily inspired by the period of industrial product design, particularly by Ettore Sottsass and Mario Bellini.
My inspiration comes from a broad landscape. I’m inspired by anything that makes me look twice. Anything that I like to look at, or like to be involved with, or any story I like to be part of.
What cars do you have in your garage? On a day to day basis, what do you drive?
I have a significant number of cars in my garage. An eclectic mix from traditional Minis, to American hot rods, to classic Jaguars and an Aston Martin. My current every day driving car is an F-TYPE SVR Convertible. My favourite Sunday morning car is actually a Triumph TR6.