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Profiles: Aram Kasparian: Simplicity and Boldness

While his life had a tumultuous start, fleeing Beirut, Lebanon, during the country's civil war, Ford design manager Aram Kasparian has sage advice for designers in these uncertain times.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity in this industry because we are entering what I like to call ‘the new dawn of the motor car.' All of us are doing our damnedest to find the answer to fuel economy, which is going to require a new generation of vehicles," says Kasparian, who joined Ford in 2001. He'd received a Master's Degree from the Royal College of Art in London-what he proudly calls "the golden ticket vehicle design degree"-then worked at the Rover Group's advanced concept studio on numerous projects, including one-off luxury sedans and executive jet interiors.

Kasparian's original interest in design had little to do with passenger cars and trucks. He wanted to craft Formula One racing machines-until he realized that racing is more science than art: "In that field you have to be good at math, aerodynamics, or material sciences, because those are the key factors that determine how those cars look. I knew wanted to do something that had more aesthetic value."

He worked as part of the team on the '04 Lincoln Navigator and '05 Mercury Mountaineer, then Kasparian spent the past four years leading the exterior design team that crafted the Lincoln MKS sedan, which epitomizes his design ethos: "The way I approach design is to keep most of it as simple as I can, but have one element that really stands out and makes a statement." In the case of the MKS, he suggests that the front end of the car is the stand-out element. He likens his approach to that of a mixture of influences from Giorgetto Guigiaro-"I really liked the simplicity and timelessness of their designs, like the original Volkswagen Golf"-and Bertone-"I thought they were ahead of their time with their use of sheer surfaces."

However, Kasparian takes most of his design influence from architecture-he's most fond of the work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who designed the Milwaukee Art Museum and who is currently working on a design for a train station at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York. Kasparian also has a keen interest in the design work of Stefan Marbach, lead architect of the Beijing National Stadium-the famed "Bird's Nest" at the 2008 Olympics-and Chris Bosse, who led the design of the Beijing National Aquatics Center-a.k.a., the "Water Cube"-both of which he calls "amazing."

Unlike many others in the auto industry who think the dark clouds centered on Detroit are a sign of things to come, Kasparian says that while the current climate is "challenging," good days lie ahead. But it will take more than luck and circumstance to be successful as an automotive designer: "It's tough right now, and there's no doubt you are going to have to be the best-of-the-best to make it in this business. Any designer is going to have to be more focused than ever because there are a lot of people who are willing to take your spot."

He encourages anyone interested in getting into automotive design to think beyond the stylus and mouse pad, and to think about the calculator and the accounts book: "In this business, money is everything and anyone getting into it has to realize that this is business; flights of fancy have to be grounded on economic reality. The quicker anyone learns that in their career, the easier it will be to be successful in the world of car design." 

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