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Moray Callum says that the amount of work that designers are faced with today is greater than was the case in the past, especially as overall design and minute detail (e.g., integrating aerodynamic forms on tail lamps) are becoming both a compe-titive factor and a functional requirement.

The headlamp for the 2013 Focus. Remember when headlamps were simply round or rectangular shapes that had all the design flair of a round or rectangular shape? Now, Moray Callum says, headlamps are essential in distinguishing a vehicle’s front end, and that the front of a car is key in gaining buyer acceptance.

The Fusion (shown here in the plug-in Energi configuration) is where there is a combination of sleek form and aerodynamic execution. Callum says that pulling off that combination is “creative problem solving. We know all of our competitors are trying to solve the same problem”—creating a car that is attractive and efficient—“so we are trying to do it in the most beautiful way possible.”

The “console-mounted media hub” in the Ford Explorer. Ten years ago, designers would simply have to concern themselves with designing a radio and CD slot, not a “media hub.”

Moray Callum on Ford Design

You might think that nowadays, things might be easier for automotive designers, what with cars and trucks coming out every few years and all of those digital tools to accelerate their work. And you would be wrong. Just ask Moray Callum.

When I made the observation about the potential work habits of automotive designers, I thought that Moray Callum was going to hurt himself making a loud, derisive guffaw in response to my obvious ignorance. Callum has more than a passing understanding of the ins, outs and practices of automotive designers, having entered the field in 1982 with a bachelor’s in industrial design from Napier University in Edinburgh and a master’s in transportation design from the Royal College of Art in London. His CV includes stints at Chrysler, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and Ghia. He joined Ford in ’95, at the HQ in Dearborn, then was assigned to Mazda in 2001 (remember: Ford used to have more than a passing interest in that company, collaborating extremely closely; in November 2010, Ford reduced its holding in Mazda from 11% to 3.5%), where he headed up design for the Japan-based company. He was moved back to Ford home base in ’06. He is now executive director, Americas Design, for Ford. Which means that he has considerable responsibility for a variety of products, including the F-150 and Mustang, to name two of the more iconic ones, two of which are in the process of becoming anew.

So yes, he understands what designers are up against on a daily basis.

Which brings me back to what I said that evoked the laugh: Given that new vehicles come out every few years, don’t designers have, well, a lot of time on their hands?

HA!

Callum explains that (1) “our cadence is good,” with refreshes on the order of 2 to 2.5 years and new products in six and (2) “There is a lot of stuff to come out in the next couple of years.”

Yes, there are that truck and quintes-sential pony car, but he’s mum on those subjects, in keeping with corporate protocol.

“The last two years have been the busiest period in my career, easily.”

While some of that activity is undoubtedly the consequence of Ford becoming more design-driven of late (while car company execs are wont to say that they have always been that, the physical evidence on the road of current cars with the Blue Oval compared with older—but not old—cars with the FoMoCo badge tells the real story) and of Callum running an organization, not being on the proverbial drawing board, there is something else that’s happened during the last few years for vehicle designers at Ford and everywhere else:

“If you think about what it was to design a car 10 years ago, there was very little work done on the headlamps and the tail lamps. There was very little work done on radios and heating and cooling systems. The amount of work that design is involved with on doing a car has probably increased by at least 50%, if not doubled. Designing a headlamp itself is a monumental project. Tail lamps are the same. HMI [human-machine interface] systems are now an element of our lives. Five years ago we didn’t even talk about it. Now the amount of time we spend on that is amazing. Every HMI screen has to be designed by someone.”

Thus, the laugh.

The attention that headlamps are receiving by designers is something that Callum further amplifies. “The headlamp has become part of the accepted signature of the face of the car,” he says, noting that it wasn’t all that long ago that headlamps were little more than commodities. “Any research will tell you the front face of the car is the view that people will judge a car on,” Callum says, noting that there is tremendous importance in getting that right. So this means more time and attention than at any time before.

And then, of course, there is the consideration of fuel efficiency, which, for designers, takes the form of aerodynamic challenges. “Unfortunately, aero is not always the prettiest-looking thing. That’s part of our problem. It is surprising what people think is an aerodynamic shape and what actually is an aerodynamic shape. A lot of our issues are trying to make the design as aero as possible but at the same time making it aesthetically pleasing aero, not just what the wind tunnel says.”

[A side note to this quest for aero. When asked about the actual practice of design, he answers, “We still sketch. We may sketch digitally, but that’s for efficiency.” Here’s something that you may think is a matter of course, but actually isn’t always: “We still required our designers to draw cars. The best way for someone to understand form is to draw it in 2D so they can express it in 3D.” But use digital tools they do. “The advantage to the digital is that you can create a surface that engineering can use, and that we can use in aero testing, too.”]

Callum explains that aero, for example, calls for square corners—“what everyone thinks is anti-aero”—more than it does swoopy shapes. The goal is to get the air to break cleanly and abruptly from the vehicle’s surfaces. Which is one reason why, if you look carefully, you’ll see small square edges on the surface of tail lamps. (Bringing us back to the additional work that designers now do.)

Callum talks about working to achieve “visual efficiency,” something that achieves the goal of a smoother surface while still having visual appeal. “The Fusion is a good example of that. It looks like it has a slipperier shape. The profile of the car, the centerline section, really appears quite fluid, even the uplifting lines on the side. That’s the perceived aero. The actual aero are the elements like the hard edges on the rear bumper and tail lamps.”

In addition to aero, there is consider-able focus on making vehicles lighter. This is being achieved, in part, by using different materials, which, Callum points out, affects design. “Aluminum,” he says, “is a little more difficult to work with than steel. We can’t do all the things with aluminum as we can with steel.” It is a matter, he says, of formability.

Which brings up another company that once was under the Ford umbrella (until 2008), a company that is making its bones with aluminum structures and bodies. Making beautiful cars. It is Jaguar. The Director of Design at Jaguar is Ian Callum*. Moray’s older brother. Which undoubtedly makes the pair the most influential siblings in all of design. So, what accounts, perhaps, for the difference vis-à-vis designing and executing in aluminum at Jaguar vs. at Ford? One way to look at it is this: According to Autodata (motorintelligence.com), in 2012, Jaguar sold 12,011 cars in the U.S. Ford: 2,243,009. So presumably, there is the mass production challenge that Jag doesn’t have to address in terms of getting out formed panels PDQ.

What’s more, Moray Callum faces the challenge of appealing to a mass market while Ian has a much more restricted clientele.

“Which makes my job much more difficult than my brother’s,” he says. Of course, that’s what younger brothers always say.

*See: autofieldguide.com/articles/ian-callum-on-jaguar-design