“Design creates order out of chaos, but chaos is often required to simply be creative.” This is Ian Callum’s #1 philosophy on design. In 1968, as a young 14 year old, he submitted his first car design to Jaguar in the hope of landing a job. It is a sweet coincidence that I am doing my first interview with him at about the same age.
The legendary British automobile designer now serves as the Design Director of Jaguar globally. He is the man behind Jaguar’s new design language and has led the redesign of the XF, XK, XJ and the recent F-Type. He has previously served at Ford, Aston Martin and TWR and was partially responsible for designing the Aston Martin DB7, laid the foundation for DB9 and designed the Aston Martin Vanquish.
He is counted amongst the most awarded professionals in the industry today – in 2006 he was honoured with a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) award from the Royal Society of Arts; in 2008 he was presented with the Walpole Award for British Luxury Design Talent; in 2009 he won the British Auto Express inaugural Person of the Year Award; and more recently in 2012 he was honoured as the Top Gear Man of the Year.
It is an incredible honour for me to be even spoken of in the same breath as him, as I bring you an exclusive interaction with the legend on the Licence to Drive platform. A warm welcome to you Sir, and I am truly delighted to have this opportunity.
February2013/ In conversation with Raghav Sarma:
Raghav: You designed the Aston Martin DB7 back in 1994. How significantly has automobile design evolved since then? Would you agree that technology has been a major game changer in taking the design industry forward.
Ian Callum: Since the DB7, many things have changed dramatically in all areas. The process is now faster due to the use of computerized technology and also tighter. The quality demands are also higher and safety regulations dictate so much of the appearance of the car. In addition, the level of features has increased dramatically and overall standards have multiplied.
Raghav: Over reliance on technology can sometimes take away some of the curiosity, exploratory, imaginative and creative aspects associated with the whole process of design. Would you agree that this could be detrimental for the next generation of designers, making good design look more mass produced rather than have a bespoke, distinct stamp of individuality?
Ian Callum: Technology is only a tool – to use it as an excuse for lack of imagination or end product is unforgivable. So no, technology does not take the “soul” out of a car.
Raghav: Cars are often referred to as ‘well engineered’ rather than ‘well designed’. R&D is also skewed heavily towards improving tangible engineering aspects, fuel efficiency, meeting environmental concerns rather than design. How balanced is the approach at JLR between the ‘art’ and ‘science’ of automobile development?
Ian Callum: At Jaguar the balance is extremely healthy. Our engineers understand the need to produce something beautiful….even if it is difficult, and very often it is!
Raghav: Take us through your journey while working on a design project – How does it start? What are the idea cues? What are the challenges? How easy or difficult is it to get everyone to collectively agree to your vision? And finally the moment of truth – how does it feel when your designs come to life? Tell us a bit about it all. I am really curious to get into your mind.
Ian Callum: The whole process takes 3.5 years, starting with objectives and attributes of function. However, the best bit is that the shape starts with sketches. Pencil on paper. My job is to get all aligned with the Design vision – from the Board of Directors to the Engineers, and of course my team. The XF was very hard. The F-TYPE was a clear run. When you see the final car on the road for the first time, it is the best feeling in the world….as long as it is right.
Raghav: The DB7, DB9, Jaguar XK and the C-X16 have a similar layout, but it is amazing how you interpret essentially the same functionality in so many beautiful yet different ways. How do you ensure that each one is distinct from the other?
Ian Callum: I try doing better each time ensuring there is enough progress to be different. I often feel that it is not enough once we have finished……but that is just the creative element playing through. You’ve got to decide the character of that car and stick to it.
Raghav: The F-Type has been voted the most beautiful car of all time, and it is a personal favourite as well. Was this like a dream come true for you to finally be able to design the car that you always wanted to for such a long time; a fitting successor to the iconic E-Type?
Ian Callum: It is a wonderful feeling to have led the team that created the successor to the E-Type. It was not something I had actually dreamt of doing as it would seem too much of a stretch. I feel very blessed to have been involved though.
Raghav: What makes a car special according to you? What is it that you look for in a car?
Ian Callum: No idea – but their values must stay the same – beautiful and fast…..no matter what the world is like. Of course they will have to be clean and fast.
Raghav: You are a huge auto enthusiast yourself. What would one find in your garage?
Ian Callum: My everyday car is an XKR-S convertible. In my garage, you will find a Mini Cooper (original small one), a 1932 Ford hot rod (450bhp) and a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. I am also having a Jaguar MK2 built to my own design and specification.
Raghav: Any words for the youth on automobile design as a career option?
Ian Callum: Yes…..embrace it. It will become increasingly challenging as the world homogenizes even further. Then we will need creativity even more than ever.
Raghav: Thank you very much Sir. It is such a privilege to have spoken to you. I am sure design enthusiasts around the world would gain immensely from the valuable insights that you shared with us today. Thank you once again.