Back in August 2004 Automotive Design & Production ran a cover story: “Bryan Nesbitt: So Far.” At the time, Nesbitt was the executive director of Design for General Motors Europe. He’d been with GM since 2001, having previously been at Chrysler, where he worked after obtaining a degree from Art Center. Nesbitt returned to the U.S. in 2007, and held a number of positions within GM, not only in Design, but also as the general manager of Cadillac Div. at one point. In May 2011 the executive director of GM North American Exterior Design and Global Architecture was named vice president of Shanghai-based General Motors International Operations (GMIO) Design, effective August 1. In addition to being the head of Design, Nesbitt also has the role of “Brand Champion” for Wuling and Baojun, two Chinese vehicle manufactures (cars and trucks, respectively) that GM has joint ventures with.
Little did we realize that “So Far” would also be “How Far” and “Very Far.”
Prior to his departure for Shanghai, we talked with Nesbitt and discovered that the guy who once used to ride his bike off of a friend’s roof and into a swimming pool (OK, that was before age 10) is focused on creating designs that are “relevant and distinctive” no matter where he is. What’s more, when it comes to design, it is not about Bryan Nesbitt, but about how Bryan Nesbitt can fulfill the brief that’s to be handled by Design.
“As the brands mature in their respective target and growth goals, that ends up being a major influence on design. Once you’ve found some visual identity that’s resonating in the market place, you want to build on that identity—build and nurture it so that the equity can grow still further. In cases where we are looking for a fresh design, there are a lot of influences that we encourage the teams to look for. If there’s not a known direction that kind of builds on some equity within the marketplace, then you do a lot of searching, for sure.”
“You want to inspire and encourage your team to look out of the box and find new ways to spawn creativity. It can be a very small world if you’re just looking within the context of automotive. We expect designers to create a point of view when starting on a new project and to create a rationale behind that.”
On the Job
“This is not about me. It’s about building a strong brand identity, which takes a lot of collaboration. We have a lot of global teams working on projects, and maintaining communications always takes effort. We’re making sure the brand identity and the showroom have a relevance to them that the customer appreciates and hopefully continues to return to.”
On Design Ownership
“This is a corporation. By definition, you have to work corporately. Personally, I never thought, ‘This is my design and I’m going to make everyone in the world like it.’ Going back to the PT Cruiser, it was about what’s going to resonate with the customer. I remember finding my peers were very cold on looking at it that way. We were all very young then. They’d say, ‘Retro. That’s not new territory. You’re not pushing the envelope or making it different.’ And I would say, ‘It’s not about that, it’s about selling cars. And you’ve got to find out what makes the customer happy, not what makes you happy.’ What makes me happy is working in the industry and working in the design community.”
On Designers and Decisions
“We are more used to visualizing the problems that we’re trying to solve together with Engineering and R&D. That becomes a real enabler in decision-making. There are a lot of decision trees: Should we go this path or that, and what are the consequences? The design function has a lot of value in visualizing the pieces that can help the organization make decisions. We work hard to visualize the issues so senior management can make the right choices.”—GSV